Contributed by: Dan Duff
Most fantasy players who have been in the game for more than a few years have run into bad leagues or, at the very least, situations that make good leagues go bad. Typically, everyone was gung-ho on draft day, still fired up in Week 3, but problems cropped up by mid-season. A few teams had fallen out of contention, and stopped participating. A couple weeks later, lineup submissions were missed, and a bye-week player was in the starting lineup. Maybe the hot new starter ended up on a top team because the also-rans were no longer picking up players due to cost or apathy. Perhaps the league leader had games against teams no longer trying, while his closest competitors knocked each other off. These sorts of things do not just happen in free internet leagues. Bad results can crop up even in well-run local leagues populated with veteran fantasy players. In order to lessen your chances of turning your fantasy experience into a nightmare, you need to look for a few common pitfalls, and be proactive in lobbying for rule changes to keep everyone in the game.
Yellow Flag #1: High transaction costs
If an owner thinks he is done for the year, how likely is he to throw good money after bad? I have played in leagues where player moves cost $10. Teams below the waterline simply stopped making transactions after the first five or six weeks, making them even less competitive as the season wore on.
Yellow Flag #2: Trade approvals
Active trading is a fun and healthy part of any good league. Nothing slows down trades more than a veto-happy group killing every deal on the board. Some owners have different player values, and will view fair deals as lopsided. Others will harbor grudges, and look for a chance to veto-back. Some will get jealous over the trade, and veto it because they did not think of a similar deal first. A few fantasy owners will try to prevent other teams from getting better and challenging their position. What started as a reasonable idea to keep poor trades from ruining a league ends up killing all deals and ruining it another way.
Yellow Flag #3: Small post-seasons
If your goal is maintaining interest, a small post-season tourney is not the way to go. Some leagues have two divisions, and the division winners face off in the championship. This leads to early eliminations, and early loss of interest.
Yellow Flag #4: Rules encouraging dumping
Most leagues give big rewards to the losing teams to help the losers bounce back the following season. Typically, the worst team gets the first pick the following year. What kind of lineup would many owners submit when they can clinch the first pick with a loss? How would you like to be fighting for a spot against his or her opponent?
OK, those are a few of the biggest offenders. There are others, but let’s look at some solutions to the four situations.
First and Goal: Build your costs into up-front fees
This will encourage the borderline teams to stay active, and make trading easier. Speaking of trading . . .
Second and Goal: Allow next year’s assets to be traded
I really prefer a keeper league if your co-owners can be persuaded to take the plunge. Weak teams can stay engaged by moving players for young stars-to-be, and a borderline club can make a deal to move into playoff contention where, before, the same team might not be able to pull off a deal. If you cannot sell the keeper, consider allowing next season’s draft picks as trade material.
Third and Goal: Keep more teams interested longer
There are many ways to accomplish keeping more teams in the game. The simplest is expanding the playoffs. Instead of having the top four teams advance, consider giving byes to the first two teams and having teams three through six meet in the first playoff week. Leagues already at six could consider going to eight, with a “home-field advantage” of a few points handed to the top four teams. If you do not, or cannot, expand, there are other ways to keep the league alive. I played in a league where the top two high weekly scores of the year won a prize. The same league paid out the highest scoring team that would otherwise have finished out of the money due to won-loss record. How many times have you seen a team draw the highest scoring team as an opponent week after week? Another league gave a playoff spot to the top-scoring team that finished out of the money. You could consider a “Toilet Bowl” with a prize or for next season’s top pick. I am commissioner of fantasyfootball.com’s No Fear league, where all teams play in Week 16, with the winners getting higher draft picks the following season. These types of systems encourage the also-rans to stay involved, and prevent outright dumping.
Fourth and Goal: Keep it fresh
One of the ways I mentioned above involved converting to a keeper format. While keeper leagues add to the complexity and continue to keep involvement high late in the season, you do run the risk of having the league turn stale. One of the worst formats has teams keeping their top four to six players. This is just enough to keep the best players out of the draft, and turn your biggest day of the year into Backup Selection Hour. To prevent this, place limits on keepers. Some common methods are limiting the number of years a specific player can be held to one or two; or only allowing players drafted in the later rounds and/or picked up on waivers to be kept. Auction leagues will sometimes build in a salary increase for a kept player, making him more expensive over time. Whatever method or combination of methods you choose, make sure you do not sacrifice the joy of team building in order to increase in-season involvement.
This list is not meant to be all-inclusive. You and your league-mates can brainstorm and come up with all kinds of possibilities for your specific situation. The key is to keep an open mind, and be willing to embrace a few changes to the system. The result: more teams staying interested, more player movement, and more fun for all. TOUCHDOWN!