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

Create An Account  |  Advertise  |  Contact      

Mike Davis | Archive | Email  
Staff Writer

Scheduling Doubleheaders in Head-to-Head Leagues

The Q&A column has addressed various complications of scheduling formats in head-to-head leagues over the years, but these points have generally been tangential to the primary discussion. Perhaps, as Dan's question below demonstrates, the subject of scheduling deserves attention all by itself:

We are a 10-team league with two divisions. We currently play a 13-week schedule. We are discussing moving to an 18-game schedule, where we will have two matchups in five of the non-bye weeks (likely weeks 2,3,11,12,13). This would allow everyone to play each team twice, which works out well when it comes to playoff tiebreakers. It’s almost unfair for a team to miss the playoffs when they sport a 1-1 combined record vs. opponents against someone who is 2-1 versus the same. The additional matchups will also reduce the chances of the weaker teams advancing simply due to a favorable schedule and puts more weight on the later games. I was curious if you have ever discussed this issue or have any pros or cons on the matter or tips on how to administer this on a fantasy site.

The idea of sporadic "doubleheaders" is something I have occasionally alluded to or explained in the past--but never with the sustained attention necessary to answer Dan's question. Regrettably, I suspect that the "doubleheader" concept is so foreign to many readers of this column that they may not even be able to understand what Dan is asking or why he is so concerned about non-bye weeks.

The easiest way to begin the explanation is to break the fantasy community into two halves: 1) the leagues that use a point-tally model over the course of a season to declare a champion; and 2) the leagues that use a head-to-head approach that usually culminates in a playoff tournament at the end of the regular season.

In the traditional point-tally model, owners do not play against each other on a weekly basis. They simply rack up points over the course of the season. At the end, the owner with the most points claims first prize. Advocates of this method argue, quite compellingly, that it gives the most accurate indication of the single strongest team in any league. Critics point out, however, that it is statistically possible for the owner of this team to achieve the greatest point total over the course of the entire season without ever once generating the highest score in a single week.

In the traditional head-to-head model, owners compete against their peers for wins, not total points. In most leagues, about half of the owners (the ones with the best win-loss records) advance to a playoff tournament during the final month or so of the regular NFL season. Advocates of this method argue, also quite compellingly, that it provides owners with genuine excitement each and every week. You can experience the thrill of victory in Week 3 and the agony of defeat in Week 4 whether you end up making the cut for the playoff tournament or not. Critics object that it is possible (unlikely, but possible) for the team with the lowest point total at the end of the season to end up as the champion by consistently defeating opposing fantasy squads on their worst days.

Various leagues have experimented with ways of blending the head-to-head and point-tally approaches (see my Week 14 column from 2011 for details). As I make clear elsewhere, there is little point in arguing about whether head-to-head leagues are better or worse than point-tally leagues. Both models have their advantages and disadvantages, so FFers should obviously let personal preference be their guide.

For the remainder of this column, however, I want to focus on the scheduling concerns of commissioners in head-to-head leagues that want to make the playing field as level as possible for their owners.

The primary scheduling problem for head-to-head leagues stems from the fact that the fantasy playoffs have to take place during the final weeks of the regular season. Obviously, if the fantasy playoffs corresponded with the NFL playoffs, most owners would be incapable of submitting complete lineups of active players.

Consequently, the regular fantasy season is usually crammed into the first twelve or thirteen weeks of the regular NFL season, and the fantasy playoffs generally run from Week Thirteen or Week Fourteen through Week Sixteen or Week Seventeen (depending on league size and owner attitude about the validity of contests in Week Seventeen).

For many commissioners, the fact that the regular fantasy season has to be crammed into the first two-thirds of the NFL season is not a problem at all. It just means that fantasy franchises play fewer games than genuine NFL franchises. These commissioners need not change their approach if they are happy with it, but some (like Dan) want their owners to play at least as many games as NFL teams do.
Which explains how the sporadic fantasy doubleheader was born.

The wonderful thing about fantasy teams is that since they don't really exist, they can be in two or more places at once. The real Tom Brady only plays against one defense at a time, but the fantasy football version of Brady can play against an unlimited number of opponents simultaneously. Ordinarily a head-to-head fantasy league of twelve teams would feature six games each week with six winners and six losers. But the doubleheader model allows for twelve games in the same week. Team 1 might lose to Team 3 but defeat Team 7. Team 12 might beat both Team 2 and Team 9.

If my regular fantasy season only lasts twelve actual weeks, but I want my owners to play a full slate of sixteen games, then I can schedule doubleheaders for them during any four weeks of the regular season.

Sounds great, doesn't it?

Some commissioners get carried away by this idea. They can't get over how easy it is to squeeze a 16-game fantasy season into Weeks 1 through 12 of the NFL season simply by scheduling league-wide doubleheaders on Weeks 3, 6, 9, and 12!

It is simple, but as Dan's question makes clear, it may not be very tidy.

All NFL teams are scheduled to play in Weeks 3 and 12, but what about Weeks 6 and 9? In Week 6, owners who rely on stars from the Panthers, Bears, Jaguars and Saints may cry foul when they have to play two fantasy games with key players on a bye. Owners who rely on Pats, Jets, 49ers, or Rams will find that the doubleheader makes the loss of their own studs twice as significant for them in Week 9 as the loss of Ravens, Bills, Bengals or Texans might have been in Week 8.

