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Week 5: Are League Hosting Services Making Commissioners Obsolete?

Last Week’s Question: Upset-picking Contest

In last week’s column, I suggested that the best way to honor Marc Mondry’s trap game selections might be with an FFToday-sponsored upset-picking contest. I also confessed that I did not know of an existing set of rules for such a contest—at least not in any form that would make such a game as fun to participate in as Last Man Standing pools are.

I hoped that some readers would already be playing such a game and could simply forward the rules to me, but I heard from no one who claimed to participate in a pool dedicated to picking upsets. I did, however, hear from a number of readers who were willing to devise the rules for such a contest.

I will start with Keith’s response because his opening paragraph is bound to be music to Mike Krueger’s ears:

I am not a subscriber to your site, but I will be purchasing pre-season information next year. The information the site gives is top notch.

For the contest you could award a flat point total for each game (say 10 or 15 points) with additional bonus points for the spread number. For instance, Team A is chosen as a 4.5 point underdog, so a potential 14.5 or 19.5 points would be awarded should Team A win the game. I thought about a flat total of 20 or 25 points, but this would deter from choosing the bigger underdogs which are less prone to win. The opening lines could be used with only underdogs of 3 points or higher available to pick. With a flat point total of 12 points designated, all games would be worth 15 points or higher depending on the spread number. Total points at the end of the pool is the winner.

Most of the readers who wrote in with ideas for the contest had ideas very similar to Keith’s. I chose to quote Keith’s response because his praise for FFToday suggested that if we really do get such a contest going, then maybe Krueger could see his way to awarding a free Cheatsheet Compiler/Draft Buddy package to the winner. (Krueger loves it when I use my column to put pressure on him to give things away.)

Although most readers stuck to a pure points approach, the second most popular response to my query involved using dollar figures (not real dollars) and any number of sites relied upon by the betting community. Charlie’s idea is the clearest, simplest, and (mercifully) the shortest example of this approach:

I think that you can use the moneyline for each NFL game to develop a simple upset-picking contest that rewards larger underdogs.

The rules:

· Each player picks one underdog each week
· Correct picks receive points equal to the return on a winning $1 bet on the moneyline

This week, correctly picking the Lions over the Bears is worth 4 points (moneyline is Lions +400). Correctly picking the Jaguars over the Titans is worth 1.3 points (moneyline is Jags +130).

Here is a link to the weekly moneylines on Yahoo.

Either of these ideas could work fine, but Todd had a number of suggestions for spicing things up, including:

- Deductions for wrong answers;
- A three-strikes rule; or
- The ability to pass on weeks in which no upsets look attractive, and elimination from the contest the first time you are wrong.

I will be asking my colleagues at FFToday (and Marc Mondry, of course) for feedback on what form such a contest would ideally take for them, and I will see if we can have something in place for the last part of the 2009 season. In the meantime, now that readers can see the general trends of each other’s thoughts, please feel free to contact me with any ideas you might have for such a contest.

This Week’s Question: Advisory Boards & the Vanishing Commissioner

Before Marc Mondry distracted me by correctly predicting the game that would snap the Lions’ losing streak, I asked readers to chime in on the subject of advisory boards or committees in fantasy football. Somewhat surprisingly (to me at least) it seems that advisory boards primarily function as an extension of (rather than a counterbalance to) the commissioner. Tim’s response indicates this tendency:

I became a commissioner in 2002, and we've never had an official advisory board. But we have had a lot of turnover and fluctuation in our league over the years: 27 different owners and league sizes of 12, 12, 12, 9, 10, 8, 10, and 10. Because of this, I have a de facto advisory board made up of the three other founding league members (one is my vice-commissioner).

I ask the entire league for input on things like whether to have a live or autopick draft, but I go to the "board" for discussions on major rule changes such as scoring categories and roster size. We don't have a lot of trading going on, so any rule issues there are handled by the vice-commissioner and me.

If the responses I received to my column are representative, the overwhelming majority of leagues that form advisory boards do so for the same reasons as Tim’s. The primary purpose of an advisory board appears to be to help a fantasy league hang onto its own identity despite owner turn-over.

