NFL season kicks off tonight, meaning two things in many married households: Men will start playing fantasy football, and their wives will hate it.

With fantasy football leagues that range from paying out a few dollars to $1 million to winners, and with entry fees ranging from nothing to $10,000 to join, the game appeals to a wide range of fans.

From casual fans to serious players who consider their league a business investment, playing in a fantasy football league is a relatively cheap form of entertainment that can eat up a lot of time. Just ask any fantasy football widows or anyone not in a league who is bored when a co-worker or friend brings up their league.

The game is pretty easy to play. Owners draft players, and when those players score or gain yardage in a real game, their fantasy team scores points. Fantasy teams play other teams in their league each week.

The Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimates that almost 30 million people play fantasy football, with a $4.48 billion impact on the economy.

It's a game that can be addictive, if you don't have a wife to stop you.

Tom Herrera, a senior producer at Fanhouse, a sports information Web site, and a fantasy editor for Fanhouse's Fleaflicker league, told me in a telephone interview that he has played fantasy football for 10 years, but that his job and impending marriage next year are cutting into his time to play. And all for the better, Herrera says.

The recession may also cut into players joining high money leagues, he said, although the typical user will still remain in one or two leagues.

And while hours can be spent each day studying NFL rosters, one attraction of fantasy football to casual fans is that they can be successful with a basic knowledge of the sport and set their lineup once a week, Herrera said.

That should be enough of a compromise to keep fantasy football widows happy -- spend an hour a week setting your lineup, then get back to your family.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach him at www.AaronCrowe.net

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