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Q&A - Do Most Leagues Return Entry Fees to All Owners Who Make the Playoffs?
Week 14


Last Week’s Question:

Has your league implemented any policies to make the IR category easier for commissioners to handle?

A reader named Brian is apparently sick and tired of dealing with the IR category—so much so that he has dropped it from the league he runs:

It seems like every league I have ever been in starts with an IR spot. Then at some point the commissioner drops it because of the hassle of monitoring against misuse. I know I dropped it from the league I run for this reason. What are some common stipulations leagues have for placing a player in the IR spot? How quickly do they expect the person to be moved out of that spot once the player is eligible? How do commissioners monitor this, and what if any penalties do they [impose on owners who abuse the category]?

Stuart’s response to Brian best captured the way that technological innovations have shaped commissioner oversight of fantasy leagues:

Before [league-hosting services] came along, my owners had to get their waiver wire activity done between 6 a.m. on Tuesdays and noon on Wednesdays. I processed IR requests on my lunch hour every Wednesday, and for me it was always a judgment call. I would read about the players that were iffy, and I would okay IR requests if it looked to me like there was a really good shot that the player wouldn’t play. I didn’t use the “probable, questionable, doubtful” categories as anything but a starting point for my research. I always gave the benefit of the doubt to the owner who wanted to put a player on IR, and I think I turned down (at most) one IR request per season for a player that actually ended up being unable to play. The way people [whine] about everything now, it’s funny to think that no one complained when I was occasionally wrong (because they all knew I did my best to be fair—and I was almost always right).

That all changed when we started using [an automated website] for the league. We set things up to allow owners to put players on IR if they are listed as questionable or doubtful. Now even if everyone knows that a player is going to play despite being listed as questionable, his owner can still put him on IR. It’s a lot less trouble for me, but we all know that owners are abusing IR. We just live with it.

Jason’s league got tired of dealing with the misuse of IR and overhauled the category:

Like Brian says, IR is a hassle in fantasy. It doesn’t even really make sense for fantasy players to use the category since going on IR means being done for the season in the NFL. We had a bunch of owners with different ideas about what IR should mean in fantasy, and our commish just got tired of arguing about it and changing the rules every season. Two years ago, he had our league do the following:

1) We did away with IR;

2) We shortened the draft by 2 rounds; and

3) Every team now has 2 spots for “inactive players.”

Instead of drafting for 16 rounds (like we used to), we now have a 14-round draft. We go into Week 1 with 14 players each, but everybody gets to pick up 2 more players in the first waiver wire period. You don’t drop players to make room; you just move any two of your players into the inactive category. We all carry a roster of 16 players, but each week we can only have 14 active players from which to set our lineups. Players have to be designated inactive by the end of our waiver period (midnight on Wednesdays I think), but you can change the lineups of your 14 active players right up until kickoff on Sunday. (Technically, you don’t have to use the inactive category. You can just carry a roster of 14 if you don’t have anyone to put in the extra spots, but you can carry a roster of 16 players if you want as long as 2 of them are “inactive.”) Once you move them to inactive, you can’t play them that week. But you can move them there for any reason you like. Maybe they are injured; maybe they are on a bye; maybe you just don’t like their matchup that week. You don’t have to justify the decision to make anyone inactive. You just pay a transaction fee of $3 each to make any two of your players inactive—and they are protected on your roster until you want to use them again. When you decide you want to use one of them, you can activate him and throw someone who is on a bye into his inactive spot. It has worked like a charm for us.

Our own Mark Den Adel (who contributes the LMS portion of this column) is in a league that ended up adopting an approach very similar to that advocated by Jason:

We did away with the IR category several years ago because as you state it was difficult to police. Players would be [listed as] questionable or doubtful and be put on IR and then play in the game. What we did was add 3 extra rounds to the draft (from 16 rounds to 19 rounds) to give owners room on their rosters for additional players and eliminate the IR. It has worked great with no complaints. The other wrinkle that we added that our league loves concerns the retention of players drafted in the 12th round or later. If you draft a player in the 12th round or later and keep him on your roster the entire year, you can retain him up 2 draft spots the next year for a max of 3 years. Such players as Mendenhall, Nicks, and McCoy were drafted in this round last year. This year Tomlinson and Matt Casell were drafted in this round and will count as 10th-round picks next year if their owners choose to retain them (max of 3 retained players/year). McFadden was the last overall pick in the 19th round, so that owner can keep him in the 17th round next year and 15th round the following year.

