While reports are coming out every two days that the two sides of the NFL’s labor talks are “close to a deal,” we have yet to see any signs that there’s going to be real football played in September.  This, of course, means there’s not going to be any fake football in September either.

This is a very, very bad thing.  I’m not sure about you, but as the commissioner of my nerdy league (making me “head nerd”), I’m beginning to panic.  I’m going to need something to fill that nerdy gap, but what?  Here’s a few contingency plans I’ve been working on.  Let’s pray we never have to break this glass.

Fantasy College Football
I love college football, so maybe this isn’t a viable option for everyone.  I know if we replaced our fantasy NFL league with a fantasy NCAA league for a year, we’d lose half the owners and our draft would take approximately 17 hours.  Still, CBS Sports provides free fantasy college football with real players, which is something that did not exist until recently.  I say we enjoy things like this and having player likenesses and NCAA Football 12 before one of these former college athletes finally wins a lawsuit that cracks down on this stuff.  The thing that looks interesting about CBS fantasy college football is that you can limit the scope of your league to a set of conferences.  It’s be pretty interesting to do an SEC-only league, or do an ACC/Big East combo league.  Another wrinkle I thought about with fantasy college football is integrating it into your existing keeper league.  Maybe you get to select three players from your college team at the end of the season, and you have the option to retain that player’s “rights” for the cost of a draft pick per player in your 2012 NFL fantasy draft.

College Football Pick ‘Em
While it has the inherent challenges of getting people interested in college football besides the Terps just like fantasy, it’s a little easier to pick games in a Pick ‘Em group because you don’t really have to know anything.  There are tons of variations on this, and with college football, I’d definitely recommend playing with the point spreads.  The lines in college football are insane.  It’s surprisingly exciting to root for a group of 20 year-olds to beat another group of 20 year-olds by three touchdowns.

Fantasy EPL
Listen, I love the English Premier League.  And, I generally love fantasy sports.  So why is fantasy soccer so terrible?  Mainly, the stats kept don’t really translate to fantasy.  For the uninitiated, the EPL season basically mirror’s the NFL’s except it’s way longer.  If you’ve been looking for an excuse to finally see what European soccer is all about, you just might get your shot.

Focus on your fantasy basketball team
Oh wait…

There are a lot of ways to burn time on WIS, but to fill the fantasy football gap, their SimLeague Football is pretty outstanding.  Basically, they have a record for every player during every season since 1941, and you can create a fantasy league based on whatever parameters you want.  It’s essentially a nerdier version of the scene in Field of Dreams where Ray Liotta organizes a game of baseball played by ghosts that apparently still carry a grudge against Ty Cobb.  You could form a backfield consisting of 2005 Peyton Manning and 1963 Jim Brown, and still possibly lose to a defense featuring 1991 Darrell Green and 1968 Dick Butkus.  I don’t think SimLeague’s engine considers physicality, era, or competition, so Otto Graham is as effective in the engine and on paper as Tom Brady, which is hilarious.

SimLeague is actually the type of game that most clearly represents “fantasy” sports to me.  I’ll never understand why people call fantasy sports a “fake” or even use the term “fantasy.”  After all, the players are real, their stats are real, and they exist only in the context of the immediate present.  Technically, fantasy football would involve wizards, dragons and knights running the spread offense.  Now that would interest me.

Play Madden 12
I’m sort of morbidly fascinated at the prospect of picking up a copy of Madden in August and experiencing the NFL solely through digital simulation this year.  Does a year with an NFL lockout make the game’s presence and realism more or less important?  Does a piece of entertainment based on simulation have meaning if the thing it’s simulating ceases to exist?  My argument about fantasy football not really being a “fantasy” actually is proven by the conundrum of Madden 12.  For the video game to exist, all you need is for the NFL to have existed at some point (which is why we can continue to make so many video games about World War II).  For “fantasy” football to exists in even its crudest form, you need real football.  I’m very curious as to how interested I’ll be in playing the game when it comes out.  Often, if the only NFL game on is a crappy AFC toilet match on CBS, I’ll want to fire up the Xbox and play a fake game that’s more exciting.  How will I feel when there’s not only a crappy game being called by Spero Dedes, but no game period?

For once, I really hope this article seems incredible dated and outmoded shortly after its publication.

Dave Gilmore lives in Baltimore, works for a sports-oriented non-profit, and writes “The Win Column” for Baltimore Sports Report.  He is currently working on a novel about college football.  Find him on Twitter @dave_gilmore.