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Improving Your League, Part I: single-season leagues

As the start of the 2010 fantasy football season approaches, there are sure to be many of you out there who are thinking about introducing change to your fantasy football league. Whether the reason for change is a response to a problem from last season, a need to differentiate your own rules from the basic ones seen around the country, or a desire to try something new, updating outdated rules or introducing new ideas can be a great way to increase the overall experience of playing fantasy football.

This article is a brief introduction into some of the many rules my league has used during the eight years of our existence. The areas in which we differ from other leagues falls into many of the sections that can be found in a league rulebook – scoring system, roster composition, keeper league systems and scheduling are just a few such areas. I’ll detail the changes, moving from basic ideas to more advanced concepts, and hope that you’ll take a look and find something that might improve your league.

Starting Rosters – No Kickers

After a few seasons of wasting an extra round of draft night on a position with an over-inflated importance (in terms of fantasy football, of course), our league opted to eliminate the position entirely a couple of years ago. It has not been missed. The extra space in the starting lineup can be devoted to an additional flex player or quarterback (to be discussed) while the ability to stash an extra sleeper on the bench should be popular among knowledgeable owners.

My league also has abandoned team defenses. I do not necessarily recommend this, but it has worked for us. Using individual defensive players can be more rewarding to those who like to research, so I would recommend that route if your league is looking to adjust the team defense format.

Starting Rosters – Two Starting Quarterbacks

This change has proven to be among the most significant in our league and I recommend it for all formats with 10 or less teams. Essentially, using a second starting quarterback expands the pool of roster-worthy players to include weak starters and promising backups, just as is the case for runningbacks and wide receivers. It brings better equality to the starting positions, allowing for more innovative draft strategies and more options in the trade market. Finally, it removes the quality starting players that sit in free agency in one-quarterback formats, preventing owners who failed to plan ahead from bailing themselves out with a quality starter during the playoff weeks.

Auction Format

Similarly to most leagues, ours started with a snake draft format and this remained unchanged for a number of years. Eventually, the league began to grow and those drafting later began to feel that the format was having a negative effect on their ability to compete. Therefore, we opted to try the auction one year as an experiment and, like nearly all other leagues that try the format, we have never discussed going back.

The auction format is growing in popularity for a number of reasons. It is, of course, the fairest format, providing all owners with the same starting resources to build their teams. It is also more involved as at any point any owner can bid on a player. The strategic element is enhanced; for example, an owner wishing to build a runningback heavy team can spend most of his money on runners.

Misconceptions that the auction lasts longer than the draft are also generally untrue. The key is to run the auction effectively and make sure everyone remains on the same page throughout. If time is a concern, a half-auction, half-draft hybrid (the “drauction”) can be an acceptable compromise. In this format, teams select a number of top players in an auction format and select the rest of their roster in a draft format.

Scheduling – Regular Season

One element of fantasy football that is widely accepted is the role of luck. However, in my league the extent to which luck should influence outcomes has been debated at length and this past offseason it was decided that scheduling should be one area where the influence of luck needed to be reduced.

The best way to control for luck is to use a total points system. This, however, strips fantasy football of the exciting head-to-head element and switching from a total point format to a head-to-head system in the playoffs makes little sense. Another idea is to use a league-wide head-to-head system where everyone plays every opponent each week. In a 10-team league, this means all teams play nine “games” each week. This system, however, has the same problems as total points due to the manner in which it reduces the head-to-head element.

The compromise solution was the doubleheader scheduling system. Fantasy football, as currently structured, tends to weight the final weeks more heavily than the early weeks by utilizing a single-elimination playoff system. My league reasoned that if this has to be the case, the logical idea would be to gradually increase the importance of the weeks as the season progressed. In order to accomplish this goal, we are implementing a new scheduling system that will implement doubleheaders into Weeks 10-13 this season.

Here is how the schedule will be laid out for our ten-team league:

Weeks 1-9: One game each week per team

Week 10-13: Two games each week per team

Week 14: Final regular season game for each team

Weeks 15-16: Four-team playoff

This schedule makes Weeks 1-9 the least important weeks, Weeks 10-13 slightly more important, and the final weeks critical as league championships are decided. (The reason we do not use doubleheaders in Week 14 is that this is our “rivalry week”. During this week, head-to-head games that occur to end every season involving the rivalries in our league are played – I highly recommend this addition to your league, as well.)

Another advantage of this system is that, in our 10-team league, every team will play each other team twice. This eliminates the need for divisions, which arbitrarily divide the teams each season. The new format also gives everyone a chance to play opponents in both the early and late portions of the year.

The final positive is that teams that may lose a player to injury early in the year will not become uncompetitive during the year, thanks to the prospect of making a playoff run in those doubleheader weeks. It also makes the trade deadline a great deal more exciting as teams can make deals for those all-important doubleheader weeks.

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