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Mike Davis | Archive | Email  
Staff Writer

Q & A
Week 12

Last Week's Question: What Makes Auction Drafts More Fun Than Serpentine Drafts?

Last week's column featured Damian's question concerning the fun factor of auction drafts as compared to serpentine (aka snake) drafts. His question was obviously inspired by an earlier examination of keeper/dynasty leagues vs. redrafter leagues in this column, but the responses to his question were very different from the responses I received about the superiority of keeper leagues to redrafter leagues.

Although the readers who compared keeper/dynasty leagues to redrafter leagues gave an overwhelming endorsement to the keeper/dynasty model, the reviews I received concerning auction drafts were mixed.

Most of the FFers who wrote in concerning auction leagues had positive things to say, with the most succinct and effective response coming from Greg:

[The reason auction leagues are better is] simple: You can get any player you want without having to rely on the luck of picking a number from a hat for draft position.

I have been in a FF league for over 25 years, and we switched to auction about 10 years ago and have never looked back. Plus, we like the actual auction so much, we re-auction for new teams halfway through and split the season in 2.
I heard from many other auction enthusiasts who echoed Greg's point about being able to get whatever player you want as long as you are willing to keep bidding. Is Aaron Rodgers your boy? In an auction league, you can have him every year if you are willing to settle for the rest of your team being scraped out of the bargain basement for minimum bids.

For Dwayne, the ability to target the players you want is less important than the role that strategy plays in auction drafts:

Auction drafting is more fun because there is more to think about. You have more decisions to make than in a snake draft. One of my leagues uses a snake draft, and every year it is the same thing. In rounds 2-4, I have a list of five guys that I want to go after, and usually all of them get snapped up by the owners picking immediately ahead of me. Every now and then, one of them actually falls to me, and I will admit that is fun. But it's really just luck. In an auction draft, you get to think about who you want to nominate in the early rounds to throw off everyone else's bidding. You actually have a chance to influence the outcome, not to just hope for a lucky break.
Since readers who are unfamiliar with auction drafts may not understand the reference to nominations, it is common practice in auction leagues for owners to take turns "nominating" the players who will go up for auction. If Adrian Peterson is the first player nominated, the owner who ends up getting him will often end up paying more than if Peterson were nominated later in the draft (by which time all of the owners would have less money available to spend on players).

But to return to the larger topic of auction drafting, the single most comprehensive and thoughtful endorsement of the auction approach came from Ken:

I would argue that auction drafts are to snake drafts what keeper leagues are to redraft leagues. If keeper is 201, then auction is 301. However, I say that as a proponent of an auction-keeper league, not just an auction-redrafter, so it might be difficult for me to tease the two strands out. (In our league, you assign contracts to players of 1,2,3,or 4 yrs; you have a limited number of 3 and 4 yr contracts; and you pay penalties for releasing players early. I've been crushed by overpaying before, but I've also nailed it early on folks like Willie Parker (obtained for league minimum) and Arian Foster.

I would say that an auction-keeper league has multiple benefits over a serpentine-redrafter league:

1. Fairness. There are some years where having the last pick will really help your team, years where there is a relatively linear drop in quality of player. There are some years, however, where having a particular player is a huge advantage. For example, this year in our scoring system, Aaron Rodgers beats everyone else in the league by 5 points a game, on average. Everyone knew that coming in, as well. In a serpentine redraft, the #1 pick would have had a huge advantage over the #2 pick. Why? Just because the dice came out a certain way?

2. You can get who you want. In auction, everyone has a shot at Aaron Rodgers--if they are willing to cough up the dough. You can always get the player you want.

3. Much greater strategy. This changes your overall draft strategy. Are you going to spend heavy on 1 or 2 players, or will you take a more balanced approach?

4. Much more accountability. Luck still plays a huge role, but when you paid 10% of your cap for Reggie Wayne this year, there's really no one to blame but yourself.

5. More trading options. We allow you to trade cap space, which really livens things up on draft day. No one is ever out of the draft until they declare themselves out because they can always trade right back in.

6. More intense player evaluation. Figuring out a player is worth a "mid-round pick" (and yes, that tone was one of scorn) is quite a bit different than figuring out if a player is worth that extra little bump in the bidding process. It's much easier to let emotions run things when you're in an ebay situation, which means keeping your head is more important.

