Is Your League Design Stale?
Where does the time go? It seems like it was only a few months ago
I was absolutely frustrated in one league, being in first place
then getting blown out in the first play-off round in another and
hoping to scrape by in the money in another.
Before the start of last season I penned an
article about the sameness of many fantasy leagues. I railed
against leagues which seemed to be single strategy minded rewarding
those who could attain the top running backs at the expense of
other positions. I felt this was removing some of the creativity
from the “fantasy” world making the outcomes far too
predictable in way too many leagues. The response to the piece
My email was virtually flooded by people suggesting ideas or sharing
how their leagues operated. The material was enlightening, but
there was a problem; the football season was upon us. Making,
or even contemplating, any change within a league at that juncture
This season, with training camp a few weeks away and the first
signs of fantasy magazines on the stand, it seemed like the perfect
time to lay out what real “experts” said regarding
league design. The real experts being the people who have been
in this game for decades changing with the times or hanging onto
the well laid out plans they had when their leagues started. Some
in the game long before the phrase “fantasy” football
was in vogue; even before the World Wide Web.
It seems many respondents sighted the performance based nature
of fantasy football as the cause of homogenous leagues. In one
form or another most leagues reward points based upon weighted
positions; weighted by who touches the ball the most.
Of course this makes quarterback the position carrying the most
weight while tight ends carry the least. Other respondents sighted
the offensive nature of fantasy football, one calling it a restrictive
plague called “Fantasy Offense.” The claim goes too
many fantasy leagues fail to recognize the importance of defense
in the game. They are unwilling to recognize the type of balance
a “real” team needs to be competitive in the National
My own “main” league, a performance weighted affair,
has attacked the perceived running back bias. Every year the commissioner
of my home league entertains any and all suggestions regarding
rule changes. These are placed on a league email where owners
can provide input and vote (or being Americans not) on the proposals.
Despite being a weighted/performance based league, we have added
our own twists to scoring making the league unique and competitive.
Over the years we have attempted to make both QB’s and
TE’s more attractive. With regard to QB’s we have
gone from a weighted factor of 3 to 5 while with TE’s he
have gone from 8 to a factor of 10. We have also tinkered with
the notion of three wide outs before finally settling with a “flex”
position allowing any receiver or running back into the mix for
the week. This year we have decided to make the flex position
more attractive by increasing the number. In addition to this
we have decided to add one point for each reception for all receivers
including running backs. We have also adjusted team size, number
of draft positions and we have set up a system of competitive
bidding on free agents which includes salary cap. Of course all
of these changes were in response to some perceived infraction
of ethics like over spending on free agents.
these changes, we are still like many leagues in the fantasy world.
We place too much emphasis on running backs while perhaps not
enough on defense. As a result of this draft days are almost as
a predictable as the outcome of a foot race between Devin Hester
and Warren Sapp.
Don’t get me wrong. I have been playing in the league
a long time. The people are great while the level of competition
is very high, but fresh ideas are not embraced quickly as tradition
seems to rule the day. For those of you searching for some creative
means of freshening a stale league, read on to see what some experts
have to say about combating predictability.
The defensive end of the game is what seems to be neglected
the most in many leagues. In one long time league many moons ago
I suggested employing a special teams/defensive component to a
stagnant league where I was an owner. I wanted to add some spice;
instead I was greeted with, “What are you trying to do?
Have my wife divorce me? We already spend too much time on this
league.” Given the league met three times a year for a total
of about eight hours I knew this cry for marital unity had just
invoked the Grim Reaper for this group of owners. In the end the
league folded from sheer boredom, but his marriage held. I still
question who got the better end of the deal. Fortunately other
leagues are open to fresh ideas regarding defense.
There were a couple of suggestions to start employing return
yardage as a part of the total points equation. This puts a large
value on the likes of Hester, McGee, Hall and their cohorts. Instead
of the format of drafting complete units, as many leagues use,
there is an ever growing movement to draft individual players.
In some leagues the Ray Lewis’s of the world are collecting
as many points as Tomlinson and his brethren. Still, there is
a drawback to this level of intensity with regard to the defense;
homework as well as increased draft time.
Some of the more simple solutions included increasing the amount
of points for a safety. Most leagues award the defense a total
of two points. For some two points is not enough for a play with
such scoring potential. In addition to the two points for tackling
in the end zone, the offense gets the ball again after a free
kick. In the end the work of the defense could result in as many
as ten points for the team. (a TD and two point conversion) It
was suggested a play of such potential significance should be
worth five or six points.
