Spicing up your league

by: Greg Kellogg, special to the Sandlot Shrink

Let's talk about some things you can try to get that oomph back in your fantasy football league.

The first thing you want to remember is that people are very resistant to change. It scares them. You'll hear arguments like, "Why fix it if it ain't broke" or "Why make change for changes sake". So you should go in knowing that you have to sell whatever changes you want to make. To do that, you will need a plan.

But first let's discuss what kind of changes you can make to add some excitement.

The key item to remember here can be taken from a line in the movie Contact. A young girl is searching the bandwidth of a ham radio trying to talk to her deceased mom and her dad tells her to take "little steps". That's very good advice when you want to make changes. The smaller the steps the less the resistance.

Some things you might want to add are: Performance Bonuses, Negative Scoring, Negative Defensive Scoring, Individual Defensive Players, Keeping Some Players, Keeping All Players, Auctioning Players, Salary Cap

Performance Bonuses

To your more conservative, "I wanna be just like the NFL" types this is the ultimate slap in the face. I mean, you are actually suggesting that we give points when someone gains yards? Sure. Most all leagues give defensive points for sacks or interceptions. These are not normally scoring plays. But they effect the outcome of the game, so they are important and should be rewarded.

Many leagues will give minor bonuses, such as three points for gaining 100 yards rushing or receiving or 300 yards passing. The problem I have with these types of scoring is that it puts an inordinate value on one yard. If a player gets 99 yards, did he really contribute that much less than a guy that gets 100 yards? I don't think so.

All yardage is inherently valuable. But setting the value requires some thought. Let's look at the 100/300 levels. If a running back or receiver gained 100 yards each game, he would have himself a 1600-yard season. You can reasonably expect two or three backs to reach that level each year. You can expect to see receivers do it, maybe, once a decade. If a quarterback were to throw for 300 yards a game, he would finish the year with 4800 yards. Can it happen? Sure, but how often? These are all unrealistic levels dating back to an era where the NFL played 12 and 14 game seasons, and it took that type of performance to reach 1000 and 3500-yard seasons. With a 16 game season, things have changed dramatically.

Most people consider 1200 yards rushing or receiving to be a very good season. By the same token, the quarterback that throws for 3600 yards has been very good. To achieve these goals, a running back or receiver has to average just 75 yards a game. A quarterback has to throw for 225 yards per game.

If you want a cut-off point, I would suggest these. But I prefer to look at it in a different light. I submit that 100 yards rushing or receiving, and 300 yards passing is equivalent to a touchdown in terms of value to a team. If Adrian Murrell gains 100 yards rushing, and Mario Bates comes in and scores a one-yard TD, aren't both equally valuable? There are many ways to score this. You could just give six points when someone reaches 100 yards, or you could give a point for every 20 yards, with a one point bonus at 100. Whatever you think you can convince the majority of your fellow owners to try would be the best way to go.

Negative Scoring

This is one of my favorites, but it seems to be anathema to most in the fantasy circles. My point is simple. If we are going to reward players for positives (scoring, yardage, etc), shouldn't we deduct when they do things that hurt their team?

Most leagues already do this with quarterbacks. You will often see points deducted for interceptions. So why the resistance to penalties for fumbles lost? I don't understand it, though I have seen it over and over again. To me, if the quarterback throws an interception it is the same as if he loses a fumble. Either way, his team loses the ball. And if quarterbacks are going to be penalized, why not running backs and receivers?

This is just one of those areas that I see as making too much sense not to implement. But it seems to also be one that will bring out the worst in people. It may be that it is hard to project who will lose a fumble and how often. I dispute this. If you track players over a period of years, you will see those that have more, or less, trouble hanging on to the ball. It is just another consideration when evaluating each individual.

Negative Defensive Scoring

This is an area I have recently fallen head over heals for. Look out baby, you been replaced with realism. One of the biggest complaints I hear repeated about Fantasy Football is that it is unrealistic because you can't do anything to stop the other team's offense.

Hold on there buddy. Stop the presses. You can do something about the other team's offense, if you use negative defensive scoring! So how does this work, you ask. The best processes are the simple ones, and this qualifies.

Simply tally your defense, and deduct it from your opponent's offense. Care should be given that you don't create a situation where you have an inordinate amount of negative or zero (shutout) final scores, but this can be addressed in the scoring system. If you use the Fantasy Football League Manager (FFLM) to score your leagues, the software can be set up to do this for you.

This system works wonders for those leagues that want more realistic scoring. And while it does work with Team Defenses, I would recommend you step up to the next level, by implementing Individual Defensive Players.

Individual Defensive Players

Those that scoff at the idea of having defensive players instead of defensive teams are either novices, lazy or just afraid of trying something new. Harsh words, I know. I also realize that most of my readers are not in leagues with individual defensive players.

