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Mike Davis | Archive | Email  
Staff Writer

Q & A - Week 13: Replacement Commissioners

Last Week's Question: Do the default schedules of most league-hosting websites underemphasize divisional contests at the end of the season?

Last week we heard from a commissioner named Dan, whose league is hosted by CBS Sportsline. His problem is that the default schedule generated by the CBS Sportsline website gets the divisional contests out of the way well before the end of the season.

Some readers may think that Dan is picking nits. "What does it matter when you play the other owners in your division," a critic might ask, "as long as you play them all twice and the owners outside of your division once?"

It matters because, in most leagues, divisional records are critical tiebreakers for determining which teams advance to the playoffs. Owners who cannot settle those divisional tiebreakers until the final weeks of the regular season have to stay on their toes all the way to the playoffs, whereas owners who have locked up their divisional titles by Week 10 may coast through Weeks 11 and 12 without presenting much of a challenge to their inter-divisional opponents. If I need a divisional rival to lose his last game of the regular season for me to advance to the playoffs, it is painful to watch him go up against a team that is on autopilot just because his opponent has already locked up a bye in the postseason.

Check out the Week 17 schedule for the NFL to see how Roger Goodell and company avoid this problem. Every single game is a divisional matchup. With 8 divisions of 4 teams each, this is easy for the NFL to arrange. If Oakland is playing San Diego in the AFC West, then that leaves Denver to play Kansas City. And if Chicago is playing Detroit in the NFC North, then that leaves Minnesota to play Green Bay.

According to Dan, the schedule that CBS Sportsline generated for his fantasy league is completely unlike the schedule that we see for the NFL. All of Dan's divisional games are over by Week 10, which means that lots of important questions about the playoffs will be settled before the last three games of the regular season are played in his league (in Weeks 11-13).

Dan's query generated a number of responses from people who are dissatisfied with the schedules generated by CBS Sportsline. Bill's case was perhaps the most dramatic. Like Dan, he has zero divisional matchups in the last three weeks of his regular season:

I have always used my own schedule every year based on the previous year's standings. In the past, we have had 8-9 teams fighting for the final playoff spots the last 2 weeks. I [used the default schedule this year because I] did not have time to set my own schedule this time. With 2 games to go our divisional matchups are all done, and playoff seeding is already decided.

I won’t do this again.

I really had no idea that so many people were so dissatisfied with the default scheduling mechanic at CBS Sportsline, but Mike also wrote in to explain why he always overrides it:

I commish a league on the CBS Sportsline website. I always override the default schedule as I think it's crap. I made up my own schedule years ago that I use every year. We have 4 divisions of 3 teams in our league and 2 conferences.

Because of my revisions to the schedule, two of the last three regular season games are against your division and the other one is against someone in your conference.

Our 12-team league has 4 divisions of 3 teams with 2 conferences as well. Each division winner makes the playoffs as well as one wildcard from each conference for a total of 6 playoff teams.

The schedule works to play each team once while playing division foes twice. I have the schedule set up where you start out playing teams in the other conference. In weeks 4-6 you play first 2 division games. Then play rest of other conference. Final 5 games are against teams in your own conference. 2nd set of division games are 2 of the final 3 games. Basically with this schedule you are playing division rivals or teams you are fighting for a wildcard spot against the last 5 weeks. You can make a lot of ground up at end of year with this schedule.

With this schedule, the top team in each conference gets a bye. Playoffs start in week 14 with wildcard vs. division winner. Winners move on to take on bye team in week 15. Superbowl in week 16.

The responses I received did not make it clear to me whether the frustration that commissioners experience with regard to divisional scheduling on CBS Sportsline is widespread on other hosting sites. Most of the commissioners who responded to Dan's question began by telling me that they set up their own schedules, so I do not have reliable information concerning the default scheduling of other hosting sites (such as MyFantasyLeague, FleaFlicker, Fox, ESPN, and Steven says that he overrides the default schedule in his league on Yahoo!, but he does not explicitly state whether that is because of the auto-scheduler providing a shortage of divisional games at the end of the season (though he certainly implies it):

We always override our default settings. We belong to a very rare 16-team (4-division) league via Yahoo Sports, and when I was commissioner through the first 2 years of our league’s early days, I initially decided to setup our scheduling as such: Weeks 1 – 3 vs. division rivals, Weeks 4 – 10 vs. non-division teams, and to close the season, Weeks 11 – 13 vs. division rivals. (with 16 teams, I had the option to set it this way, luckily.)

