A visit to a small New England college campus offers a snapshot of the novice daily fantasy football player, and illustrates the reasons administrators and parents are concerned about students playing DFS

By Kalyn Kahler
October 08, 2015

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Like any wise upperclassman who has learned to manipulate the class registration process, David DeLise’s weekends start on Friday morning. But he still studies hard and takes notes on his day off.

“It’s embarrassing,” he says, looking around the student center at Southern Connecticut State University, making sure no one is listening. “I take my DraftKings notes on my off days.”

He reaches into his black backpack and pulls out a worn notepad. “Please don’t take a picture of them, my handwriting is really bad,” he says sheepishly as he thumbs through three pages of notes on different players, organized by position, that he’s considering for his Week 4 lineup. James Jones? Meh, everyone will have him. Jordan Reed? In a pinch.

“I spend about an hour taking notes, then I have a pretty good idea of who I want,” he says. The work is paying off; DeLise won money in all seven contests he entered for Week 3, bringing home a hefty sum of $24.

While DeLise might be embarrassed by his dedication to DraftKings, he’s far from the only college kid playing. A report by Adam Krejcik at Eilers Research identified most daily fantasy users as male millennials. Chris Piscitelli, assistant dean of students and director of student conduct at Southern Connecticut, has noticed that many of his students, like David, are now playing DFS.

• HOW DAILY FANTASY IS CHANGING THE GAME: Seven-figure paydays, complex statistical algorithms, congressional inquiries, suspicions of insider info, and yes, all those advertisements. Daily Fantasy Football’s main competitors—FanDuel and DraftKings—are now entwined with the NFL experience. But with multiple controversies converging at once, will it stay that way?

Piscitelli entered his first DraftKings contest in Week 3, in part because he’s been playing traditional fantasy football for 15 years, and in part because he wanted to understand what exactly his students were getting into. Like many, he’s perplexed as to how exactly this isn’t considered gambling. He worries, “What sort of damage could this do to young people if they got hooked?”

From left to right: SCSU students Sheldon Henry and David DeLise, and director of student conduct Chris Piscitelli.
Kalyn Kahler/The MMQB

This is DeLise’s first season playing and so far, he’s only entered the lowest level contests like $1 triple ups (winning contestants get triple their entry fee) and $3 dollar double ups. He’s playing carefully because he’s aware of the risks involved. “I know that I have a limit,” he says. “I like to do it because I think I am smarter than others, but I’m not really trying to make money.”

Piscitelli also played conservatively his first time, a $5 50/50 contest; he won $10, which he put right back into his entries for the next week. “The students that I’m interacting with are looking at it like, Well that’s nothing, If I put $20 on it, it’s like I bought a pizza,” Piscitelli says.

Another of Piscitelli’s students, second-year sports management graduate student Sheldon Henry, has been spending his pizza money on FanDuel for two seasons now, but the most he’s ever won is $2.50. “It’s gambling,” says Henry. “It’s just like if you went to a casino on a Friday night and blew all your money. If you keep making money, then you are going to want to keep putting more money in. You can totally run into a problem if you don’t have the control to say, ‘Alright I’m done.’ ”

Although both Henry and DeLise refer to daily fantasy as gambling, it sure doesn’t feel like gambling to them. Knowledge of the NFL makes it feel like it’s truly a game of skill. “If I’m playing blackjack, I don’t know the cards,” Henry says. “But I do know that Gronk has a favorable matchup against a terrible safety, and Tom Brady can go off against Jacksonville.”

At 24 years old, Henry is an independent adult, but he can only imagine his mom’s reaction if she knew he wasted money each week on daily fantasy football. (Henry figures it might sound something like this: What the hell are you doing? Don’t throw away your money!)

A glance at DeLise’s Week 4 research.
Kalyn Kahler/The MMQB

Piscitelli is relieved he hasn’t yet encountered any students throwing away serious amounts of money, because he says the game is pretty harmless at the small amounts DeLise and Henry play each week. But Piscitelli will keep his eye on this campus trend. “If you get caught in that vicious cycle and have an addictive personality,” he says, “it could get destructive.”

He is familiar with gambling issues on campus. During his 21 years on the job, Piscitelli has resolved student issues with local bookies “more times than I wanted to.” Daily fantasy seems no different to him, and it’s just a matter of time before one of his students gets in too deep. “I definitely expect that someone is going to run into a problem because of it,” he says.

Piscitelli has been a Patriots season-ticket holder for the past 18 years. This season he’s shocked by the overwhelming DraftKings presence at Gillette Stadium. Outside the stadium, fans can set their lineups at a tent equipped with iPads. Inside, there’s the DraftKings Fantasy Sports Zone, a lounge with 35 televisions tuned to every game and a constant stream of fantasy stats. From his view from section 141, row 9, “You could not turn your head and not in some way, shape or form be inundated by the advertisements for daily fantasy,” Piscitelli says. “You couldn’t have walked three feet without seeing something DraftKings.”

Ads like those are what prompted both DeLise and Henry to start playing in the first place. DeLise plans to keep taking notes each Friday, because, “It makes football more interesting,” he says. “The Patriots game is on at 1, so I’d be done watching at 4, but now I watch more games. I think it’s fun.”

Fun is a short-term reward. But Piscitelli wonders what’s next. “Are we creating a culture where that younger group is going to feel that in order to enjoy sport there has to be some sort of contest or gambling attached to it?” He asks. “That frightens me.”

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