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Backing It Up

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about the preponderance of fantasy leagues which seem to emphasize the running back above all other positions. To say the least the response from readers was high. It just shows how dedicated the players who frequent this web site are; I thank you all for your emails.

The responses seemed to fall into three categories. The first category was people who agreed with the premise of the article completely. They congratulated me for being so insightful and wished me better health. (I am doing fine and walking about five miles a day) The second category was people who agreed, but they were looking for a solution. They felt I had not completed the article as they were looking for modifications to mull over then perhaps implement. The last category was people who did have solutions to the problem as their leagues had long ago installed them. Their methods were creative. Some of them deserve being shared.

For the most part leagues who had addressed the running back bias did so by weighting other players or facets of their league higher to make them more attractive to owners. Defense was one area leagues around the country seemed to address.

Instead of the “standard” scoring or a safety as two points, one league went four times better. They felt a safety was worth eight points; two for the safety and six for the potential of a TD associated with the free kick. Other leagues were offering higher incentives for shutouts, yardage gained on punt returns and kick offs or fumbles and interceptions. Many were trying to make defense as attractive as any high profile player. It makes sense, as any coach will tell; defense wins championships.

Without going into great detail, one league addressed the prejudice of any position by making all performance cumulative for the team. It did not matter where the yards, TD’s or accomplishments came from, they were all addressed in an equal manner as an over-all team performance. It was a unique and creative concept which looked intriguing.

For the second category of people seeking solutions I had a fairly standard reply for them. I did not feel qualified to say, “This is how the problem should be solved.” I am not comfortable playing the role of “god” in my classroom, at my home and certainly not in the realm of fantasy football.

I have been involved in one fantasy league for over a decade where my brother is the commissioner. We are a totally democratic league. Over the years we have addressed many problems. Some of them, like the lack of quality tight ends, we addressed poorly while others we have done well. I don’t advertise what we do in the league because the league is private. The other reason I don’t advertise everything we do in league is, like any democracy, I don’t always agree with the decisions of the owners. To that end, I don’t always agree with the decisions of the voters in this country, but I accept them as it goes with the territory. What I did do, in search of a solution, was revert back to a discussion my brother and I have had over the years. Our solution to any sort of prejudice regarding any position was to play in a fantasy league where you draft complete pro teams.

We had never worked out the details of how it would work. We always reasoned it was too radical of an idea to present to league members. We were afraid some of them might consider bailing. Until now my brother and I have kept this idea to ourselves.

A couple of years ago my brother found a web site where owners did in fact draft entire teams. He had tried to get me to join, but I was reluctant due to personal and professional commitments. This year I decided the league site deserved at least a serious look. Once I began to examine it I felt it deserved the full attention of some serious research.

The name of the site is Sports Fantasy Leagues. It is run out of Lewisville Texas by a transplanted New Yorker named Nick Tusa. There are several aspects of the fantasy site which separate it from the norm, but one of the biggest is Nick himself.

The seeds for the site were planted in 1995 when he and some friends decided to create their own NASCAR league. They were not satisfied with leagues where they were competing against thousands of people, they were looking for something more personal. In 1999 he decided to take the concept they created for NASCAR and apply it to fantasy football.

It took some trial and error, but what has developed is competition which is personal, affordable and as intense as anything out in the world of fantasy sports.

The format is fairly simple. For a $50.00 entry fee owners are asked to select offenses from five tiers of NFL teams. The teams are ranked according to their performance from last year. It puts teams like the Steelers and the Seahawks at the top tier while teams like the Forty-Niners and Raiders dwell at the fifth level of the league. Each owner must select two teams from each of the tiers of offense, then select a defensive team from each of the two tiers there.

On the offensive side, scoring results from the total amount of points scored by the owner’s team, with one catch; teams must win their games to get the points. The number of points allowed by the defensive teams, win or lose, are deducted from the total offensive points to determine total points for the week.

Owners are allowed to “trade” teams from week to week in order to achieve the desired match-up of the owner. These trades are a $2.00 per transaction expense to the owner, but they are unlimited. Unlike the normal fourteen week standard of many fantasy leagues, with two weeks of pay-off games, the season runs for seventeen full weeks.

What makes the league even more attractive is the potential for some sort of reward for owners. Of course there are weekly prizes, but in addition to this there are double payout weeks, designated weeks added to create a mini-championship and championship prizes and trophies. There are also rewards for highest points in a week during the season, most top five finished during the year and most wins throughout the season. The rewards for the end of season prizes begin at one and go all the way to tenth place. According to Tusa, “Everyone has an opportunity to win something through the course of the year.”

The intimate league size is one attractive aspect of Sports Fantasy Leagues, there are other features which make the experience attractive. The live week scoring shows all teams selected by owners providing owners with up to the minute scoring for all teams. In addition to this there are solid statistical tables and weekly updates Tuesday morning. It allows all owners to stay in touch with the performance of everyone else in the league.

One other aspect of the league separating it from other out there in cyber space is there are not only cash prizes, but also trophies owners are able to keep. One of the things Tusa noticed was some leagues gave out cash rewards, then there others who gave out trophies. The thing with the trophy leagues was the trophy had to be returned each year. “Where’s the fun in that,” observed Tusa. This brings up the most attractive part of Sports fantasy Leagues, the personal touch.

I found the site and emailed Nick indicating I had some questions about his league. Within an hour I had received a response to my email asking me for my phone number so we could discuss this in person. The discussion bore fruit as he explained the system to me and answered every question I had regarding the scoring and operation of his league. One of the things he kept emphasizing was the personal touch.

Currently the football side of the web site has about 50 owners. Of those fifty, 80% of the owners are serious fantasy players, while the other 20% are there because of their favorite teams. Owners are encouraged to communicate through email and message boards and stats are in real time. “Football is the greatest sport in the world. This format makes Monday night one of the most critical nights of the week every week,” said Tusa.

Although money is an important aspect of most fantasy leagues, winning is even more important. Tusa feels most people are not there just for the money, they are there to win regardless of the money. It is all about bragging rights. To this end stats for all owners, past and present, are available on the site. These accumulated career stats are there for eternity for all participants.

It is not so much this is the end all and be all of fantasy sports, I was hooked by the team concept. As a coach and fan of almost anything sporting, I have been attracted to team sports. The only reason I tolerate golf is because I attempt to play the sport and I am involved in a fantasy golf league. (Even the golf league is team oriented, not so much focused on the performance of an individual).

Believe me, I bleed silver and black, yet there are players on the Raiders I can not stand. My biggest disappointment with them over the last few years is not the number of loses, (which have been considerable) nor the beatings (which have been brutal) but the fact they are not playing as a team. They point fingers at each other, their coach or anyone they can find to place the blame. Football, above all, is a team sport. Fantasy football can be the same way.

It is my sincere hope people will continue to write addressing their solutions to the perception of running back prejudice. I am placing all of the emails into a file for an article at the end of the year. I figure people have pretty much bought into their leagues “as is” for the season, next season may be the season for change. For those who are seeking something different for this year, the Sports fantasy League site is a viable alternative to the mundane many online sites offer. If you don’t believe me, go there and give Nick a blast with an email. I bet you get all of your questions or concerns addressed in a personal, yet timely manner.

Fantasy sports do not have to be about accepting formats you don’t agree with just for the sake of competition. Part of fantasy is exploration in search of what suits you best. This is just a mere offering which should be explored as the sands in the hour glass are running short with regard to the start of the NFL season. As for the rest of you, keep those cards and letter coming. Looking at what you are doing is one part of my fantasy sports reality I enjoy the most.