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Anticipating and Minimizing the Problems and Pitfalls of Missing Your Draft

Some readers may recall that I was unable to write one of my columns last year because I was supervising 40 college freshmen on a field trip to Washington, D.C. I hated not being able to write my column that week, but I was correct in thinking that I simply wouldn’t have the time for it. It horrifies me to think that Mike Krueger and the rest of the folks at FFToday were able to get along without me, but in truth I doubt many people even noticed. (Editor's Note: I missed you, Mike.)

This year, I have a field trip that is putting me in a far worse bind. It will force me to miss the draft in the one league I care the most about.

I seethed with frustration as we scheduled that field trip. One professor had a scholarly conference to attend on the weekend I wanted for the trip. Another had a family reunion to attend on an alternate date that would have worked for me. The limited availability of the campus bus conspired with various other factors such as these to back me into a scheduling corner. Have you ever tried to say to a room full of professors that the date they have settled on won’t work for you because you have a fantasy football draft? You might think that all it takes is a little backbone to say so, but backbone isn’t what it takes at all. What it takes is tenure—something everybody else in the room already had, and something I’m sure never to get if I become known as the professor who can’t meet his professional responsibilities because of a pretend football game. So I agreed to their date.

The only date that worked for all of the other faculty members was Saturday, September 8th. Now I know some people object to having a draft after the first Thursday night game has been played, but that’s an argument for another time.

The simple fact of the matter is that when you have your draft on the Saturday before the first slate of Sunday games, there’s a massive amount of instant gratification to be had. Never mind that you get far more up-to-date information about players. Never mind that you get to study how other late drafts played out and strategize accordingly. Never mind that a season-ending injury to a star player on Thursday night could dramatically impact the draft. These considerations are all terribly minor as compared to the key consideration, which is that you start drinking on Saturday morning, have your team selected and your starting lineup submitted by Saturday night, and recover from your hangover on Sunday afternoon to find out how your team is doing. Now if that isn’t fun, I don’t know what is.

I’ve had to miss drafts with this league before. It is headquartered in Dallas, and for years I lived in Philadelphia. My wife is a very generous woman—but not generous enough to approve my purchasing plane tickets to participate in a fantasy football draft for a purse that would barely cover the cost of the tickets even if I happened to win it.

But when I’ve had to miss the draft in the past, I have been able to make my picks over the phone or via computer. It isn’t any fun to be the only person participating in a draft who isn’t in the same room as all the other drafters, but remote drafting presents a solution to a problem faced by lots of people in leagues all over the country.

Useless as a cell phone on a bus to OklahomaFor this year’s draft, however, I won’t even be as connected to the draft as someone who is listening in on a phone connection or submitting picks online. I’ll be on a bus making my way across Oklahoma. I’ll have my cell phone with me, and I’ll stay in contact with someone at the draft as much as possible. But there will be long stretches of highway during which my phone will be as useless as Michael Vick in a keeper league. And there will also be students and faculty and a bus driver who might need my attention.

The other guys in my conference are willing to work with me—to a point. It helps that I have the bookend picks (last in the first round and first in the second round, etc.), so I will only need to make seven phone calls in order to communicate my 14 picks. But we don’t know how well my phone will work. And we don’t know whether something will come up on the trip that will require me to ignore the draft. And the eleven other guys might be willing to cut me a little slack and enjoy their beers if I hold up a round of picks for a few minutes, but they won’t find it at all cute or funny if the bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere with no way for me to let them know that it will be two hours before I can get back in touch with them.

So what are we to do?

One option is to let the website that handles our draft make the picks for me, but that’s a terrible option because those programs are always in a hurry to round out needs by position rather than focus on the talent available on the board at the time of the pick. It doesn’t bother me a bit to wait until the tenth round (or later) to pick up my QB, but those programs are always in a hurry to make sure that you have at least one player at every position before double-dipping. Computers are apparently very nervous. They fret that 32 starting quarterbacks somehow won’t be enough to go around in a 12-team conference.

I don’t want a computer to pick my team any more than I want a computer to submit my weekly lineups. Making my own choices isn’t part of the fun. It’s all of the fun, so I don’t want to go that route.

The second option that presents itself is for me to submit a list to our commissioner on the day of the draft and ask him to draft my players in the order in which they appear on the list. But the obvious problem with this approach is that it is rigid, whereas a draft is a dynamic affair. A preconceived list can’t account for all of the variables in a draft (even a traditional serpentine draft). And depending upon how I rank my players and how others make their selections, it would be possible for me to end up with 14 tight ends as my entire roster. (I’m not saying that’s likely, but it’s theoretically possible with a list that simply ranks 200 players from 1 through 200.)

Another option is to submit a list with tiers—tiers of running backs, tiers of wide receivers, tiers of quarterbacks—and an elaborate set of explanations about how choices should be made based on how my team looks in round x and which players are available from tier y at positions z, a, and b. I actually started doing some preliminary work along these lines before I realized that all of my competitors will be drinking heavily. Even with the best intentions, there’s no way they’ll be able to make head or tail out of such a complicated set of instructions.

And so I dump this problem on the doorstep of the fantasy community. I expect to be able to make my own picks via cell phone without much trouble. But my competitors would like for us to have a backup plan in place. The guy who is driving up to Dallas from Houston will not be happy if his trip ends up being wasted because something went wrong on my end. Do I have to bite the bullet on this one and tell them that if the time for my pick expires without their having heard from me, I have to accept whatever idiotic choice the computer makes on my behalf, or is there a better way?

For responses to this fantasy question please email Mike Davis. Readers who want to have their fantasy questions answered live, on the air, by Mike Davis are invited to tune into FFEXradio on Friday afternoons at 5:00 p.m. EST. Archived programs are also available.