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Have You Looked at Your Schedule?

In this latest installment of the Commissioner’s Perspective, I want to delve into an overlooked subject that many fantasy football managers and commissioners alike might not think much about. Today we’re talking about scheduling within your fantasy league, how NFL schedules are determined, and then I want to expose a huge flaw in the way schedules are determined with one of the most popular league providers.

It’s well-known by now that the New England Patriots have one of the easiest schedules (if not

the easiest schedule) this season. Combine that with the fact that they are already one of the best teams (if not

the best team) in the league, and it’s easy to see why they might have advantage in getting into the playoffs with a high seed. The same idea applies to fantasy football leagues; there will always be teams with easier schedules than other teams. However, most fantasy football regular seasons only last 13 or 14 weeks as opposed to 17 weeks in the NFL. Many fantasy leagues don’t use divisions, pitting each team against every other team in the league at least once. Saying that, scheduling has more of an impact on the chance of success in the NFL versus fantasy, but it still has a significant impact in fantasy when you think about how important those two or three games that you’re playing a team for the second time at the end of the season are.

Since many leagues have already drafted and their fantasy schedules are already set, my hope here is to make both managers and commissioners alike think about how their schedules were determined. If your league schedule has not yet been determined, my hope is that managers and commissioners think carefully about how it will be determined.

NFL Scheduling

As sad as it is, many avid fans and self-proclaimed gurus of the game don’t have a clue about how schedules in the NFL are determined. In fact, many are under the false impression that the NFL actually hand-picks schedules in some way to increase the popularity of the league. While this is true when it comes to TV and primetime scheduling, it isn’t true when you look at the 16-game schedules themselves. Since the inception of the eight divisions we have now in the NFL (which began in 2002), there has been a fair and organized method as to how a schedule is determined for any given team each year:

  • 6 games are determined purely by division foes; each team plays against each division opponent once at home and once on the road.

  • 4 games (2 at home and 2 away) are against each team in another division in the same conference, on a three-year rotation scheme. This ensures that every team will play every other team of every other division in the same conference at least once every three years.

  • 4 games (2 at home and 2 away) are against each team in another division in the opposite conference, on a four-year rotation scheme. This ensures that every team will play every other team of every other division in the opposite conference at least once every four years.

  • 2 games (1 at home and 1 away) are against teams in the same conference who finished with the same rank in their division the previous season. These two teams can not already be on the schedule according to the above rules. For example, the first-place team in the AFC South the previous season plays the first-place team from the previous season of two other divisions in the AFC.

Even though some NFL teams have an easier road to the playoffs than others, it isn’t because of the scheduling algorithm, but because of the strengths of their opponents. However, their opponents are determined by the algorithm and which division they play in.

Fantasy Scheduling

There are a number of ways fantasy schedules are determined; some are determined by the league provider and some are determined by the commissioner. As well, there are two basic types of schedules: one in which you play each manager at least once during the regular season (playing two or three managers twice) and one where there is a divisional structure similar to that in the NFL, where you play divisional foes more often than non-divisional foes.

Creating divisions within leagues is becoming more and more popular for the same reason they exist in many real sports leagues: they promote rivalries, and rivalries promote fun and competition. The downside is that you could have one strong division that beats up on itself, and this may lead to weaker teams getting into the playoffs only because they play in weaker divisions. So, when deciding whether or not to use a divisional structure, there’s a tradeoff to consider between the rivalry factor and schedule equality.

In more customized leagues, the commissioner probably determines the schedules, usually using “fill-in-the-blank” charts provided by a number of different league providers and fantasy football Web sites. In this case, there are hundreds of scheduling variations (including both the use of divisions and not using divisions). Without divisions, the most common schedule is to have every team play every other team at least once, playing two or three of those teams twice depending on how long the season is. However with this type of schedule, the question still remains: how do you determine who plays who twice? The most common way to determine this is to simply have each team play their Week 1, 2 and/or 3 opponents for a second time at the end of the regular season. There’s still a problem with this though, because some teams will end up getting to play weaker managers twice and some teams will have to end up playing stronger managers twice. As a commissioner, this is something that I would never want to decide. In fact, I believe commissioners should

never have a hand in the scheduling process. It should be left completely up to the system to determine this at random, or determined based on the draft order (which in many redraft leagues is determined randomly; therefore the schedule is also determined randomly). In the same way, commissioners should never have a hand in determining the divisions when a divisional structure is in place. One logical solution is to let the divisions be determined by the random draft order, i.e:

  • Division 1

    contains the 1st pick team, the 4th pick team, the 7th pick team, and the 10th pick team.