As Nolan explains, however, there can be clear uses for an advisory board in leagues with a stable population of owners:

We call our group the trade committee, but I guess you would call it an advisory board. Each year before the season begins, we assign one person from each division to the trade committee. As the commissioner, I have veto power over any trade that doesn’t involve my own team. If I want to make a trade, then the trade committee has veto power over the trade. Since we have 4 divisions, there are 4 people on the commission. The one with the lowest total points at the time of the trade is considered the “alternate.” He only gets to vote if one of the other three [has to recuse himself for being involved in the trade in some way]. I have never had a trade vetoed by the committee, but it is only fair for my trades to be subject to the league’s review.

The most interesting response to my question about advisory boards came from Larry, who is obviously a fan of Jim Mora:

Advisory boards? Advisory boards?? Are you kidding me? Talking about advisory boards?

I could have used an advisory board back when I had to do everything from tracking down a 12th owner at the last minute (and getting him to write a check without quite understanding what fantasy football was) to figuring out how many points to award to the owner of Brad Johnson when he threw a TD pass to himself to calculating everyone’s score with a newspaper, a pencil, and a legal pad.

There was honestly a time in my life when I thought the main job of the commissioner was to explain fantasy football to people who couldn’t understand how the Pittsburgh quarterback could be on the same team as the Dallas kicker. I wish I had thought of an advisory board back then. They could have “advised” me of how many points the running backs scored each week by checking the box scores while I was working on QBs and WRs.

Now that the league is computerized, there is barely enough work left for a commissioner to do—much less an advisory board. When the website that hosts our league has a scoring change, people don’t even send me their angry emails anymore. They write directly to the site, but they all accept the ruling of the website as final. They may disagree, but at least they know it’s impartial. I’m having a hard time understanding what need there can be for an advisory board now that most fantasy leagues are fully automated.

For that matter, I’m not even sure what need there is for commissioners. My main job the last few years has been collecting the money, paying the winners, and sending out reminders to everybody about the draft. You can bet that when I find a website that will do those things for me AND let me plug in our rules (which haven’t changed in over a decade), I’ll take advantage of it.

Don’t get me wrong. I like being commissioner, but I would probably like it even more if I were commissioner in title only—with the website doing everything I used to do, including tracking down someone who wants to join the league if a spot opens up. How are these other leagues coming up with extra jobs for extra people when the job of the commissioner is dissolving right before our eyes?

I got a kick out of Larry’s answer, and I’m delighted he can have so much fun with the idea of the vanishing commissioner. It isn’t clear to me how his league handles trades—though it sounds like they either automatically go through or need to be approved by a league-wide vote (instead of being reviewed by the commissioner, as in Nolan’s league).

I suspect that the mere possibility of collusion is enough to keep commissioners in business for a long while yet, but I would be interested to hear from readers with strong opinions about whether league-hosting services are making commissioners an endangered species.

Last Man Standing - (Courtesy of Marc Mondry)

Reflection, Saints over Jets, 24-10

Epic failure.

Of course, the week after Mike Davis bestowed such lavish praise on me for the accuracy of my trap game selections, I leapt out of the plane this week without my parachute.

Okay, it wasn’t quite that bad, but there certainly were aspects of this game I didn’t foresee.

First and foremost was the New Orleans defense, which played some really good ball. The TWO defensive scores were great, but even when they weren’t running to the end zone, they were all over Mark Sanchez and did not allow the Jets’ power running game to get moving. New York tried everything. Five different Jets ran the ball two or more times, but the ground game stayed grounded. This says just as much about the Jets offense (hence the Braylon Edwards acquisition?) as it does about the Saints defense, but one thing is clear: the Saints defense knows how to play when they are ahead.

That’s a perfect segue into the other aspect of this game I predicted incorrectly: Mark Sanchez’s (in)ability to play from behind. I was very impressed with Sanchez over the first couple of weeks, but I failed to realize that because of the Jets’ stellar defense, he was always ahead or in a very close game, so defenses never dare to play too aggressive. The Saints forced Sanchez into a different storyline. After starting up 17-0, New Orleans brought the heat all day long.

