In this edition of Commissioner’s Prospective, we’ll analyze some of the more popular methods commissioners can use to determine a random (or as you’ll learn, pseudo-random) draft order. Of course, there are other ways to determine the draft order aside from a random or pseudo-random ordering, such as using the reverse order of the final standings from the previous years. Many popular league providers kindly provide some kind of randomizing service for purely online drafts, but if you’re having an in-person draft party, you’ll want to carefully consider your options. Aside from using the online provider’s algorithm, other popular choices include the more traditional hat-draw method, as well as using random number generator websites.
Online League Provider Algorithms (Pseudo-random Number Generators)
Most of the popular league providers provide a service to randomize the draft order. Although there is no real problem with this method, most mathematicians and computer scientists agree that it’s nearly impossible for mathematical computer algorithms to generate true randomness because the output of these algorithms is deterministic in nature, usually determined by an initial value such as the internal clock of the computer. In fact, computers do nothing but blindly follow instructions, and are therefore completely predictable. The definition of “random” is that there’s absolutely no pattern, and in fact, these computer algorithms produce patterns over very long periods of time, but this is usually fine for the application, in this case, determining the draft order for a fantasy football league. For the most part, if you don’t notice the pattern, then the order and numbers at least seem random to you. As long as you’re okay with pseudo-randomness (as this type of randomness is loosely classified as) and not true randomness, this method will suffice.
Many conventionalists and traditionalists still prefer the old-school hat-draw method. Believe it or not, this method is in fact closer to true randomness than the computer algorithms used to generate random numbers and those used by online league providers. However, this assumes perfect conditions. Even the slightest differences in the size and shape of the ballots could technically move this method closer to pseudo-randomness, but it might still be negligible compared to the patterns generated by computer algorithms (depending on exactly how much physical differentiation of the ballots exist). As an example, if everyone tears up pieces of paper with their names on them to use as ballots, the larger pieces of paper have the highest chances to be drawn at any point in time. Even if same-sized raffle tickets are used, one manager might attach a slightly sticky element to his ballot such that it could possibly adhere to the drawer’s hand, or another manager might put a slight fold in his ballot giving it some depth in the hat.
Despite this method being closer to random than computer algorithms, scientifically speaking, it can never be truly random. If you think about it, no two raffle tickets are exactly the same at the microscopic level; so in fact, these differences could cause patterns over long periods of time. Again, this is just about completely negligible, and as long as you are okay with pseudo-randomness and not true randomness, this method will suffice.
Another perceived flaw with the hat-draw method that I’m sure you yourself have thought of is the fact that your ever-important draft position is literally in the hands of someone else, an actual human being who’s most likely a manager in your league (usually the commissioner). Do you really want your draft-order fate chosen by your competition?
True-random Number Generators
Now that you know what causes number generators to produce pseudo-random results that are not truly random (i.e. have some kind of pattern), you might be wondering how we get to true randomness. Generally, scientists and mathematicians agree that what is considered to be true randomness can only be derived from a physical phenomena or process that is known by humans to be unpredictable based on the laws of quantum mechanics. Obviously, the details of quantum mechanics and how they deem these processes to be unpredictable are by far outside the scope of this article. Even understanding some of the examples are outside the scope of this article, such as noise from electronic circuits or microprocessor clock drift, but one example we are all familiar with is weather. As far as humans understand, entities produced by weather, such as fluctuating wind speeds, are considered unpredictable on any given day.
Again, traditional methods like flipping a coin, rolling dice and drawing names from a hat get very close, but still might have patterns as previously discussed.
Some Web sites offer online services to generate random numbers based on these truly random physical events. Indeed, computer algorithms are underlying in these websites, but they’re based on data collected in real-time from these physical, unpredictable processes. One of the best true-random number generator Web sites around is www.random.org, which uses radio receivers to pickup atmospheric noise generated by weather, which is then used to generate the random numbers. The Web site is highly regarded and accepted in many scientific and academic circles, and has been used to hold drawings, lotteries and sweepstakes in the real world. Best of all, the basic service you need for randomly determining the order of your fantasy football draft is free: http://www.random.org/lists/. This service allows you to simply input the names of all the managers in your league and with a click or your mouse, the order is truly randomized based on real-time atmospheric noise data. The order that you input the names does not matter.
One suggestion is to connect your computer or laptop to a large display for all managers to see at the draft, whether it be a large projection screen, LCD panel, etc, so that all managers can watch the beauty of true-randomness. It could even be decided that the names will be randomized a predetermined amount of times, perhaps five times. This might not only make some people feel better about the method, but also allows suspense and drama to build larger and larger with each and every true-randomization.
In conclusion, any of these methods for generating a fantasy football draft order will do, but if it’s an option, using a true-random number generator is clearly the best route in terms of fairness, randomness, ease and technological advancement. But there will always be those who stick with tradition and convention, choosing the old-school hat-draw method, and that’s okay too. Whatever method you use for your league this year, I wish it well, and I wish everyone a great fantasy football season.