Most leagues are still rewarding six points for a defensive/special
teams TD, as well as points for sacks, interceptions, fumbles
and additional points for low scores and total yardage. There
is still room for thought and improvement on this side of the
ball; it is the offensive side of the fantasy world people seemed
to address the most.
There were many suggestions for addressing the weighting in
performance leagues, especially with regard to running backs.
As one respondent noted, “…you could simply devalue
rushing yards and touchdowns, but fantasy scores based on such
a system would not reflect the true value of a backs performance…”
In short, playing with the weighting system in a total performance
based league is like trying to keep ice from melting in the desert.
The ice might change to water, but it is essentially the same
In one Midwest league they have ten owners and a waiting list
a mile long. They offer no head-to-head competition. Their season
lasts as long as the Super Bowl with everybody paying everybody
for their scores. Instead of weighting heavily for yards or receptions,
they weight heavily for TD’s with 20 points being rewarded
for any sort of kick off return or DB score and 40 points for
an LB trip to the Zone. Just one turn around could change an entire
week for a team. On the offensive side of the ball more points
are awarded to scores from outside of 50 yards. They also reward
300 yard passing quarterbacks and any offensive player attaining
the 100 yard mark As the season goes all the way to the Super
Bowl there is an added incentive to draft players on playoff potential
There are other leagues out there which reward for the length
of a TD, some working in a strictly cash mode. One is paying a
buck for any TD under four yards with the amount going up to $2.00
for anything between four and ten yards. Between 11 and 30 yards
the amount goes to $3.00 with a buck being added to each ten yards
there after. The writer had Torry Holt, Steve Smith and TO during
the 2005 season; he made a killing with them. Guys like Zack Crockett
are valued less than other Raider running backs (if that is possible).
Along the same lines, but with a slightly different take, there
is a league out there playing strictly on points. Any rushing
TD is scored as six, while a TD pass is worth four. Any field
goal, despite the distance, is scored a as three with traditional
extra-points being scored as a one. For PAT’s involving
a run, the scorer gets two and one point apiece for a toss/reception
play. Any safety is still scored as a two and any defensive/special
teams score is rewarded with a six. In this league yards, touches,
receptions, interceptions or fumbles are not a part of the scoring
Each one of these ideas changes the traditional thinking with
regard to “running back” first fantasy football. It
is what makes them all attractive. Still a question remains, should
a fantasy league reflect the unique abilities of each position
or should they reward the effort of a team as a whole? There may
be a solution to honor both ends of this equation.
It would not be so bad to take the accomplishment of all players
on a team and treat them as equal, yet separate for offense and
defense. You could use any of the defensive schemes to score the
unit, but the offensive side of the ball would look a little different.
Instead of rewarding individual players, reward the entire team.
Put all of the yards, scores and touches on the same level. In
other words go with the total yards for the offensive unit for
the week. Take each TD then make it a six point addition with
each standard extra-point as a single unit and each non-traditional
PAT as a two point reward. All yards are counted as one point
for every ten yards gained despite the position player garnering
them. Award head-to-head competition by the team totals for the
week or keep a running total rewarding owners at the half and
end of the season for their performance. In this way the team
would be a more balanced unit leveling out the advantage of being
first in a snake draft or punishing those who may have over spent
in the opening rounds of an auction draft. No one player will
be able to make a team and the element of luck will play less
of a role than I have seen it play in the past. Make both sides
of the ball cohesive units having to score together for their
owner to have success. If fantasy football is to act as a distorted
mirror of the real thing then include the big time star’s
performance as a part of a holistic unit.
Of course all of this is just food for fodder. Most leagues
are not going to consider changes; it is a part of human nature.
We like being comfortable with what we know, not what we could
explore. It is why we have made people like Christopher Columbus,
Daniel Boone and John Glenn heroes. They have dared to explore
what others had found too frightening, they also came back to
tell the tale.
Change for the sake of change is a waste of time, but change
for the sake of leveling a playing field, while creating more
strategies, is just plain fun. The nice part of being owners is
we can play just like the big guys. We can have our meetings,
consider suggestions from the rules committee and vote upon them,
or we can go out and create our own leagues. I have done both.
They have their merits and drawbacks. What they both contain,
which can not be questioned, is the fact they lead down the path
to another season of competitive action. Win or lose, there is
nothing like having your own team to root for while other fans
merely follow the standings. It is what sets all fantasy owners
apart from the “normal” football fan. There is no
substitute for passion. There is not a successful or frustrated
fantasy owner lacking this necessary ingredient, which makes us