Those two things combined to bring about a bad Jets loss. It is worth mentioning that the Jet defense still played very well, holding the Saint offense to 10 total points and keeping Brees & Co. out of the end zone until just under 7 minutes were left in the 4th quarter.

Reader’s Week 4 Picks

Spectacular picks this week readers! Everyone went 3/3. Mark Den Adel has been on an absolute tear – I’m not sure anyone is going to catch him.

 Top Prognosticators - Week 4
Player Last Week's Picks Overall Win % Point Differential
Mark Den Adel HOU, IND, CHI 12/12 100 223
Scott Goldschmidt SF. CIN, IND 12/12 100 189
Martha Lorenz HOU, SF, IND 3/3 100 75
Dave Zucker CHI, HOU, SF 11/12 92 189
Keith Bielory SF, IND, NYG 11/12 92 175
Marc Mondry IND, NYG, CHI 11/12 92 163
Justin Leone NYG, CIN, SF 11/12 92 160
Supernewper HOU, IND, WSH 11/12 92 150
Paul Moore IND, CHI, NYG 10/12 83 169
Joshua Shields NYG, CIN, SF 10/12 83 144

Remember to email your picks to me by noon on Sunday.

Remember last week when I was discussing a certain Tampa Bay WR and asked people to guess what his name was? Well, three readers correctly identified Sammie Stroughter (though technically nobody spelled ‘Sammie” correctly), and all 3 had the opportunity to write up analysis for one of the games this week. Two of them (David Hanson and Paul Gazzanigo) chose to participate, and they both chose to write up the Minnesota game.

Both of them did a spectacular job. Congratulations gents!

In order to keep the spotlight on the readers this week, I’m going to keep my analysis short and sweet.

Trap Game: Atlanta over San Francisco

Just as an aside before I discuss my trap game selection, the Seahawks are a .5 point favorite over the Jaguars at the time of writing. I expect Jacksonville to win the game by 10+ points. That said, the line is too marginal for this contest to be one of my trap game selections.

Now: Atlanta over San Francisco

I am not a believer in the 49ers, especially the 49ers sans Frank Gore. You have to like that they (unexpectedly to me) blew out Saint Louis this past week. Their decision to get Vernon Davis more involved in the offense is also a positive. Take a closer look, though; the 49ers, at 3-1, have beaten Arizona, Seattle, and Saint Louis, three NFC West division rivals with a combined record of 2-9. Beat someone with a better than .500 record and I’ll be more impressed, Mike Singletary.

Atlanta is just a different caliber team from Seattle, Arizona, and Saint Louis. The Falcons are better than San Francisco at every single skill position (except maybe RB, though without Gore there’s no contest), and the defense should be able to contain the 49er offense. Atlanta will be coming into this game fresh off the bye week—and should have no trouble giving the (comparatively) tired Niners more than they can handle.

A caveat about this game: cutting against the ‘freshness’ of coming off the bye week is the fact that the Falcons have to travel coast to coast to visit the 49ers at Candlestick Park. Playing your A game after a long trip like that is more easily said than done.

3. Minnesota v. Saint Louis

David Hanson’s Analysis:

Normally this could be a ‘trap game’ for a team coming off such an emotionally draining matchup, but given that they are playing the Saint Louis Rams – one of the league’s five teams still without a win – we shouldn’t be too worried.

Everyone will be talking about Brett Favre’s performance on Monday night (did you hear that he now plays for Minnesota?), but let us not forget about Adrian Peterson. Peterson had his second worst performance against the Pack in his short career - rushing for only 55 yards on 25 caries (a 2.2 ypc average, down from his season average of 6.0 before entering the game). Statistically it was his second worst, but in his mind I’m sure he counts it as his worst – given that he coughed up a fumble that was returned for a TD that momentarily tied the score at 14-14 and that he was virtually invisible in the 2nd half. You don’t want to have an angry AP on your hands, and you can be sure that he will be hungry coming into the game.