7. More accurate simulation. This is a big one to me. With fantasy, we're pretending that we are GM's. How realistic a simulation is it if you don't ever worry about salary cap? That is arguably the single biggest determinant of team composition in the NFL, and most simulations just ignore it.

8. More FUN. Our draft takes about 10-12 hours because the bids get stupid crazy sometimes (we also use a very high cap - think millions, not hundreds, with increments of 5K, which encourages protracted bidding wars). By the last round, people are nickel and diming each other over very marginal players. Because we also are a keeper league, folks like Kendall Hunter & Ben Tate created huge bidding wars, as owners who had been waiting went after these two. Plus, the memories are outstanding! Who can ever forget the time an owner bid 3M on Joey Harrington, only to have 11 other pairs of eyes looking at him in disbelief? I can promise you that we don't - and we remind him of it every year.

So the question is really this - are you looking for a glorified betting pool? If so, a redraft league is for you. Are you looking for a simulation - to really imagine being a GM? Then you should try playing with a salary cap and with contracts. (We have restricted free agents, IR, and taxi [squads], but those are just add-ons to the core experience.)

If you are thinking about moving from a serpentine draft to an auction draft, then there are a lot more people than Greg, Dwayne, and Ken who will encourage you to do so.

In fairness, however, I heard from a fair number of naysayers as well. Michael and Andy both raise particularly compelling objections to the auction style that are worth considering for any commissioner who is reluctant to take the plunge. Michael participates in multiple leagues that tried auctions and then decided to return to a serpentine draft:

You are going to get a lot of positive responses [about auction drafts, but] my leagues have actually gone the other way after dipping our toes in the auction waters. The reasons our leagues have decided to go back to the traditional snake drafts are listed below.

1. Online auctions are not as exciting. The leagues I am in have members from many different states and doing an online auction (instead of live) feels like trying to win a bid on eBay. There is none of the fun that you get from having the auction with everyone present.

2. Proxy auctions are a recipe for disaster. We also have people with many different work and family commitments. If the best overall time for everyone to have a draft happens to fall during when 1 person has their child's football game to go to, then they will have to submit a proxy to complete their draft or a 'cheatsheet' to serve as proxy. Auction drafts are fun because your strategy through the draft will change depending on what top players you get. It is virtually impossible to do with a proxy.

3. Auction leagues tend to overvalue their draft picks even more (dampening the trade market). This one is not nearly as important as the others, but owners tend to feel a greater commitment to their players in an auction draft to the point where they will make sure they email you how much they paid at the draft for a particular player even if they are not performing to that level. In snake drafts, outside of 1st round picks, that generally is not the case after the first couple of weeks.

If I could find a local league where everyone met for lunch and did the draft, then I would push for an auction draft, but it is not feasible for my current leagues.

Although Michael's chief objection to the auction style has to do with the fact that it doesn't work as well online as it does in person, Andy's objection is that auction drafts don't make as much sense in fantasy football as in fantasy baseball:

When it comes to auctions for fantasy football, I say a resounding NO. Here's why:

The auction format originated in fantasy baseball, and for baseball it IS the greatest thing ever. I've got no problems with auctions per se, but it simply doesn't work in football.

In a baseball auction you get $260 to spend on 23 players, and the whole premise is that if you don't spend wisely, you'll be punished in the end. The reason is that in baseball you must use the stats of ALL 23 players, ALL the time. If you spend half your budget on the 3 top hitters, as the auction winds down you'll have something like $11 to spend on 6 pitchers, and you will get killed.

In football, if you spend all your money on AP and Foster, you don't really get punished at all by doing that. Who cares who your backup $1 RBs are if you're playing Foster and Peterson every week? Unlike baseball (again, GREAT auction), you are not normally required to get much from your backups, so you can afford to overspend early on studs.

The whole 'tension' between wanting to own Pujols and realizing that if you overspend for him you'll suffer later is what makes the fantasy baseball auction so interesting. There is no such tension in a football auction. Therefore, teams are not forced to make any tough decisions during a football auction, you just pick who you want to spend a pile of money on, and it just becomes a modified snake draft.

I've made a living (not literally) watching an owner smugly buy three studs early in a baseball auction and KNOWING that I won't have to worry about him as competition that season. He's already buried his team by not being able to field a complete roster and he doesn't even realize it. In a football auction, if someone bought Rodgers, AP, and McCoy, I know he'd be a threat from the get go.

