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Week 16: Do Any Commissioners Want to Climb up on a Soapbox?

Last Week’s Question: What League-Hosting Websites Do Readers Recommend?

In last week’s column, a reader named Jeremy confessed that he and his league migrated to Yahoo! when league-hosting websites were relatively new—and that they have remained there ever since (out of inertia more than anything). He wanted to know about other free sites that he hasn’t tried out yet, and I expanded his question to include sites that charge customers in case readers wanted to chime in on that topic.

I’m grateful to Dave for summarizing what most readers had to say about the most popular free sites:

Until about two years ago this was an annual discussion in the league I run. We also used Excel spreadsheets back in the day until somewhere around 2000/2001 when Yahoo came around to save me countless hours on Monday and Tuesday mornings putting stats together from box scores.

In that time we've tried one season each of ESPN (2004) and CBSsports (2005), but found that Yahoo is by far the leader of the pack.

We found ESPN to be VERY rigid and had scoring issues throughout our season. Now apparently these issues were specific to the free leagues, but we were VERY dissatisfied and in fact ended up switching to Yahoo mid-season because we were so frustrated.

The season we went with CBSsports, we were relatively pleased with [that service’s flexibility] and found they were the only ones at the time that would allow for the commissioner to edit the schedule versus the site choosing it for you. We probably would have stayed with CBS, but the next year they dropped the free option and we've never gone back.

As far as Yahoo goes, we've been relatively happy with the system. [The best feature may be that the Yahoo website] keeps track of all the league’s prior seasons, so you can always look up who did what each year and funny to look up players who used to be something but whom you've forgotten about (see the Steve Beuerlein/Wesley Walls connection) and relive memories (such as my championship year in 2004 driven by Billy Volek and Drew Bennett!). Moreover, this year they added free live scoring—which is HUGE!

I always scour the fftoday forums and find that it's rare that people complain about Yahoo scoring or the site itself while other sites have problems all the time.

But always remember - YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. If the live scoring isn't working well too bad, deal with it - it's free!

Unlike Dave, Donovan belongs to a league that opted to pay for CBSSportsline after that service began charging:

I play in free leagues on ESPN and Yahoo, plus my 20-year old league pays to play on CBS Sportsline.

The biggest difference between free and pay leagues is the flexibility in the scoring system. On CBS Sportsline, you can create absolutely any scoring system that you can dream up. Ours is ridiculously detailed, developed in the paper and calculator days, and CBS Sportsline is the only website that could handle it. In the free leagues, there is some flexibility in developing scoring systems, but it is a little more limited. So, if you are in a league that really enjoys tweaking the scoring system in a specific manner, the pay leagues are definitely the ticket. If the scoring options offered by free leagues such as Yahoo or ESPN are good enough for you, there is really no other good reason to switch.

As far as differentiating between the free sites, I really enjoy like the way that Yahoo’s smack talking features work to encourage league communication. It was fun before, but their recent addition of another box to insult people with was fantastic. Those features add a lot of enjoyment to our Yahoo league.

I fear I must give the discussion of sites that charge short shrift in this discussion. It is difficult for me to tell whether the “responses” I received concerning those sites are legitimate reviews by genuine players or disguised advertisements written by people with vested interests in particular FF sites. Based on the mail I received, most people who pay fees to league-hosting services are satisfied customers. My suggestion for readers who want to check out these services without footing the entire bill would be to join a league that uses one. The FFToday forums might be a good place to do a little social networking on that front.

This Week’s Question: Do Any Commissioners Want to Climb up on a Soapbox?

Way back at the beginning of the season, I posed a question about commissioners being at a competitive disadvantage when they have to organize and supervise draft parties while trying to take care of their own teams. A reader named Rob has apparently taken his time to mull over that question, and he responded with a micro-essay on the topic this week:

Concerning your inquiry, it is true that the commish is at a disadvantage, not only at the draft, but all season long. There are measures that can be taken to minimize the disadvantage, as I've found over the past 22 seasons of commissionership (yes, I've been playing since 1988!). Most of these tips are for longtime leagues with substantially the same core owners from one year to the next.

