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Mike Davis | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Seasonal vs. Daily/Weekly Fantasy Football

I was a graduate student living on an insanely tight budget when I started playing fantasy football in the late '90s. One of the main things about FF that appealed to my inner cheapskate was that for a single entry fee of less than fifty bucks, I was essentially able to gamble for four whole months.

Daily/weekly fantasy contests are different. They don't try to appeal to my inner cheapskate. They want the attention of my inner competitor--perhaps even my inner compulsive gambler. Or do I misunderstand them?

That's the central question of this column, and instead of saving it for the end, I want to put it right up front. I'm not writing about daily/weekly leagues because I have firsthand experience with them. I'm writing because I'm curious about them--and I hope that the FFToday community of readers can set me straight.

If you participated in daily/weekly fantasy leagues in 2013 or earlier, then you've probably formed some opinions about how such leagues differ from traditional season-long leagues. Please consider drawing on your experience to let me know what you think is the most important distinction between season-long and daily/weekly fantasy leagues.

If you never participated in daily/weekly leagues, you may have some questions about them. You might not even know what such leagues are or how they work. I'll try to answer (or at least anticipate) some of the most obvious questions about daily/weekly FF in the paragraphs that follow, but I invite curious readers to send in any questions of their own that this column fails to address.

Question 1 -- What is daily/weekly FF?

It's a quickly growing trend in the fantasy community that confines competitions to a single week of the NFL season. You can win a contest in Week 2, lose in Week 3, and win again in Week 4, but the three games won't have anything to do with one another, as you might use a completely different roster of players each week. There is no big build-up to a playoff tournament or a fantasy championship at the end of the regular season. If you only want to play in Week 1, Week 7, and Week 17 , you can ignore the NFL in Weeks 2-6 and 8-16.

Obviously, most of the statistics will be generated on Sundays (since that's when most NFL games are played), but the weekly model generally runs from Thursday night to Monday night. So much of the action is concentrated on Sunday afternoons that it's easy to see why some weekly contests are referred to as "dailies" by participants. However, some leagues take the "daily" moniker literally and only allow participants to draw on the pool of players active on Sundays.

For more information about the basic structure of daily/weekly FF, I recommend browsing Michael Rathburn's quick and dirty "Daily Fantasy Football 101: Beginner's Guide".

Question 2 -- How are teams selected?

Some daily/weekly leagues do have drafts (usually conducted in the conventional serpentine fashion). Rosters tend to be smaller in such leagues, and I assume that not having to select a bench of backups reduces the time it takes to draft a team. But as much as I enjoy the yearly drafts in my season-long leagues, it's hard for me to imagine anyone getting excited about drafting a brand new fantasy squad from scratch every week. Who has that kind of time on their hands?

Time constraints are probably why it's so common for daily/weekly leagues to rely on salary caps. In a salary cap league, plenty of different teams may start Aaron Rodgers at QB, but the ones who could also afford LeSean McCoy at RB probably won't have enough money to bring in Megatron at WR or Gronk at TE. Even if many teams end up looking mostly identical, the minor differences will be enough to separate the winners from the losers.

Question 3 -- How can I join such a league?

There's nothing to stop you from making your own weekly league if you're so inclined, but the quickest and easiest way to participate is probably to sign up through one of the existing websites dedicated to daily/weekly fantasy contests, such as FanDuel, DraftKings, or DraftStreet. I've never done business with any of these outfits and can't comment on them from experience, which is why I hope to get some testimonials from readers who have a strong sense of which daily/weekly competitions are most competently managed.

Question 4 -- What are my chances of winning?

One of the most interesting things about weekly FF is that participants get to choose their risk/reward ratio. You can play against a small number of competitors for a good chance at winning a small purse or a large number of competitors for a reduced chance at winning a large purse.

Readers often send me links to articles about the folks who attempt to make a steady income from playing FF. Ten years ago, these were guys who won big money tournaments (such as the ill-fated WCOFF); nowadays, almost everything I see that concerns deriving an income from fantasy football ends up being about those who have figured out how to exploit the daily/weekly model. I suspect this means that casual players will be up against some pretty stiff competition.

Question 5 -- If online casinos are illegal, then how do websites like FanDuel exist?

The Unlawful Internet Gambling and Enforcement Act of 2006 makes a distinction between games of skill and chance, and it categorizes "fantasy or simulation sports" as games of skill, which makes them legal in most circumstances.

Gambling laws vary by state and municipality, but if you're an ordinary American, it's probably illegal for you to log into your computer with a credit card to play a virtual slot machine in the hope of winning a cash jackpot because that is simply a game of chance. However, it's probably legal for you to place wagers on (and collect winnings from) online daily/weekly fantasy contests (because the relevant authorities currently accept the argument that fantasy sports reward players with superior skills at projecting outcomes based on the collection and interpretation of preexisting data).

Question 6 -- Why hasn't Mike Davis tried daily/weekly FF yet?

A) It seems like it could become a major timesink.

I overdid FF once upon a time by joining too many leagues at once. I can't help thinking that for some of us, daily/weekly FF is the shortest path to burning out. I welcome any thoughts from readers on this subject (especially those with contrary points of view).

B) I didn't think it was going to last.

After the high-profile bankruptcy of Gridiron Sports (especially in light of its connection to the WCOFF) in 2011, I thought the pressure to shut down all sorts of "big money" operations associated with FF would be irresistible. I didn't expect daily/weekly FF to last as long as it has already lasted.

I was wrong, and clearly the star of daily/weekly FF is on the rise.

C) I'm not sure how well my knowledge of conventional FF will translate to the world of daily/weekly contests.

Building a team for a season isn't the same as building one for a single week. When selecting my studs, I'm used to factoring in bye weeks, durability, and the stability of any skill player's supporting cast. With daily/weekly FF, I suspect that I would have to focus much more on particular matchups.

Over the course of a season, I think Drew Brees' talent relative to Matthew Stafford is the most important thing to consider when choosing between Brees and Stafford as a QB. For daily/weekly FF, I suspect that it's far more important to know what kind of shape the opposing defenses are in. That's just the first strategic difference that leaps out at me, but I may have exaggerated its importance. Let me know if you disagree or if you think other considerations complicate matters even more.

D) Season-long FF is usually about relationships; daily/weekly FF is about winning or losing wagers.

I'm not trying to be provocative with that assertion, and I could be dead wrong. Nevertheless, my experience with season-long fantasy football is that it gives me something interesting to discuss with friends or co-workers. If I belong to the same league as another FFer, we can talk smack with each other. If we're in different leagues, we can compare notes. Either way, it's better than discussing politics or religion or the weather.

I don't think many daily/weekly FF participants are looking to chat about football with new friends. My impression is that daily/weekly FF is about placing bets and winning or losing them in a timely manner.

Season-long FF reminds me of playing poker with friends. To be sure, there are winners and losers. But there's always next time, and the money just keeps sloshing between the same people because there's no "rake" by a casino for hosting the poker party.

Daily/weekly FF is more like being at the racetrack. I'm betting against people I don't know. Maybe I'll win; maybe I'll lose, but the racetrack doesn't really care who wins as long as it gets its slice of the pari-mutuel pie.

Let me know if I'm off base. I want to know more; I may even give daily/weekly FF a shot this season.

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.