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The Case Against Head-to-Head Leagues


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The most common fantasy football league format is based on weekly head-to-head matchups with a playoff system at the end of the season, culminating with one team outscoring another in a championship game.

Here’s why that format is wrong.

What is the ultimate goal of a fantasy league? The first answer is to have fun. The second answer should be to reward the best owner for the season as champion, to recognize their season-long commitment to making the correct moves to build the best team in your league. Building the best team starts for many owners in July (or sooner), as they prepare for the draft. Winning owners don’t buy a magazine the day of the draft, and then unknowingly select a player who got injured in the first preseason game and is expected to miss half the season. Winning owners don’t drop good players after the second week out of frustration because they have had two bad weeks. Winning owners make good trades, trading away players that have been overperforming for stars (think Cam Newton or Calvin Johnson in 2012) when their owners are frustrated by their poor performance. The league that I have been in for 20 years utilizes a scoring system that rewards the best team as champion.

1. Eliminate head-to-head. The most frustrating thing for an owner is to get the second-highest score in the league that week, only to lose to the highest scoring team. Head-to-head not only embraces variability, it rewards it. Your weekly score in a head-to-head league has no value on its own. Your weekly score in a head-to-head league is only important in relation to the team you are playing against. Score 100 points and get a loss while another team scores 60 and gets a win. When did fantasy league owners decide that this was fair? The argument against this is that real NFL teams play head-to-head. But you aren’t using a real team. You are using an assortment of players on many different teams. Your team does not win based on if your players' teams win. You are measuring the performance of individuals in a team game.

- Instead of Head-to-Head scoring: If you have 10 teams in your league, give the weekly highest scoring team 10 points. Give the second highest scoring team nine points, and so on until the lowest score for the week gets one point. Instead of keeping track all season of the weekly scores for the team, total up the 1-10 point score that each team gets. This prevents teams from gaining too much advantage from a huge week, but also rewards them in relation to how they finished. Quit being punished or rewarded based on the performance of another single owner that you are randomly competing against.

2. Eliminate playoffs. I know … it sure is nice to have a marginal team all season, and then cash a lottery ticket if your team goes on a heater for three weeks. But from the other side, how sickening is it to have dominated your league for an entire season, only to lose it all in the second week of the playoffs because you ran into the owner that was lucky enough to have Drew Bennett and the year was 2004?

- Instead of a play-off system: Eliminate the playoffs and continue to score your league the same from beginning to end. This rewards excellence over the entirety of the season, instead of an owner who is lucky enough to own good players on teams still fighting for spots in the NFL playoffs. For years, fantasy football punished the owner of Peyton Manning because his NFL team was too good and he wouldn’t play the final 2-3 weeks of the season. Is there any other game that punishes you for being too good, that gives you a reason not to draft one of the top 2-3 quarterbacks every season because his team might win their division too early?

To encourage owners from quitting because they are too far out to win the league, award weekly prizes (a percent of the total prize pool) to the owner with the highest weekly score. This way, the owner that is riding a heater with a Tony Romo-to-Dez Bryant connection the last few weeks of the season is rewarded, even if they won’t win the league championship. Nothing keeps owners engaged as much as the continued possibility of winning something, however that something shouldn’t be a fantasy championship for a lesser team.