I'm looking forward to hearing responses from others, because as I said, the baseball auction is my favorite one of all - I just can't see it working for football. Hopefully some others who have done football auctions for awhile have come up with some solutions to create more tension and make a football auction a viable thing.
As with my question concerning keeper/dynasty leagues vs. redrafters, last week's question about auction drafts generated far more responses than I could reasonably expect to include in the column. As always, I want to thank everyone who wrote in, and I have done my best to represent every position with as little redundancy as possible.

One suggestion that I received from a reader years ago and that bears repeating here is this: You don't have to commit to a change in league structure if you are interested in experimenting. If you think you want to try an auction draft, then you can have one and then vote afterwards on whether to stick with the results or to redraft serpentine style. (Be sure to specify in advance whether the auction can be nullified by a simple majority, a two-thirds majority, or whatever you proportion you choose.)

This Week's Question: Is There a Good LMS-Style Contest for the NFL Playoffs?

Lance does not seem to care much about my feelings, but he poses a good question nevertheless:

I don't really read your column for the fantasy stuff, but I do check it every week for Schiff's picks. I like LMS pools even though my track record isn't great. This season, I got booted from my first LMS pool in Week 3, but I got another one started in Week 4, and I lasted in that one until Week 10. I tried to get a third pool going, but I couldn't get many takers because there wasn't much of a season left. One guy said, "Maybe you can do one of these pools for the playoffs." But you can't, can you? I mean obviously the playoffs are about the same teams winning and advancing, so the whole idea of only being able to pick a team once doesn't make any sense. Then again, if you can pick the same team over and over, it will probably just be everybody picking Green Bay week after week. So do you know of some way for people to put together a fun office betting pool for the playoffs that is kinda sorta like a Last Man Standing pool?
I have had questions similar to this one in the past, but they have generally been about how to extend the fantasy football season into the NFL playoffs. I don't recall any discussion of LMS pools in the NFL playoffs (for exactly the reasons that Lance specifies). If any readers have fun betting pool ideas for the playoffs that they would like to share, I will be happy to feature them in next week's column.

Last Man Standing - Week 12 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

#3: Jets over Bills (8-3, PIT, SD, GB, BUF, HOU, CIN, NO, CAR, NE, DAL, DET):

For those who are squeamish about using a survival pick on a divisional game, AVOID THIS GAME. But for those that have already used Atlanta, Green Bay and Cincinnati earlier in the season, the Jets at home seem to be a safe bet. Buffalo has been hit with a rash of injuries at wide receiver and running back, and now that the league has figured out that all you have to do is get an early lead on the Bills and then let them pass, it would seem logical for the Jets to take this one handily. The Jets have one of the best defensive units in the league, ranked 7th overall in yards allowed. But they do give up more than the average NFL team in points. If this becomes a shootout, the Bills win. But Rex should have his troops focused at home as they try and make a playoff push.

#2: Bengals over Browns (8-3, SD, AZ, DET, GB, NYG, PIT, JAX, NO, DAL, MIA, NE):

The Bengals are in the middle of a four-game stretch of divisional games that will most likely determine whether they are playoff ready. Unfortunately, the Bengals have lost the last two games to their divisional foes, the Ravens and Steelers. If they can forget about those games while not focusing on their rematch with Pittsburgh next week, then this is a lock. Not. In any other year this game smells like a trap game. These defenses are ranked 5th (Cleveland) and 6th (Cincinnati) overall, but the Bengals are 12th in scoring to the Browns 28th-ranked offense and outscore them by an average of 9 more points per game this season. While a defensive battle should be expected with some trick plays thrown in, the law of averages says that you can take this game with more certainty than a normal Bengals/Browns game (and that’s not saying much in the last 10 years).

#1: Falcons over Vikings (8-3, SD, PIT, TN, PHL, CIN, GB, DAL, NYG, OAK, BAL, 49ers):

Gone are Brett Favre, Tarvaris Jackson, Sidney Rice and Bernard Berrian from the 2009 team. Add Adrian Peterson to an injury list that always seems to grow around this time of year in the NFL, and the Vikings are a shell of what they used to be. The Vikings will go into Atlanta to face a Falcons defense that is second in total rushing yards and 15th overall in yards allowed with the hope of matching the balanced attack of Turner, Ryan, White and Harry Douglas (who looks like he may continue to fill in for the injured Julius Jones). There are not many times this far into the season that you have the opportunity to pick a team that should be an automatic lock. Now I only hope I don’t eat my words on this because the Falcons sleepwalk through the game.

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