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Q&A - How Many Leagues that Play for Bragging Rights Only (no purse) Are Still Going Strong?
Week 15


Last 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.

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?

Most of the responses I received reinforced my suspicion that there is no “standard practice” in fantasy leagues. Payout structures appear to vary so much from league to league that neither I nor most of the readers who wrote in could even guess what the threshold is for getting your money back in the majority of leagues. Kim’s response was typical:

Our league (this is our 13th year) falls somewhere in the middle of those two beliefs. Half of our league makes the playoffs, and up until this year, everyone who made the playoffs got some portion (but not necessarily the full amount) of their entry fee back. In the past when we were a 10-team league, you had to finish 4th to get your entry fee back. The person finishing 5th got half their entry fee back. This year we expanded to 12 teams and voted (albeit by the smallest of margins: 6-5) to change the structure of our prize money payouts. Half the league (6 teams) makes the playoffs, but the team finishing 6th gets nothing. The 5th-seeded team gets roughly half their entry fee back, and the 4th gets slightly more than their entry fee. The prize money for placing comes completely from entry fees. We use transaction fees for other awards such as: division champions, highest one-week score, highest one-week losing score and a week 17 contest where high score for that week gets the remainder of the pot – usually $40 or so.

In closing I would say there is no “standard” on this issue. I was in a 16-team league in which 8 teams made the playoffs but only the top 4 were awarded prize money. I’ve also been in leagues where fewer teams (less than half the league) made the playoffs and each playoff team received more than their entry fee back. It would seem to me that there are nearly as many options for prize structures out there as there are rules for scoring in fantasy football—and to my mind, that’s the beauty of it.

The only reader brave enough to answer Kenneth and Dave’s question directly was Brad, who wrote:

The short answer is most leagues [do not return entry fees to all teams that make the playoffs because most leagues prefer to make payouts] top-heavy. For example, in one league I am in the entry fee is $65 per team, no transaction fees, SB winner gets $400, loser gets $170 and division winners get $25 each. That's it out of 8 playoff teams, but I think that's pretty normal for leagues with a smaller entrance fee. My other league has a $300 entry fee plus transaction charges (meaning most people are in for around $450 by season’s end). In that league 1st in each division will win money, 2nd will break about even, 3rd and 4th will need to win playoff games to break even. Anytime we've discussed redistribution of money the push always seems to be to give it to the top. To the victors go the spoils I suppose.

In David’s league, the threshold for getting your money back isn’t making the playoffs; it is winning the consolation tourney (which is his way of motivating all owners to do their best all the way through the season):

I've been the Commissioner of my fantasy league (WLFFL) for what will be 9 seasons. We give payouts to the following: Super Bowl champ, runner-up, most total points scored all season, and most points scored in a single week. The top 6 teams make the playoffs, and the bottom 6 make the 'consolation bracket.’ The winner of the consolation tourney gets his entry fee back as kind of a 'boobie prize.’ There are a few owners in my league who would like to eliminate the consolation bracket and give the money to the division winners or the super bowl champ, but I look at the consolation bracket as giving EVERYONE a chance (yes, even the worst team in the league) to remain competitive until the final day of the season. The winner of the consolation bracket merely wins their entry fee back, but something is better than nothing, and [it’s enough to keep all of my owners active throughout the season]. Having a consolation bracket is a built-in way to 'police' the league. In the past, a team in last place with 3 games to go would usually just cough up the rest of their games (which are always meaningful to the rest of the teams and usually have playoff implications for some). Now, however, they play for a seed in the consolation bracket and know that at the VERY LEAST they can save some face and get their money back.

Having the consolation bracket has been very successful as long as we've had it. I HIGHLY recommend a system like that (and giving the entry fee back to the winner) for most leagues.

My thanks to everyone who wrote in. I’m sorry there doesn’t appear to be a clear consensus for Kenneth and David, but I hope the responses included here can help them finalize the payout structure for their league.

This Week’s Question:

How Many Leagues that Play for Bragging Rights Only (no purse) Are Still Going Strong?

This week’s question comes from Mac, who writes:

You write an awful lot about payouts and transaction fees—and even methods for collecting dues. It gives me the feeling that all the other leagues out there are playing for money. Is my league the last one left for people who just play for pride? We are still going strong after 16 years, and our stakes are nothing compared to what other people seem to play for. The winner gets a trophy, and the loser has to serve as commissioner the following year. We don’t pay entry fees or transaction fees, and we don’t have to use tricks and incentives to keep all the owners motivated to do their best to the end of the season. We all want to win just so we can give the losers [a hard time] for sucking. Are we a dying breed?

I feel confident in saying that purse-less leagues are here to stay. Most of the expert leagues I am familiar with (the ones that publicize the picks and the standings of various expert competitors) require nothing more than an invitation for participation. Also, there are obviously plenty of websites that allow strangers to compete with each other in FF leagues for free. But as for traditional fantasy leagues with members who know and compete with each other year after year, most of them do seem to me (based on the emails I have received over the years) to be wager-oriented.

I would be very interested to hear from anyone who belongs to or knows of a fantasy league that 1) is NOT organized strictly for FF industry experts; 2) plays for no purse; and 3) retains its membership year after year. I am particularly interested in hearing about what might be at stake in such leagues (beyond bragging rights) and/or the traditions that keep the owners coming back for more.

Last Man Standing Picks (Courtesy of Mark Den Adel)

Last week Mark went 3-0. He now stands at 32-9 for the year. Things will only get harder for him in the coming weeks as he has used up his 10th team in Pittsburgh this week.

#1. Oakland over Denver
Denver has simply surrendered—as evidenced by their loss to Arizona including Arizona’s kicker scoring a TD against them. Oakland won the first game 59-14 in a blowout at Denver, and nothing has changed to indicate Denver can beat the Raiders in Oakland. Oakland’s 3rd-ranked rushing offense (featuring Darren McFadden) will have a field day against Denver’s 31st-ranked rushing defense.

#2. Miami over Buffalo
Buffalo was happy to get another win, and the Dolphins are coming off an upset victory over the Jets. Miami’s passing defense is 6th, and the Bills’ passing offense has been shut down the last 3 weeks. The Bills’ rushing defense is dead last, so Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams should have a great day. Miami won this Week 1 matchup 15-10 at Buffalo, so the Fish should have no trouble winning at home.

#3. Pittsburgh over NY Jets
The Jets can’t score, and Pittsburgh has the league’s top-ranked defense. Tomlinson and Greene will be bottled up by Pittsburgh’s fierce rush defense although the Jets’ rushing offense is ranked 6th. Expect a low-scoring game to be decided by which defense can cause the most turnovers and turn them into points. The Jets have never won in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers have only given up 36 points in the last 4 weeks. History is on Pittsburgh’s side—and so am I.

Upset of the week - This week I’ll take Cleveland over Cincinnati as Colt McCoy is back under center for the Browns. The Dawg Pound should be as excited about McCoy’s return as Peyton Hillis has to be going up against the Bengals 24th-ranked rushing defense. Cleveland won the earlier matchup in Week 4 when Terrell Owens had 222 yards receiving. Nine of Cleveland’s thirteen games have been decided by 7 or fewer points, and I see this one being close as well. But I have to give this rematch to the Browns.

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