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Q&A - How Might Fantasy Leagues Respond to a Shortened NFL Season?

“Is there a drop-dead date? There isn’t. But obviously time is moving quickly, and we’re fast approaching the training camp period. And I think there’s an urgency for everyone to get this done.” -- Roger Goodell
DeMaurcie SmithRoger Goodell


At the time of this writing (June 22nd), the lockout of NFL players continues, but various reports from around the nation indicate that labor and management have struck a deal and that the paperwork should be worked out by the July 4th holiday. Barring any unexpected setbacks, it seems very likely that the 2011 season will start on time.

Moreover, the ballyhooed proposal to move from a 16-game to an 18-game season appears to be a matter for future discussions--likely not to be taken seriously until the NFL renegotiates its television contracts in 2013.

Based on the number of articles about a forthcoming deal that are coming out even as I write this column, my advice to commissioners is not to worry about the possibility of a shortened season in 2011, but I know there are plenty of owners out there like Kevin--owners who want to be prepared for anything. Kevin wrote to me last week with a question that is perhaps worth considering until all the i's are dotted and t's are crossed on the new contract between labor and management in the NFL.

What would be the fairest way for fantasy leagues to deal with a shortened NFL season? I told my guys not to worry about how short the season is because we can always schedule multiple games on the same week.

We have 3 divisions with 4 teams each. Usually you play each team in your own division twice and each team from the rival divisions once in weeks 1-14. The three division winners and one wildcard team (the team with the best record not to win a division) advance to the playoffs in Week 15. It's a pretty [standard progression from there.] The top-seeded team plays the wildcard team, and the other two division champs play each other. The winners in Week 15 face each other in Week 16 for our [championship, and we] ignore Week 17.

We don't even know if the 2011 season will be shortened yet, and two of my guys are already arguing about how we should handle anything less than a 16-game season. I told them that if the season is shortened by a 4 games, then we will just schedule 2 head-to-head matches per week for the first 4 weeks of the season. For example, Team 1 in Division A would play against Team 1 in Division B and Team 1 in Division C in Week 1. They both said they didn't like the idea because they don't know what the bye schedule would be in a shortened season. The worry is that if two of your studs are on their bye when you have to take on 2 teams at once, that could pretty much kill your chances at the playoffs.

I see their point, but I really don't want to change from a head-to-head league to a league that counts up points at the end of the season (as one owner is insisting). The league I play in at work [just tallies points at the end of the year to see who won], and that is why I don't even care if I am winning. I don't want my fun league to end up like that one, so I really need a solution that will seem fair to all the owners and preserve our head-to-head style. Have you or your readers given this issue any thought?

My first piece of advice is to distribute chill pills to your owners until we know for a fact that the NFL season will be shortened (which, as I indicated above, seems extremely unlikely).

Secondly, I think it's important for commissioners to run the leagues that their owners want. A commissioner's opinion matters, but so do the opinions of other owners. If the season does end up being shortened, I would put the points-only vs. head-to-head approach up for a vote. If there is only one guy that wants to abandon the head-to-head model, then it will be time to start looking for a head-to-head schedule that works. (As an aside, I can't help noticing that Kevin indicates his own personal preference for head-to-head leagues, but he doesn't say whether any of his owners feel as strongly as he does.)

Thirdly, if the 2011 season is shortened and if the owners want to stick with a head-to-head format, it is definitely worth considering whether you want to have a period in which owners play multiple games each week. Ordinarily, the NFL does not schedule byes during the very early and very late weeks of the season, so you could try to schedule your double-headers during those weeks. However, since there is no telling what the bye schedule might be for a season that could be drastically abbreviated, the best solution might be settle for as many head-to-head matches as a shortened season permits. Perhaps that would mean playing opponents in your own division only once; or it might mean eliminating a set of inter-divisional games.

If any readers of this column choose to weigh in on the topic, I will be happy to share their thoughts. However, Q&A isn't likely to receive much feedback until we get closer to the season, by which point the question will probably be moot. Nevertheless, since a shortened season is always a possibility (recall that in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the games scheduled for September 16th and 17th were postponed--and it was not immediately clear that they would be made up at the end of the season), I would appreciate hearing from any commissioners who believe that they have a solid proposal for handling a shortened season in head-to-head leagues fairly.

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