Draft - Hold the draft at the home of a different owner each season. This minimizes the disadvantage of hosting over time and also shares the load. Also, reduce the expectations of hosting. Do not provide a "spread" of food that is any more complicated than ordering pizza or wings and soft drinks. Make alcohol BYOB. Charge a nominal fee to offset costs or give the host a discount on league buy-in if applicable.

Waivers - This gets tricky in my league. Despite the longevity of the league, we have a latent hatred for owners who regularly use the waiver wire to turnover their rosters every week. We have a complex add/drop process that works like a mini-draft every week to give every owner a chance to get players. Lowest total points gets first option, and so on. Since this process requires manual implementation by the commish, we have implemented an Assistant Commissioner (another rotating responsibility) that governs any transactions involving the Commissioner's team. Add/drops are performed by the Assistant in those cases. The main problem is that the commissioner can "see" the requested transactions before any other owners and could, if unscrupulous, provide information to another owner on who to add or drop in which order to achieve maximum benefit. The commish could also use that information to his own advantage. We have the commissioner send his requested transactions to the assistant commissioner and vice-versa and impose an earlier deadline for commissioner waiver actions. This is the disadvantage. I must plan my transaction well before most owners have even thought about the impacts of next week's byes. Also, as commish, I have earlier knowledge about dropped players and therefore have earlier access to pick them up after the waiver process. Typically, I will let those players sit available for all to see for 24 hours before adding them. Again - another disadvantage based on ethics.

Rules - I am responsible, as commish, for upholding the league rules, which after 22 seasons read somewhat like the California Penal Code. I know the rules cold. I know all of the gray areas. I can anticipate bickering about an unwritten rule before it even comes up. Here is the tricky scenario I am facing this week. I have been fortunate enough to make my league's championship game. Jerome Harrison is available in my league. I have a waiver order advantage over my opponent. I have already emailed my requested transaction to my Assistant to add Harrison to my roster and cut Johnny Knox. I fully expect my opponent to request the same "add" as he has relied on a cadre of backup RBs the past few weeks to overcome Brian Westbrook's injury. One of those backs was LeSean McCoy who is seeing reduced carries and will likely be sitting. Though I have waiver order advantage, I will select Harrison and not start him in an attempt to keep the other owner from having access to this wild-card player - a cock-block of sorts. I can already hear the complaints that 1) I had a priori knowledge of his intention and 2) that a rule should exist requiring an owner to start a player added during waiver transactions in the week the player was added. I'm not breaking any rules, just shrewdly working within the existing framework. This will still leave me open to criticism.

The ideal scenario involves finding a commissioner that does not own a team. But, this is obviously no fun for that person. My wife reluctantly did the job one season, but found my friends' endless requests and bickering to be a major hassle. Love, apparently, has boundaries.

I suspect that there are other commissioners (or seasoned owners) like Rob who could benefit the FF community simply by sharing their thoughts on how to make leagues more fun, more fair, or more fill-in-the-blank-with-what-is-important-to-them.

I hope to hear from a few such folks for the final column of the 2009 season. If you have a few paragraphs of advice (whether for commissioners, owners, or entire leagues), please send them my way this week.

Wk 15 - Last Man Standing - (Courtesy of Marc Mondry)

At the end of every season, I wonder, “Was it really this difficult at the end of last season?” Invariably, I forget how difficult it is to pick winners at the end of the year when your options are limited, the playoff picture starts to affect games, and crazy things like Oakland beating Denver happen on a regular basis.

Attentive readers may remember that some time around week 5, I remarked how easy it seemed to pick winners consistently and that there was no parity in the NFL. Since then, we’ve seen countless upsets, teams fall to the cellar (Giants) and other teams resurrect their seasons out of nowhere (Titans). The same thing happens year after year, but our collective memories are very short.

