Larry J. Nelson (BS ’94, MS ’96) rarely sits down to watch baseball on TV. And while he couldn’t identify many players in a lineup by their appearance, he knows all of their batting averages. For this sports lover, it’s all about the stats.
Nelson, a professor in the School of Family Life, grew up playing sports (“If there was a ball involved, I tried to be a part of it.”) and memorizing baseball-card stats—until he sold his collection to pay for his wife’s wedding ring. With the advent of the Internet, Nelson gravitated to online fantasy sports, where participants act as team owners, trading players, adjusting their lineup, and earning points based on real athletes’ stats from real games.
While Nelson’s favorite fantasy sports are baseball and basketball, he has dabbled in everything from NASCAR to hockey. “When my wife heard that I was doing fantasy fishing, she was wondering if there were a Gamers Anonymous,” he says.
In 20 years Nelson has notched some big wins, including a second-place finish at the world championships of fantasy baseball. At one point, Nelson ranked in the top 25 on the Lifetime Leaderboard at ESPN.com, one of the largest online fantasy sports platforms in the world. He currently ranks 42nd out of millions of participants.
To Nelson, managing a fantasy team is an opportunity to combine his academic interests in statistics and psychology with his childhood passion for sports. “If I put as much time into the stock market as I put into reading articles about players’ potential, I could probably make a heck of a lot more money.”