  • Division 2

    contains the 2nd pick team, the 5th pick team, the 8th pick team, and the 11th pick team.

  • Division 3

    contains the 3rd pick team, the 6th pick team, the 9th pick team, and the 12th pick team.

The basic rule of thumb is that schedules should be randomly decided whenever possible.

Yahoo Scheduling Exposed!

If you play in Yahoo leagues, you should be weary of the “scheduling algorithm” used to determine the schedules. In fact, if your commissioner has been running Yahoo leagues for years, and you’re somewhat of a newbie to fantasy football, you might be getting shafted without even knowing it. Even for you non-commissioner vets out there that play in Yahoo leagues, listen up.

Schedules in Yahoo are completely determined based on the order that managers signup with the league. The first team to register (which is always the commissioner) will always play the second team that signs up in Week 1, the third team that signs up in Week 2, the fourth team that signs up in Week 3, etc. Then (depending on the number of teams and weeks of regular season), the commissioner will end up playing the Week 1, Week 2, and (possibly) Week 3 opponent for the second time at the end of the regular season. The second team that signs up (the team that signs up after the commissioner) always plays the commissioner first, the last team to sign up second, the third team to sign up third, etc. If you look at the other team schedules, they are all systematically based off the commissioner’s schedule. Assuming ‘C’ is the commissioner, ‘T2’ is the second team to signup after the commissioner, ‘T3’ is the third team to signup, etc., this is what the schedule will always looks like for a 12-team league with 14 weeks of regular season:

 

 

C

T2

T3

T4

T5

T6

T7

T8

T9

T10

T11

T12

Week1

T2

C

T11

T10

T9

T8

T12

T6

T5

T4

T3

T7

Week2

T3

T12

C

T11

T10

T9

T8

T7

T6

T5

T4

T2

Week3

T4

T3

T2

C

T11

T10

T9

T12

T7

T6

T5

T8

Week4

T5

T4

T12

T2

C

T11

T10

T9

T8

T7

T6

T3

Week5

T6

T5

T4

T3

T2

C

T11

T10

T12

T8

T7

T9

Week6

T7

T6

T5

T12

T3

T2

C

T11

T10

T9

T8

T4

Week7

T8

T7

T6

T5

T4

T3

T2

C

T11

T12

T9

T10

Week8

T9

T8

T7

T6

T12

T4

T3

T2

C

T11

T10

T5

Week9

T10

T9

T8

T7

T6

T5

T4

T3

T2

C

T12

T11

Week10

T11

T10

T9

T8

T7

T12

T5

T4

T3

T2

C

T6

Week11

T12

T11

T10

T9

T8

T7

T6

T5

T4

T3

T2

C

Week12

T2

C

T11

T10

T9

T8

T12

T6

T5

T4

T3

T7

Week13

T3

T12

C

T11

T10

T9

T8

T7

T6

T5

T4

T2

Week14

T4

T3

T2

C

T11

T10

T9

T12

T7

T6

T5

T8

Variations on the number of teams in the league and weeks of regular season make this look slightly different, but the algorithm works the same way. If you look closely, you can see the patterns and exactly how the algorithm works. However, the issue is not at all with the way the algorithm works. Most fantasy football managers and commissioners aren’t mathematicians and couldn’t come up with a better algorithm for determining schedules. The problem is that the algorithm is based on the registration order, and if a commissioner knows this information up front, they can essentially determine the schedule for every manager in the league. Most managers wouldn’t (and don’t) have any idea that this is even possible.

A commissioner could simply invite the weakest managers that will be part of the league before inviting anyone else to ensure they get to play the weaker managers twice. As well, the commissioner could time the invitations so that the strongest managers (aside from himself) have to play each other twice.

It’s difficult to understand why this algorithm isn’t simply based on the randomized draft order instead of the registration order. It would be a very simple change to implement. Take my advice and steer clear of Yahoo leagues in the future.

About Fantasy Sharks

FantasySharks.com began in 2003, disseminating fantasy football content on the web for free. It is, or has been, home to some of the most talented and best known fantasy writers on the planet. Owned and operated by Tony Holm (5 time Fantasy Sports Writer Association Hall-of-Fame nominee,) Tony started writing fantasy content in 1993 for the only three fantasy football web sites in existence at the time.