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Mike Davis | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Does your head-to-head league use something other than a single-elimination playoff tournament?
Q & A: Week 15

Last Week's Question: Is this extortion?

In my Week 14 column, we heard from a reader named Michael who was asked to cover another owner's transaction fee just to keep that owner from submitting a lineup without a tight end. Michael's plight stirred up some strong reactions from readers. I'll start with Ronnie's response because his league also charges $5 transaction fees:

I'm a commish for a 10-team league that has 6 of its original owners (we are in our 19th season). We are a $5 transaction fee league (similar to the league in question), and we have a rule that fines any owner who starts a player on a bye or listed as "out" on the injury report. Each team MUST have a full starting line-up of players that are at a minimum "questionable" on the injury repot. The fine is $10.00, double the transaction fee. Since we have installed this rule, we have had zero issues with teams trying to tank, being lazy, or tightwad owners refusing to spend the money to fill their starting line-up.

On a side note, we have a Toilet Bowl for all teams that do not make the playoffs. During the first week of the playoffs, we play a "pool" style consolation tournament. The top 2 scoring teams meet the following week in the Toilet Bowl. There is a financial incentive, and I have felt like this keeps owners of losing teams involved throughout the whole year. The only negative (if you can consider this a negative) is that we have teams that have been eliminated from the playoffs claiming free agents and possibly claiming players that a playoff team might have picked up otherwise. This hasn't become an issue, but could become one if a playoff team loses a starter and isn't able to pick up his back-up (if he gets claimed by a non-playoff team first).

That $10 fine for failing to submit a complete lineup of players who are questionable or better seems like an excellent incentive to address the problem of owners who have been eliminated from the playoffs and are therefore reluctant to pay transaction fees just to replace injured players. However, if that seems too unforgiving a rule for your taste, you might want to go the route of Bill's league: "Because we do charge waiver fees, we have a rule that once [an owner is] eliminated from the playoffs, waiver moves become free."

A reader named Trond (not a misprint, just a cool name) wrote in to support Bill's approach as well as Ronnie's:

Because this is a money league (evidenced by a $5 transaction fee) an owner should not have to pay up MORE if out of contention. BUT there should be additional league rules that mandate an active/non-injured (as long as injury news was available by X date) lineup. And there should be a financial disincentive to owners for doing so. That disincentive should more than equal 2 empty lineup slots.

Trond went on to echo Ronnie's second point (about using the Toilet Bowl as an incentive to keep owners invested in their teams even after they have been eliminated from the postseason). Of course, a Toilet Bowl tournament is only one of various methods for incentivizing lame duck owners to remain active in the league. Mark's league uses a weekly prize, but he has other insights to offer as well:

One solution is to award a weekly prize for the team with the highest score each week of the season. This keeps owners interested, even though they are eliminated from the playoffs.

I agree . . . that the commissioner should have stepped in and brokered some type of resolution and there should be full disclosure. The commissioner’s number one job is to maintain the integrity of the league. Leaving a situation like this unaddressed opens the door for collusion. What if the owner in question goes to the owner that is leading and says, “Michael is giving me $5 to pick up a TE. Give me $10 and I won’t pick one up”? What if owners start paying other owners to tank their line-ups? It is a slippery slope.

After 20+ years of running a league, I have closed up most loop-holes, but something crazy always seems to pop up. That is when the commissioner has to make a decision to preserve the league’s integrity. Other owners will support you if have built a reputation of integrity and impartiality.

Mark and I seem to share a soft spot for what some folks might call "activist" commissioners--commissioners who take steps to prevent emerging problems from spiraling out of control. But a lot of leagues and players prefer a "laissez-faire" approach from their commissioner. Lloyd thinks that it's "not [the commissioner's] job" to tinker with broken lineups, though he agrees that having the right sort of rule to prevent this problem from cropping up is a good idea:

The answer is an easy rule change. I agree that a $5 fee is too high for most leagues. However, whatever the fee is, assess it against any team that does not field a complete roster for that week. If you are missing two spots, you are assessed the fee twice. The team owner might as well pick up a player and roster him since he is paying either way. I would not place the burden on the commissioner to place a player on someone’s roster. That’s not his job. The fee should be high enough to motivate all players to finish the season. Regarding Mike’s issue, maybe the team owner he is trying to replace in the playoffs is already paying five bucks so the other guy won’t field a full roster. The commissioner should prohibit any transaction like this between teams. Would open a whole new can of worms . . . and other clichés. Finally, keep in mind that not everyone is sitting in front of the TV and PC catching the latest injury reports Sunday morning. I was on the road and ended up with Jordan Reed in my lineup [in Week 13] after his late scratch.

There's clearly a consensus that the best way to keep owners on top of their lineups through the end of the season is to institute some kind of fine for failure to submit a complete lineup (though opinions vary as to how steep that fine should be). Lloyd, however, makes an excellent point about the importance of setting a reasonable deadline for responding to notifications that players are inactive.

I've featured commentary in the past from readers who argue that staying on top of the NFL for late-breaking news on Sunday morning is as easy as consulting your cell phone. If that's the way everyone in your league feels about the matter, that's fine. But there are people who can't realistically be held to that standard. Maybe they're in church and they don't want to set a bad example for their children by checking their phone during a sermon. Or maybe they're driving through an area with poor cell phone reception. Maybe fantasy football just isn't important enough to keep them from sleeping in on the one day of the week when they can get away with it. If you're going to start fining owners for having inactive players in their lineups, please be very clear about the exact deadline by which the players have to be declared inactive by the NFL in order to warrant a fine in your league.