In leagues that use doubleheaders, owners quickly learn that bye weeks can become season-changers. Would you rather have Steven Jackson or Fred Jackson? Don't answer that too quickly in a league with a double-header scheduled for week 9. Fred's bye in Week 8 will only cost you a running back in one game, but Steven's bye in Week 9 could realistically net you two losses just one week later.

In leagues without sporadic doubleheaders, it is easy to say that all byes are essentially equal. My star quarterback will miss at least one game during the season, and so will yours. If you schedule doubleheaders for every team every single week, then the same logic applies because all owners get hit equally.

Unfortunately, most leagues that resort to doubleheaders use them only sporadically, which means that that the owners whose star players happen to have byes on the weeks when they are playing against two opponents are at a significant disadvantage.

Dan clearly has this concern in mind in his attempt to schedule the double-headers for "non-bye weeks." As it turns out, however, the "non-bye weeks" scheduled in the NFL are about as inconveniently timed as they can possibly be from a fantasy commissioner's perspective.

The byes in 2012 are scheduled to run from Week 4 through Week 11, which happens to be the juiciest part of the fantasy season. From the perspective of an ordinary fan, it's great that all 32 teams are active for the first three weeks of the season, but this is not particularly helpful to a commissioner trying to schedule league-wide doubleheaders.

And why is that?

Experienced commissioners understand that the best way to keep apathy at bay in fantasy leagues is to make sure that as many teams are in contention for playoff spots near the end of the season as possible. If you schedule doubleheaders for the first three weeks of the season, you end up avoiding the bye week problem only by creating a league in which fast starts are more significant than ever--with potentially nasty consequences for league morale.

Scheduling doubleheaders for Weeks 1 through 3 is practically a guaranteed way to end up with two or more owners who have essentially thrown in the towel by Week 4. In highly competitive leagues, it might not be a problem, but in ordinary office leagues, it is a recipe for the disintegration of league morale.

It's much better to put off the double-headers as late as possible in the season, but most leagues have a tiny window between Week 12 (the first of the bye-free weeks at the end of the regular NFL season) and their own playoffs.

When Dan wrote to me, the bye schedule for 2012 was not yet available, and clearly he hoped that Week 11 would be a "non-bye week" and therefore an excellent opportunity for a spate of doubleheaders. Things haven't worked out for him in that regard, so now if he wants to schedule five doubleheaders on non-bye weeks, he will have to go with weeks 1, 2, 3, 12, and 13.

In this scenario, an owner with a solid team who struggles at first could very easily get off to a crippling 0-4 start after just two bad weeks. Will this hypothetical owner really try to dig his way out of such a deep hole? Or will he be thinking of his fantasy season as a bust before Week 3 of the NFL season even gets underway?

As I have written in the past, I participate in all sorts of fantasy leagues, including leagues that use doubleheaders. I do not have a problem with the concept in and of itself, but its implementation can be very tricky.

Doubleheaders definitely spice things up in the middle of the season, but the only way to eliminate the arbitrary disparity caused by bye weeks is to schedule doubleheaders for every single week of byes (which would be Weeks 4-11 in 2012). Most fantasy leagues don't want eight extra games on the record. The usual goal of a commissioner who incorporates doubleheaders is to end up with 16 games (like the NFL) or to achieve a certain ratio between divisional and non-divisional contests. In most cases this means adding something like two to four games. Dan's desire to add five games is over this average, but nowhere near the eight that scheduling doubleheaders throughout the bye period would give him.

I'll be grateful to any readers who care to write in with their own opinions concerning Dan's quandary, but since it's the middle of July, I suspect this column will receive only minimal attention from the commissioners who might be able to help Dan out.

The way I see it, Dan has perfectly good reasons for wanting to use doubleheaders to add five games to his fantasy schedule, and there are a number of options available to him.

If his league has dedicated owners who will not consider giving up in response to a slow start, then he may want to consider scheduling the doubleheaders for Weeks 1, 2, 3, 12, and 13 in order to avoid byes.

In all honesty, however, that doesn't sound like much fun to me. Imagine what a drag the single games in Weeks 6, 7, and 8 would seem like compared to the importance of the games at the beginning and end of the fantasy season.

Alternatively, he could decide to schedule the doubleheaders during bye weeks for certain teams and simply warn his owners to pay close attention to the diminished value of players whose byes happen to land on those weeks. As long as the doubleheaders are announced in advance, the owners can make informed decisions.

But if I were in Dan's shoes, I might actually end up doing something slightly different. I would get my five extra games by scheduling a doubleheader in Week 3 and tripleheaders in Weeks 12 and 13. In my experience, it is important to avoid doubleheaders during bye weeks if at all possible, and it is equally important to make the end of the season more consequential to the final outcome than the beginning.

The downside of my proposal is that it overemphasizes just two games at the end of the regular season, but that is exactly what sometimes gives the divisional games at the end of the NFL season a playoff atmosphere.

If you have a better suggestion, I certainly want to hear from you.

For responses to this month's fantasy question please email me.