How that observation helps us pick winners this week, I have no idea. Just try not to get down on yourself if you find it very hard to pick the right games these last two weeks.

Trap Game: San Diego over Tennessee

I’m tempted to pick Matt Moore and the Panthers to beat the Giants this week, but I just don’t have the heart to do it. Even if you haven’t used the Giants three times this year, it’s probably not advisable to use them any more this year. That makes me look like pretty smart for picking them in three consecutive weeks in the beginning of the season right before they lost six of seven, huh?

Back to the actual selection. For starters, the line on this game just looks odd. The .500 Titans are a 2.5 point favorite at home over the 11-3 Chargers. The odds-makers must be banking on the Titans’ desire to make the playoffs and the Chargers having clinched the division already.

I’m not. Chris Johnson will get his, just like he does every week, but does anyone think that the Titan defense is going to be able to stop the Chargers’ prolific passing attack? Even if they can shut down the no-longer-so-impressive RB duo of LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles, I don’t see Tennessee shutting down Philip Rivers for four quarters. If the Chargers can jump out to an early lead and force the Titans to get off their game plan (run, run, run CJ, run) and make Vince Young throw the ball, this game could spell the end of the Titans’ inspiring comeback season.

3. San Francisco over Detroit

Yuck. Having the 49ers on my pick board this week just feels dirty. This is especially true given that both teams in this game have a greater incentive to lose (better draft pick) than they do to win (pride).

When it comes down to it, there really aren’t any better options, and if I trust any RB in the NFL to go out and stomp bad defenses, it’s Frank Gore. Nobody is more consistently mediocre against good defenses and consistently spectacular against bad ones (though Michael Turner does come to mind).

I don’t trust the 49er defense to stop Detroit, especially after the 17-point third quarter the Lions put up on the Cardinals last week. Ultimately, I guess I have to admit this pick is more of a prayer than it is an educated decision. I’d prefer to take Green Bay over Seattle this week, but that would have to be my #1 option, which isn’t going to happen, because a) I am 0-2 when selecting the Pack this season, and b) my number one option was essentially chosen for me, as you’ll see.

2. Arizona over Saint Louis

Another team I consistently caution people against selecting finds its way into the heart of my picks this week. You know it’s Week 16 when I pick not one, but two NFC West squads to win. That’s tantamount to putting all your money in on a flush draw, for you poker folks. (In fact, as an avid poker player, I’d probably take the flush draw odds, 35% with two cards to come, over having to pick two winners out of the NFC West each week).

Again, I am putting my LMS life in the hands of Kurt Warner and the Arizona offense, a precarious position at best. I assume that Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin will both play again this week, despite injuries, and hopefully that’s enough to beat Keith Null & Co.

If I could type that last sentence without cracking a smile, I would be more concerned about this game, but when it comes down to it, we know exactly what we’re going to get out of the Rams offense each week. More importantly, we also know exactly what we’re going to get out of the Rams defense: a whole lot of missed tackles, blown coverage, and 30+ points for the opposing team. That should be enough to get the W for Arizona.

1. New Orleans over Tampa Bay

Generally speaking, I am of the philosophy that you pick your best three options each week without worrying too much about what your options are going to be down the line. The exceptions to this doctrine are limited, generally to situations where you know that a team will play an opponent in a more favorable situation (at home, without injury, etc). Otherwise, trot your best three out there and cross each bridge when you come to it. If you don’t, sometimes you can get too fancy and knock yourself out of contention early after Arizona or Green Bay’s offense happens to not show up.

All that said, it sure feels nice to have an ace in the hole. Sure, New Orleans lost last week to Dallas, even after the epic missed FG by Nick Folk (notice he is currently unemployed). They were bound to lose eventually after they kept playing down to terrible teams (STL, WAS) and pulling off miracle comebacks.

For our purposes, I’m happy they lost, aside from the fact that it was Dallas that beat them. It means that this week they come back with their heads back under the clouds and trounce the Bucs. You can’t ask for a better game than this at this point in the season.

For responses to this week's fantasy question please email me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football season.