Fantasy Football Today - fantasy football rankings, cheatsheets, and information
A Fantasy Football Community!

Create An Account  |  Advertise  |  Contact      

Staff Writer
Email Mike

Mike's Articles

Going Once, Going Twice, Sold
An Introduction to Online Auctions for Novices


If you’re anything like me, you spent years being fascinated by auction drafts before you actually had a chance to participate in one. If you’re exactly like me, you tried to get a taste of an auction draft by waiting until the end of the regular season and forming a four-owner auction league that divvied up the players on the teams that had reached the playoffs. You thought at the time that it was better than nothing, but you quickly realized that it was simply a hollow exercise in trying to predict which teams would make it to the conference championships.

Unfortunately, my sense at the moment is that there is no way to “approximate” an auction without going whole hog. I wish I had some transitional phase to suggest for those who have only participated in traditional redrafter leagues, but I don’t. If you are in a twelve-team league, and three or four of the other owners in your league are curious about auctions, I don’t see how the interested minority can impose its agenda on the uninterested majority.

In such cases, the simplest solution is probably to join an additional league, an auction league. If you can assemble such a league of people who live close enough to each other to have a preseason auction party, good for you. Everything I’ve read indicates that auctions conducted in person are usually a blast. However, many of the people who want to try auctions find themselves unable to start auction leagues because all of the folks they know who are interested in fantasy football already play in leagues with traditional drafts. For such people, the Internet offers the most promising route to an auction league. I’ve spent years lobbying my league to switch from a traditional serpentine draft to an auction format, but few things are harder to fight than inertia. And after years of waiting for a local auction league to come to my attention, I was delighted when FFToday’s Mike MacGregor proposed an auction league for the staff writers here—even though it meant that my first experience with an auction format would occur online rather than face to face.

I suspect there are many people out there whose situation resembles mine. They want to explore auctions, but the other people in their leagues aren’t curious, so they think about joining an online auction league. But they decide that auctions are complicated affairs and that technology can be pretty unforgiving and that it just isn’t worth the trouble to humiliate themselves by clicking the wrong buttons at the wrong moments in front of a bunch of strangers. “Nah,” they reason (as I reasoned), “I wouldn’t even know what I was doing in an auction if it happened face to face. If I tried it online, that would only screw me up even more, and I would probably end up ruining the auction for everyone.”

So they stick with their regular leagues and continue to have serpentine drafts and think that maybe next year the other guys in their league will “come around.”

Never fear, you craven but curious competitors—for I have had the opportunity to serve as your guinea pig. Like you, I knew an online auction would be extremely challenging for me. Like you, I had every reason to suspect that my inexperience with the format would be compounded by my technological incompetence to make me an extremely ineffectual bidder. Like you, my curiosity was just about neck-and-neck with my trepidation. But unlike you, I had the very generous Mike Krueger offering to cover all league expenses and put up the prize money as well. The bad news is that I made even more mistakes than I anticipated, but the good news is that you need only read on in order to avoid those mistakes yourself.

The Particulars

The staff league for FFToday used a site that many of our readers have probably already heard about: The more experienced participants in the auction urged those of us who were new to online auctions to go to the site well in advance and familiarize ourselves with the various screens and applets that we would have to navigate in the course of the auction.

They were right to make that suggestion for several reasons. In addition to requiring Java (which most folks probably already have installed on their computers), Fantasy Auctioneer is far more compatible with the Mozilla Firefox browser than the Internet Explorer browser. I am not a techie, so I have no idea what the whys and wherefores of that compatibility are. I can report from personal experience that the first time I went to Fantasy Auctioneer, I had no problem navigating the site via Internet Explorer. The second time, however, the applet windows that popped up were cut off at the bottom and along the right side. I could see no way to adjust the applets, so I downloaded Mozilla Firefox (for free), installed it, opened it, and used it as my browser for Fantasy Auctioneer. All problems disappeared, and the applets seemed less draggy through Firefox than they had been through Internet Explorer.