The Vikings are still in the league’s top 10 rush defenses (89.5 ypg average) and have yet to yield a rushing touchdown this year. Minnesota is vulnerable to the passing attack, as shown late in the game against San Francisco two weeks ago and again against Green Bay on Monday night. However, considering that the Rams will be without their top wide receiver and their starting QB, the Vikings’ weakness vs. the pass is hardly alarming for this contest.. To make things even worse for the Rams, they are going to be forced to pass quickly, as the Minnesota pass rush is going to be trying to repeat their 8-sack performance of Monday night. Expect to see a lot of screen passes and dump-offs on Sunday from the Rams as they try to get the ball into the hands of their one playmaker Steven Jackson, and expect Kyle Boller to become very familiar with Jared Allen’s ‘Jack-in-the-box’ routine.

Paul Gazzanigo’s Analysis:

OK, this is going to be ugly. The Vikings are still high over their domination of the Packers on Monday Night Football. The score may have been 30-23, but the game was not nearly as close as that score implies. There was obviously a great deal of mutual respect on both sides of the ball on Monday, but when all was said and done, the Vikings ran this show.

That momentum will carry into Week 5, when the Vikings visit St. Louis. The Rams will be wearing throwback jerseys to celebrate their Super Bowl XXXIV victory 10 years ago, and by the end of this matchup, that memory will seem distant indeed. Steven Jackson, while certainly a potent weapon, will struggle against the stout Viking line, and whether it’s Bulger or Boller taking the snaps, St. Louis’ QB will undoubtedly get to know DEs Jared Allen and Alan Robinson, who combined for 6 of the 8 sacks delivered to Rodgers on Monday. With that kind of pressure on the QB, and their running attack being held to ‘fair’ at best, the Rams will simply not be up to the task of rebounding from the beating they will take from snap 1.

On the offensive side, Adrian Petersen (who went MIA vs. Green Bay) will burst back onto the scene in this matchup, and as he conditions the Rams’ D to brace for the ground attack, (to the tune of 150+ and 2 TDs), Favre will do what Favre does – take command of the field, scorch the secondary, then bound through the air, index finger aloft, just like you know he did when he was eight years old.

Whether or not you believe Brett Favre should have stayed retired becomes moot when you watch him play, especially when he gets to rejoice.

And rejoice he shall, as the Vikings go to 5-0, and the Rams are left winless yet again.

2. Philadelphia over Tampa Bay

There is nothing not to like about this game. Tampa Bay looked atrocious as usual against Washington on Sunday. Sure, they gave the Redskins some trouble, but let's put that into perspective: this is a Skins team that gave Detroit its first win in over a season. Josh Johnson is mobile and gives the Bucs some versatility on offense, but that doesn't make him a good Quarterback. And the Bucs defense...don't get me started.

Philadelphia, on the other hand, will be fresh off a bye week-and will have Donovan McNabb back at the helm for the first time in 3 weeks. Westbrook should play, but even if he doesn't, we saw last week that LeSean McCoy is more than capable of handling the job. This shouldn't even be a contest.

1. New York Giants over Oakland

I’ve had my eye on this game for a couple of weeks. I decided two weeks ago that it would be my #1 pick. That was before last week’s Oakland-Houston game, which only reinforced my opinion.

I thought that Oakland was going to be a “not-terrible” team this year. The Raiders played very well against SD in week one and seemed to at least be putting together a decent defense. The offense was unspectacular, but at least the running game was decent.

Last week, against Houston, we saw just how bad this team can be. Not only did the Raiders allow 29 points to the Texans (as expected), but they couldn’t move the ball against one of the worst defenses in the country. JaMarcus Russell is never going to be a franchise QB. He may be a physical specimen, but perhaps he would make a bigger contribution on the defensive line or as a tight end. He certainly cannot throw the ball like a QB (under 40% completion rate last week). Surprisingly, Oakland couldn’t even run the ball against Houston, and without Darren McFadden this week, expect more of the same against the stout NYG defense. Here we have a quality team (the Giants) at home, against a bumbling outfit that has to cross the country just so it can trip and fall . . . err, I mean play. LMS picks just don’t come any safer than that.

That’s all ladies and gents. As always, make sure to email me your picks to me by noon on Sunday, and I’m always happy to chat football if you have questions!

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