In this fantasy football league, the prize is a college scholarship

Ramin Mohajer of the How I Decide foundation, presents the organization's GM Genius during the Fantasy Sports Trade Association's elevator pitch session earlier this summer. Courtesy of Radney Wood

Attention, all sports-loving high school students! You can now win scholarships by playing fantasy football.


It's all thanks to GM Genius, a new program being launched by How I Decide, an educational nonprofit based just outside Philadelphia.

"Our mission is to help kids become better decision-makers throughout their lives," said Ramin Mohajer, operations director at How I Decide. "So we really focus on teaching them critical-thinking skills, and social-emotional skills through our different programs -- because we really feel that better decision-making leads to better outcomes for kids themselves, [and] for society, and it's something that isn't really taught in schools. It's something people just sort of figure out on their own.

"We think that by helping kids learn those skills -- especially in today's world, with how much information there is to process and all of that -- it really can help improve outcomes if kids know how to properly think about things and make the right decisions."

How I Decide runs a few different programs, with GM Genius being their latest venture.

"A few of us on our staff who play fantasy sports and were constantly talking about fantasy football in the office, we'd always talked as we learned about some of the cognitive biases and different decision-making concepts that we try and teach the kids, we kept saying, wow, that totally applies," Mohajer said. "When you're setting a fantasy lineup, all you're doing is critically thinking about information and making decisions about players, and who to drop, and who to pick up, and who to start. We were always, like, this could be really funny if we created an education program around fantasy [football]. But it was a little bit of a joke idea between a few of us."

It's not a joke anymore. After lots of board meetings and brainstorming sessions, they're giving it a go. The game will launch next month, looking ahead to the 2017 NFL season. You'll be able to draft and access your team via a web browser, or via apps on your iOS or Android devices. Anyone can play, including parents, but only high school students -- ages 13-19 -- are eligible to win the prizes, which include a $5,000 college scholarship for the first-place winner at the end of the season.

The scoring system will be fairly traditional, with a couple of unique features.

"We do have a little twist with it where you can get bonus points by accurately setting a range where you think your players will fall, and you can get a bonus point if you guess correctly in that range," Mohajer said. "You also get a bonus for answering questions correctly. Before the kids set their lineup each week, they've got to watch a brief educational video. So you watch the video, and then you answer four multiple choice questions. And then any answers that you get correct on those questions get added to your score."

Sounds like a small price to pay in order to play fantasy football as part of your education.

"That's the way that we figured we could get kids to engage in the material," Mohajer said. "And every week it's a new subject -- whether it's how to evaluate information properly, probabilistic thinking, setting expected values so you can properly pick between two players, instead of just having a gut feeling. Those types of things."

Gut feelings aren't always bad, however. Mohajer began his career as a corporate attorney with big law firms in New York and Philadelphia, before deciding to leave that all behind.

"I had run an educational nonprofit in college, and I'd always thought about getting back into the nonprofit world, but I thought it would be more of a second career maybe once I was a little older," he said. "And then we actually had the opportunity to move to Cincinnati where [my wife] was doing a medical fellowship, and I decided it was time for me to put my money where my mouth is and do something I felt more passionately about."

They've since moved to Pennsylvania, and now Mohajer is helping turn fantasy football into an educational tool, with scholarship money at stake.

Sounds like a touchdown, don't you think?