This Week's Question: Does your head-to-head league use something other than a single-elimination playoff tournament?

AI don't want your pity.

Okay, I'll have to settle for your pity. I was really happy with my fantasy team in my primary league this year, but in the first week of the playoffs I ran headlong into a certain buzz saw named Alshon Jeffery. I've mentioned before that my strategy of waiting until the 10th round to pick up Michael Vick as my QB paid off both because Vick played well early in the season and because I was able to pick up Nick Foles on the wire. Going after my QB late gave me depth at receiver (which I sorely needed after Randall Cobb broke his leg). The loss of Cobb didn't sting so badly because Antonio Brown really stepped up for the Steelers. But as happy as I was about Brown, I was ecstatic about my primary RB, the incredibly versatile and resilient Jamaal Charles.

My team played well in the first round of the playoffs (in Week 13), but not well enough to overcome Jeffery's 249-yard performance. Once I was eliminated, I told myself not to check the league website to see what my team would have scored in Week 14.

But I was weak. I looked. My team turned in a fantastic performance (in part because my kicker, Matt Prater, connected on a record-setting 64-yard field goal).

Then I got a call from a friend of mine who wanted to commiserate with me because he had just been eliminated from his playoffs. He had the most points in his league in the regular season, but when his playoffs started in Week 14, his team sputtered, and it was all over.

The two of us agreed that fantasy football is very stupid and that I should stop writing this column because I'm only aiding and abetting a hobby that is deeply, grossly, and callously unfair. Even though we've both told each other multiple times that we enjoy head-to-head leagues more than total points leagues, we were too bitter to remember those confessions. We agreed that the single-elimination post-season tournament (typical of most H2H fantasy leagues) is easily the dumbest idea in human history.

"You know what we should do?" my buddy proposed.

"What's that?"

"We should start a new league that has head-to-head matchups all season long, but when the playoffs start, it's all about total points."

I agreed with him because I was bitter, but I didn't really mean it. Nevertheless, I suspect there are leagues out there that have done something similar. If your head-to-head league uses something other than the conventional single-elimination playoff tournament, I hope to hear from you.

Survivor Picks - Week 15 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

#3: Arizona at Tennessee (10-4: KC, NEP, MN, NO, SF, DEN, MIA, GB, SEA, IND, NYG, HOU, DAL, BAL)
The Titans scored the second-most points of the season in a losing effort at Denver that featured a 64-yard, record-breaking field goal by Matt Prater. This week they face another potential playoff contender in an Arizona Cardinals team that is on the outside looking in as the seventh team in the NFC. Tennessee has not won a single game against a team with a winning record this year, and this week that trend should continue. The Cardinals absolutely need this game to keep pace with division rival San Francisco, and keeping pace is just what they should do against a Titans team that is average at best on both offense and defense (14th in total offense and 21st in total defense). A loss this week won't kill the Cardinals' playoff chances, but coach Arians knows that a road win this week against a weak AFC opponent will give them the breathing room they need to split their final two games against the 49ers and Seahawks in Weeks 16 and 17 to finish the season 10-6. Anything less and they will be sitting on their couches in January for the fifth year in a row since their Super Bowl appearance against Pittsburgh.

#2: Carolina over NY Jets (10-4: DEN, PHL, SF, IND, STL, HOU, GB, SEA, DAL, NYG, SD, DET, KC)
The Jets are amazingly still alive in the AFC playoff picture, but this week they run into the buzz saw known as the Carolina Panthers on the road. The Jets are 31st in points scored, 30th in yards overall and have won only two games against opponents with winning records (ironically those were against New England and New Orleans). Meanwhile, the Panthers are fresh off their loss to division rival New Orleans. They had given up only two first-half touchdowns all season until Drew Brees torched them for three last week. Cam Newton and company should continue to hold onto that fifth place wild card spot as the J-E-T-S faithful drown their playoff sorrows in some holiday eggnog.

#1: Jacksonville over Buffalo (11-3: IND, OAK, SEA, DEN, ATL, CHI, SD, SF, CAR, TEN, HOU, NO, NE, AZ)
Say what??? The Jaguars are 4-1 (and undefeated against teams with losing records) since their bye week. Prior to the bye, they faced one of the strongest schedules in the NFL this year (as their opponents had a combined record of 64-40). With another losing team coming to Everbank field this week, and in spite of being dead last in scoring, dead last in rushing, dead last in total offense, and a comparatively gaudy third-to-last in points allowed (don't let that go to your heads, Jacksonville fans!), the Jags should win. Maurice Jones-Drew is in his contract year and within striking distance of 1000 rushing yards, and there are rumors that he might resign with the team in 2014. His quest to impress might be enough to result in victory against a very beatable Bills team. But more importantly, why fight the Jags' winning streak? Be bold with three weeks to go in your Survival Pool. Now is the time to separate yourself from your remaining opponents.

Mike Davis has been writing about fantasy football since 1999. As a landlocked Oklahoman who longs for the sound of ocean waves, he also writes about ocean colonization under the pen name Studio Dongo. The latest installment in his science fiction series can be found here.