Neither was I until this year. It does require a broader knowledge of the NFL. It does take more time in player evaluation. But it also allows you to be more realistic in your approach to the game.

Count me among the converted. But like anything else, the scoring system is critical to the success. I recommend that if you would truly like to try this, you contact some of my good buddies from FanEx for more information. Sam or Adam Caplan have played in a league run by Duane Cahill for years. Any of them can answer questions about this type of system.

Keep Some Players

There is nothing more thrilling than the Fantasy Football Draft. Folks gather from all around, meet in local sports bars, on IRC or in homes to participate. Some make a big party of it.

Though I love the draft, I also like the challenge of building a dynasty. To do so, you have to keep a core group of players. Look at the Cowboys of the early 90's. They lost tons of players every year to free agency, but they made sure that they re-signed their core player group. Aikman, Smith, Irvin, Newton and Sanders never went anywhere, and because of it, they were one of the best franchises of the era.

In fantasy football, this means you take the best players out of your draft after the first year, and that makes people unhappy. There are ways around this. You could limit the number of years that you are allowed to protect a player. You could require a team to give up a draft pick that is three rounds higher than the one the player protected was selected in (that way those taken in the first three rounds recycle each year).

However you do it, allowing teams to keep players will build a sense of ownership to a franchise. If properly implemented, it will also allow a bad team to get better and promote parity. Don't get me wrong, nothing can overcome laziness or stupidity, but if you have an owner that is new and makes the effort to get better, allowing him the choice of keeping some players, or drafting early will allow him to overcome first year mistakes.

Keep All Players

Leagues that allow you to keep all of your players are often referred to as Dynasty leagues. Most often, after their initial draft, they conduct rookie only drafts.

These are the most difficult leagues to be in. If you have a bad initial season, or if you take over a team that is in poor shape, it can take years to fix the team.

But that is why I love them. There is no greater challenge than rebuilding a terrible team in a dynasty format. I recently took over a team that was in pretty poor shape. The previous owner had made a few questionable trades, that, though I'm sure he felt was in the best interests of his team, ended up hurting the team's future possibilities, while providing little to know immediate compensation.

Auctioning Players

Most leagues allow you to acquire players through a draft. Sometimes it is serpentine, sometimes straight worst goes first. Either way, you can only get players that are left on the board when it is your turn. This means that if you don't pick in the top three, you can forget about getting that one can't miss prospect like Terrell Davis or Brett Favre.

An auction league changes the dynamics of all that. You are given a specified amount of money and then you have to build your team with those funds. In some cases you have to set aside some of that money for free agency. Woe be to those that spend all of their money and have nothing left when their superstar gets injured.

Because auctioning of players allows everyone the same chance to acquire any player, these drafts can take a little longer than a regular draft. But they also involve more interplay between the owners.

A slight drawback to participating in Auction leagues is that because there are so few of them, there is very little written on the strategies of player acquisition. This means you are stuck in a "Learn as you go" type situation.

Still, this is a small price to pay to get an opportunity to acquire any player you want.

Salary Cap

Some leagues implement salary caps. You often see it in auction leagues, but they are not the only ones. I was honored to be invited into a local league, based in Quantico, Virginia, last season. The league members had to vote to change certain rules to allow me in. They had never had a non-local owner, and their previous rules did not allow participation in any other leagues.

This league, Madden's Fantasy Football League has a Salary Cap, and assigns a dollar contact value to every player. The value is based on such diverse things as the number of TDs scored, whether the player is projected to be a starter, if his team was a playoff team and several others.

It is easily the most complex league I am in. You have a $1 million cap that you fill your team from. You need to save money for free agency, which is very limited, and for player activations. While the rules listed on his home page are not complete, I am sure Pete would send you a copy if you asked him.

The bottom line is that should you discover a rookie gem, ala Fred Taylor, he will cost you the same as a superstar should cost to keep him for the next season. This injects a little more realism into the situation than a straight keeper league offers.

These are just some of the various things you might like to try to spice up your league. All of them have strengths and weaknesses to the arguments for their implementation. To get them adopted, you will have to sell them to your fellow owners.

I suggest you select one or two things you want to try and feel out a couple of your friends. Ask them what they think. Get some opinions from others whom you respect. Remember that change is easier in small steps. If you want to move to a keeper league, suggest trying it for one year with just one keeper per team. Once you get popular opinion moving in the direction you want it, larger changes become easier.

The one thing you don't want to do is to make wholesale changes to a league that had little or no problems. No league is perfect. They can all use small adjustments. But the more palatable you make those adjustments, the more likely you are to get them implemented. Never personalize any of the issues. If others disagree with you, accept it as a disagreement with your idea and move on. If your ideas are good, they will eventually be adopted.



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