If IR is a source of contention in your league, the suggestions from Jason and Mark might be just what you need to consider. If your owners want a shorter draft, then Jason’s model should work for you. If they won’t object to a longer draft, then Mark’s suggestion should do the trick (whether you incorporate the “retention” feature or not).

This Week’s Question:

Do Most Leagues Return Entry Fees to All Owners Who Make the Playoffs?

A Kenneth and David wrote to me in the hope that I could settle a bet for them, but I really don’t know the answer to their question about what the “standard practice” for payouts in fantasy leagues might be. I’m not even sure that there is a “standard practice.”

Six owners from our 12-team league make the playoffs each year. The two teams with the best records get a bye for the first week of the playoffs and then play the two winners from the four other teams in our semi-finals, which we assume is standard. The winner of the fantasy Super Bowl gets something like $400 (depending on transaction fees); the loser gets roughly $200. The two other teams that either won their first playoff game or earned a bye get their entry fees refunded.

We are currently arguing about restructuring the payouts so that everyone who makes the playoffs at least gets their entry fees back, the teams that earn a bye or get a win in the playoffs get a little something extra, and the winner and loser of the Super Bowl get smaller payouts.

One of us thinks that in most leagues just making the playoffs will get your entry fee returned. The other one thinks that usually you have to advance in the playoffs to get your money back. Who is right?

I honestly have no idea. I have been involved in lots of leagues with all kinds of payout structures. I haven’t actually paid attention to the ordinary threshold for winning back your entry fee. I would be glad to hear from people who have participated in at least three fantasy leagues on this question—but I wouldn’t hold my breath for a consensus.

Last Man Standing Picks (Courtesy of Mark Den Adel)

Last week Mark was 2-1 as Oakland upset a San Diego team beleaguered by injury.

1) Atlanta over Carolina
Carolina has only won one game, and although this is a divisional game on the road I’m taking Atlanta. Carolina has to pit its 27th-ranked rushing defense against Michael Turner and the NFL’s 7th-ranked rushing offense. Carolina has had quarterback and offensive line issues all year and is ranked dead last in passing offense. Have the Panthers quit on their coach? They were 11 points up on Seattle last week at halftime—then gave up 21 points in the 3rd quarter and didn’t score after halftime.

2) Pittsburgh over Cincinnati
This game will be closer than it appears. Big Ben is coming off an injured foot and now a broken nose, and the Steelers’ offensive line is banged up. Fortunately for Roethlisberger, you don’t have to throw the ball against Cincy to win (as they are in the bottom third of the NFL against the run). The Bengals, however, will have to pass in order to accomplish anything against the NFL’s top-ranked rushing defense (which is yielding only 62 yards/game to opposing runners). For Cincinnati to win, they will have to stop the boneheaded plays (such as jumping offside on 4th down last week against the Saints), but they appear to have enough boneheadedness left to last for the rest of the season.

3) Jacksonville over Oakland
The Jaguars have played very well since being blown out by Kansas City in Week 7 and are tied with the Colts in first place with the rematch coming next week at Lucas Oil Stadium. Oakland is also playing surprisingly well—having beaten San Diego despite being double-digit underdogs. Oakland is an up-and-down team, so I think Jacksonville takes the win here. MJD and Jacksonville’s 2nd-ranked rushing offense will lead the way over Oakland’s 23rd-ranked rushing defense.

Upset of the Week
I finally got an upset pick right last week with Pittsburgh beating Baltimore. How about Troy Polamalu’s speed on the blitz and forced fumble! I had to watch that a couple of times. This week I’ll take Seattle over San Francisco. Seattle is tied with the Rams for the division lead, which means that both the Rams and Seahawks will want to do everything possible to secure the division before the Seattle-St. Louis rematch in Week 17. With so much at stake for the Seahawks, it’s hard to accept that they are underdogs to a 49ers team they blew away (31-6) in Week 1.

For responses to this week's fantasy question please email me.