The point here is that even though downloading and installing Java and Firefox is a simple enough task (even for such technologically impaired individuals as your humble scribe), it is time-consuming. If you get twelve guys together for an auction on Fantasy Auctioneer and two of them are unable to navigate the site because their version of Internet Explorer doesn’t know how to handle the applets, then the whole auction will probably be delayed by fifteen or twenty minutes even if everyone has a DSL connection or better, which will probably be frustrating to everyone. If you’re playing with a group of complete strangers, then that’s the sort of setback that can kill a league even before it gets started—particularly if the guy who has to download the necessary software at the last minute is working with a 28.8 modem.

Once everyone can navigate the Fantasy Auctioneer site, your auction can get underway through an applet that is commendably intuitive and yet dauntingly intricate. There are so many bells and whistles on the Auction applet that you can easily overlook the bell or whistle that is most important to you as you try to take in all the others.

I’ll start with the queue option because it was the first one to catch my eye. By placing players in your nomination queue, you tell the Auctioneer site which players you want to nominate when it is your turn to do so and what order you want to nominate them in. There are lots of good, obvious reasons for using the nomination queue—and other good, not-so-obvious reasons for not using it.

The main reason to rely on the queue is that it assures you of being able to nominate the player that you want under relatively calm, quiet conditions. Auctions at Fantasy Auctioneer are strictly timed. When it is your turn to nominate a player, you have just 45 seconds in which to do so. Most people will have no trouble simply scrolling down a list of running backs or quarterbacks or whatever and double-clicking on the name of the player they want to nominate. However, if your connection is at all draggy or you are using an oversensitive touchpad or you receive an important phone call just at the moment when you are supposed to nominate a player, it is conceivable that you might accidentally click on the wrong name. By using the queue, you can always correct a mistaken click. You can also queue up players several rounds in advance so that if you need to step away from the computer, you will at least nominate a player you won’t mind taking for $1—though you obviously won’t be on hand for a bidding war if someone else is interested in that player.

Unfortunately, the advantages of the nomination queue may be more than offset by the disadvantages. One obvious limitation is that you can’t prevent your competitors from nominating players who are in your queue. If you have the last nomination of the first round and you think you can step away from your machine for a cup of coffee because you already have Randy Moss in your queue, you may return to find that your queue is empty because he was nominated in your absence by someone else.

I sidestepped this problem by putting half a dozen under-the-radar players in my queue. I had some distractions going on at my house the night of the auction, so I knew I would not be able to sit at my computer through the entire thing. Accordingly, I filled my queue with all Steeler running backs not named Staley, some No. 3 receivers that I expect to end up as No. 2 receivers before too long, and a couple of defenses that I thought no one would be willing to spend more than a dollar on. Based on my experience, I cannot recommend this sort of approach.

The main liability of the nomination queue, in my opinion, is that when the Fantasy Auctioneer applet moves from the end of a normal nomination to the beginning of a queued nomination, the whole auction freezes for 45 seconds. I don’t know why that is, but it happened with every one of my nominations—and every time someone else in the draft used the nomination queue. I didn’t consider this a setback at first, since my first nomination went precisely according to plan. I had Verron Haynes in my queue, expected no one to bid more than a dollar for him, and acquired him with my first nomination for a price that I could live with—without having to actually be at my computer for the bidding.

But then that sneaky Krueger fella screwed me in the second round. My second nomination was Willie Parker, for whom I would have been delighted to pay $1. I was on the phone when my turn for the nomination came up, so I watched the computer out of the corner of my eye as the auction froze for 45 seconds before my nomination of Parker appeared on the screen. As soon as I saw that Krueger had bid $2 for Parker, I tried to up my bid to $3, but the freeze had actually slowed my system down so much that I couldn’t get the auction site to accept my bid before time expired. Clearly my inattention was partly to blame for this snafu—but the nomination queue was a contributing factor, so I would advise those who are new to online auctions to reserve the use of the queue for emergencies.

If I was snakebitten by the nomination queue because I discovered it too early, I was snakebitten by the option to view the rosters of my competitors because I discovered it too late. Since it was my first auction, I didn’t even attempt to get in on the bidding for the star players who were taken in the early rounds. The reading I had done about auctions suggested that I allow the Culpeppers and Tomlinsons of the NFL to go at high prices in the early rounds and to target the players who were most important to me in the later rounds, when everyone else’s money would be tight.

