Last Week's Question
In last week's column, I asked readers to demystify leagues like
the ones my wife belongs to for me. Frankly, I expected to get a
lot of responses from people feeling as holier-than-thou as myself,
but most of the people who wrote in were extremely even-handed in
their assessment of such leagues. Instead of angry rants about the
inundation of the uninitiated, I received measure responses such
as the following from Kevin:
One of my leagues is with Yahoo! (I believe their lowest "free"
version), and it has an "autodraft." The commissioner,
who is a friend of mine, insists [such an arrangement] is better
since you don't have to deal with the headache of getting everyone
together for a draft. However, to me, the draft is more than half
the fun of fantasy football, and I don't really have that much of
an interest in that league since I don't have a real sense of own[ing
my] team. If it weren't for my friend, I probably wouldn't even
I was looking for outrage; I was looking for vitriolbut instead
I received coherent explanations of the value of leagues like my
wife's, such as this response from Nate:
I have participated in several auto drafts (just for fun) with mixed
results. I was always given the opportunity to prioritize my players
in advance if I choose to and if not, a preranked player list was
used. I remember doing it with CBS Sportsline (back when it was
free), and they allowed me to rank players by position and then
define what round a particular position was drafted. Yahoo isn't
so flexible, allowing only one overall list. I got some weird results
with the Yahoo format like picking P. Burress and H. Ward back to
back. I wanted one or the other
While Nate accords the autodraft a kind of grudging respect, Richard
wrote in specifically to defend itand apparently with good reason:
Odd-number team leagues are not a problem and can actually be quite
fun from a head-to-head stand point. Rather than having byes just
have each team play two other teams each week. So your 7-team league
has 14 games going any given weekend and no byes. It's kind of fun
to have to keep track of two opponents' rosters as the games unfold.
I think a case can be made for a league where you don't
do the draft. I have 3 teams this year: my money team (which has
a draft) and 2 of these Yahoo! "they draft" type teams.
On one of the Yahoo! teams I used [the FFToday] Cheatsheet
Compiler to rank the top 100 players. Although I didn't actually
draft, I made my rankings known to the computer and the computer
then drafted the best available on my list. On the second team,
I just let the computer [handle everything]. My thinking here
is that this system lets me see how well I can manage a team throughout
the season. It is a test of team management, trading, and free
agent pick-up skills, not drafting skills. Although the computer
in this system can set a lineup and you check in at the end of
the season to see how you did, it is also possible to actively
manage the team. Having the two Yahoo! teams also gives me a chance
to see how well my top 100 list team compares to my "no input"
team. In other words, it lets me see in a rather unscientific
way what the value of my "drafting" skill is, or what
value is added to the draft team and the Cheatsheet Compiler.
. . . In summary, my 3 teams all do something different. The money
team tests drafting AND management skills, while the 2 Yahoo!
teams test team management and seek to test the validity of the
The only possible way for me to respond to Richard's thoroughly
coherent reasoning is to say, "Gee, I guess I hadn't thought
of it that way."
Intriguingly, it seems that no matter what question I ask or how
I ask it, there is always someone who figures out how to respond
in such a way as to champion the "total points" scoring
system over the "head-to-head" scoring system. This week's
champion of the points method is Beth, whose response also addressed
the positive aspects of small leagues:
We have a seven-team league, mainly because someone dropped out
before the season. The way we play is competitive (especially now
with all the injuries) and we've enjoyed having a smaller league
for a few years now. We do draft our own players though. We do not
play head-to-head, but keep up with the scores and at the end of
the season, the person with the most total points wins the league.
The last few years, it has come down to the final week and just
a few points. Last year, the top three teams were separated by only
1.5. To make it more competitive, we limit trades to 3 (that includes
waiver wire pickups) and 3 players can be placed on Injured Reserve
if they are out and can then be replaced by someone else. Where
I like some things about head-to-head competitions, I , like everyone
else, have been burned before, playing the best team when I also
have my best week. This eliminates that problem and keeps everyone's
interest throughout the season.
A reader named Mike also wrote in to defend smallish leagues and
to venture an answer to my question about whether those who simply
go through the motions of playing fantasy football actually qualify
as fantasy football players:
I am in an 8-team league, which for our purposes works really well.
Because it is only 8 teams, the games are ultra-competitive every
week. Also, even the owners who may not be terribly astute still
end up with a lot of good players. You still need to stay of top
of things, as of course injuries will kill you.
My thanks to all those who wrote in. Consider this humble fantasy
writer chastened. No more will I jump to conclusions concerning
leagues that I consider "too small" or drafts that I consider
"too undemanding." Let a thousand fantasy leagues bloom.
As for the second part of your question, I do believe fantasy
football has grown in participation in the last 8-10 years. But
millions seems like a lot more than I thought. To me, if you play
fantasy football for free it doesn't count. The purpose of any
fantasy sport is to be able to win something--money, trophies,
etc. Those are the true fantasy owners because you know that there
is something at stake. And when there is money at stake, people
will do all the work that needs to be done to win. I know if I
paid for a league and was assigned players . . . well, I wouldn't
pay to play in that league.
In a nutshell, the question I have for you this week is simple:
"Do you think transaction fees are good or bad for fantasy
I suppose that's straightforward enough, but for readers who may
not know exactly what I am talking about, I'll elaborate. I belong
to a league that is about a decade old by now. (It's been through
so many changes that it's really hard to say when it stopped being
the league that it used to be and started being the one that it
is now-but that is a story for another time.) When the league
started, the commissioner had no choice but to be an absolute
workhorse. He had to calculate the scores himself and type up
a massive email that went out to everyone in the league, informing
us of who won and who lost and by how much. Try that on for size,
you whippersnappers who never knew of fantasy football before
the CBS Sportslines and Yahoo!s and RTSports-type services streamlined
it into what it is today.
Anyway, that preamble is simply a way of explaining that when
our league instituted a $1 transaction fee for every trade, every
waiver wire pick-up, every injured reserve categorizationwhen
our league instituted that transaction fee, it was primarily the
commissioner's way of defending himself against burnout. If it
cost you a buck every time you wanted to modify your roster, the
thinking seemed to be that people wouldn't go hog-wild with roster
modifications. And if we weren't all deluging our over-worked
commissioner with requests to change our #4 receiver (who would
be on the bench anyway) sixteen times a week, then he might just
retain his sanity long enough to get us through another season.
I wholeheartedly approved the implementation of the transaction
fee when it was introduced. It seemed to me like a good way of
forcing people to think very carefully about their teams before
making frivolous changes that could suck the life and enthusiasm
out of our commissioner.
But here's the thing: the Internet did finally catch up with
fantasy football. The commissioner no longer has to pore over the
box scores. He no longer has to send out massive emails. He still
has to approve trades, but our website handles waiver wire transactions
automatically (according to a wish list based on standings within
Now the transaction fee has been a part of our league for so long
that we haven't really thought of doing away with it. In fact,
we decided that with inflation, we should double the fee to $2
per transaction. Nobody grumbled. But I'm beginning to wonder
whether there's any justification for keeping the transaction
fee. The league runs more smoothly and effortlessly now than it
ever did, and it runs just as smoothly whether there are two or
twenty or two hundred waiver wire transactions in a given week.
To be sure, all those transaction fees go into the pot and fatten
the purse for the winner at the end of the season, but I have
to wonder whether they come with a cost.
This week, for instance, I had Thomas Jones on a bye and Onterrio
Smith suspended. I needed someone to help out Shaun Alexander
in my backfield, and I had to go to the waiver wire for help.
Our waiver wire runs on Wednesday evenings, and at that point,
Jonathan Wells looked like he might get substantial playing time.
So I went for Wells. Ka-ching. That was two dollars. Then, on
Sunday morning, I woke up early to check on Wells again. I didn't
like his prospects as much as the prospects of Minnesota's Mewelde
Moore. So I cut Wells for Moore. Ka-ching. Another two dollars.
Was Moore worth the investment? Absolutely. But the only reason
I made the investment is because it is still early in the season
and my playoff prospects are alive and well. If it had been Week
13 and I had a losing record, would I have been willing to pay
$4 to make two changes at running back in one week? Not likely.
Anyone who has ever had a bad fantasy season knows how apathy
can affect your team management even though you know you have
a responsibility to play as hard vs. the team you face in Week
14 as you did vs. the team you faced in Week 1. But I can't help
suspecting that in leagues with transaction fees, the teams that
are out of it about two-thirds of the way through the season have
a disincentive to try to get back into the thick of things.
What do you folks think? Anyone willing to make a case for or
against transaction fees?
LMS Picks for Week 5 (Courtesy of Matt)
As we get further into the season you need to start looking a
match-ups that not only give you the best chance to win this week,
but also allow you to win over the next two or three weeks by
not taking the teams that you might need later in the season.
With that said, here are some games that you might want to take
a risk on.
Trap Game(s): Tampa Bay at St. Louis:
I picked Tampa Bay as my trap game last week and I see a little
bit of a pattern beginning here. The Bucs are feeling good after
holding the Saints to 109 yards passing and they just might just
know how to stop the Rams' passing attack. If this game was played
in Tampa, it would be a perfect upset pick, but two weeks in a
dome might be one too many for the Bucs.
#3: NY Jets over San Francisco (3-2
Are the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets good enough to beat the 49ers?
Bet on it. While the Bills almost beat them at home, the 49ers
defense will not be able to contain Martin and company. This might
be a little bit of a shoot out, but take the home team straight
#2: Cleveland over Cincinnati (3-2
This is the week of how many times will you be able to take a
particular team during the season during your Survival Pool. Cleveland
is at home against a team that has one of the worst defenses in
the league. And while the Browns' defense is not completely healthy,
if they shut down Rudi Johnson and make Palmer beat them, they
just might pull this one off. This is a tough game to pick as
a lock, but at some point during the season you have to reach
deep down into your bag of tricks.
#1: Buffalo over Miami (4-1 This Season):
While the temperature might not be below freezing on Sunday, the
Dolphins will get an icy reception on the flight home from Wannstedt
if they lose. Many are saying that someone has to win this game,
but it is possible that it could end in a tie. With that said,
the Bills should win this one hands down. Look for new faces on
both sides of the ball from Sage Rosenfels who will start for
the Dolphins at Quarterback and Willis McGahee who will be featured
at tailback for the Bills. The Bills have had a chance to win
their games this year, but this should be the first one that actually
goes up in the win column.
For responses to this week's fantasy question or to share your
LMS picks, please email
me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football