However, I was extremely stupid when it came to guessing when my competitors’ funds were low. The main reason for my stupidity was that I didn’t have to guess because there was a button on the applet that was simply waiting to bring up a screen that would indicate what my competitors’ rosters looked like and how much money they had left. But perhaps it was even more stupid of me to think that just because a lot of high price tag players had been taken by a bunch of different teams, all the owners were down to minimal funds. That miscalculation on my part was the single most damaging event in the auction for me, but that was entirely my fault, as the applet was prepared to give me the information I wanted as soon as I realized I could ask.

The final technological problem that I experienced had to do with the actual bidding buttons themselves. There is a little plus sign that you can press if you want to add a dollar to the last bid, but when the bidding is at its fastest and most furious, using that button can get you into trouble. As one of my fellow participants pointed out, you might be willing to bid $23 for a player who is already going for $22, but if you click on the plus button just after three other bidders have already done so, you will end up bidding $26 (and remember that just a few dollars can make a tremendous difference in an auction—particularly at the end). The other way to bid is to type in a dollar amount in a blank space above the plus sign. But remember that the bids you enter into this space are irrevocable—even in the event of a typographical error. If you mean to type in a bid of $50 for a player, but you drift a line too high on your number pad and hit the key for 8 instead of 5—tough luck. You just bought yourself a player for $80. This kind of clumsiness probably doesn’t crop up when you are working with an ordinary keyboard in a well-lit office while at work. But it’s something to watch out for if you are working with a small laptop keyboard in the dark while drinking.

Some readers may recall that I once wrote an article in which I stressed the importance of drinking during traditional, in-person drafts. I stand by that recommendation, as I think that a little intoxication goes a long way towards inducing owners to make precisely the kind of bold picks in the middle and late rounds that separate the wheat from the chaff in fantasy leagues. The folks who stay sober are more likely to go with “name-recognition players” (e.g. Keyshawn Johnson, Tom Brady, etc.) than to take chances on rookies in favorable circumstances or up-and-comers who only showed glimpses of their potential at the end of the preceding year (e.g. Kevin Curtis). Even though I stand by that reasoning, I cannot recommend drinking during an online auction. It makes your fingers do funny things. Worse yet, the fact that everything happens through the keyboard can induce your alcohol-soaked mind to believe that your fingers are the ones doing the thinking. You click on that plus sign not because you really care about the player being bid on at the moment, but because it’s been a long time since you clicked on anything.

I’m sure there are plenty of options apart from for conducting an auction online. An organized group of players could certainly conduct such a draft in any chat room or via email, but my experience with Fantasy Auctioneer was generally quite positive. Despite the problems I had with the nomination queue and a couple of mishaps with the bidding buttons, I thought the auction was extremely enjoyable. The primary reason for my satisfaction was the way the interface itself kept us on task so that we made quick, steady progress towards filling our 20-player rosters. The traditional serpentine redrafter league to which I belong has only 14 roster spots to fill and just 12 participants. Even though most of the 13 participants in the FFToday Staff League were new to auctions, our draft of 260 players was completed in less time than my more traditional draft of 168 players has ever taken.

I’ll add that even though I left the auction convinced that I couldn’t have done worse if I had tried, I would have to rate the auction itself as even more enjoyable than I had anticipated. If you find yourself wondering whether auctions would be enjoyable, then it’s a safe bet that you’ll enjoy them. And if you can’t find a local auction league to join, don’t let the technological hurdles of online auctioneering deter you. Even if you learn from my mistakes, you’ll probably make a few of your own. But you’ll find the mistakes that you make to be insignificant in comparison to the fun you will have.

A Reminder

Once the season gets underway, my column will be returning to its usual format: Q&A at the top and LMS picks at the bottom. Those of you who responded to questions I posed over the summer can look forward to seeing other responses (or perhaps your own) in my first regular season column next week. If all goes according to plan, I’ll also be featuring Matt Schiff’s LMS picks each week.

That’ll do it for my summer ramblings—now let’s get down to some football.