Now, even though I have to manually set these schedules every year (which is a huge headache), it’s definitely worth it. In fact, here’s how our rankings sit right now after 11 weeks of play: two teams have clinched playoff berths at 9 – 2, and out of the remaining 14 teams in the playoff hunt, nine of them have records of either 6 – 5, 5 – 6 or 4 – 7. So, as you can imagine, setting up the schedules like this not only makes it more exciting come the end of the year, but it also keeps more owners active with waiver wire transactions and trades as well; which is a good thing.

The downside, which is no direct fault of Yahoo Sports, is that all tiebreakers are still decided by point totals first, instead of total divisional wins. But all in all, we’re glad that we’re in a 16-team league, because it definitely makes it worthwhile when you’re just 2 games out with two games to go (like me). And for the record, we wouldn't want it any other way.

Dan's reason for using the default schedule was to keep the other owners in his league from crying foul, since some commissioners might try to slant the schedule to their own advantage. However, the responses from Bill, Mike, and Steven all suggest that it is possible for commissioners to override default settings in ways that make the league more fun and challenging for everyone involved. Based on these responses and my own experience as an FFer, I would have to say that any commissioner who does not override his league settings to ensure a healthy number of divisional contests at the end of the regular season is probably doing more harm than good.

This Week's Question: What should replacement commissioners do when they inherit a broken set of rules?

My heart goes out to FFToday forum poster "The Next Generation" (hereafter TNG), who started a thread on the FFToday boards about an owner in his league who may have exploited a software loophole to break a rule that no one in the league expected to be broken.

TNG is getting all sorts of advice about the specifics of his plight from members of the FFToday community, so I don't want to belabor the details of his problem here. However, he is in a position that is becoming more and more common these days. He is in charge of enforcing rules that he did not write (and that he may not even like) because he agreed to replace an outgoing commissioner in a mature league.

The situation in which TNG finds himself is becoming increasingly common. Some leagues last for years (or decades) under a single commissioner without anybody giving much thought to the rules. Everyone knows, trusts, and respects the original commissioner, and when problems come up, the owners tend to go along with whatever the commissioner says because that is what they've always done. When the commissioner decides to leave the league, he pressures one of the other owners into taking his place. The replacement candidate says, "I'm pretty busy; I don't think I have time for this," but the outgoing commissioner says, "It doesn't take any time. The website practically does everything for you. C'mon man, do it for the rest of the guys."

And so the new commissioner, thinking that he really won't have to do anything special, agrees.

Then a problem crops up, and the new commissioner finds that he cannot just decree an answer with the same unquestioned authority that came naturally to the old commissioner. In TNG's case, it is not his fault that the outgoing commissioner never defined a punishment for breaking a specific rule. One of TNG's owners broke a rule that the league software was supposed to keep from being broken. The software failed, and now TNG is in the position of having to mete out a punishment to an owner who "stole" a win by working around a roster limitation that was presumed to have been built into the league's website.

According to another poster, TNG dropped the ball on this one: "It's your job as commish to catch these mistakes before the fact, not punish people after the fact."

TNG replies the same way I would expect a lot of commissioners to reply: "I don't get paid for this and do a heck of a lot for nothing. No way am I checking everyone's roster every day to ensure it's legal."

When people volunteer to take over for a commissioner who is stepping down, they are usually just trying to help out. They aren't going to devote hours each week to ensuring that everything about the league is running perfectly.

Consequently, such replacement commissioners often end up not knowing about rule violations until they have already happened (usually because the wronged owners blow the whistle on the offenders after the fact). This creates the worst possible scenario for a commissioner--having to define and impose an appropriate punishment after a specific violation has occurred.

Of course the punishments for offences should always be defined in advance. But when you have inherited a set of rules that always seemed to work fine in the past, it is very difficult to anticipate the problems that might arise in the future.

So what should replacement commissioners like TNG do when such problems crop up? It's not enough to say, "The website shouldn't have let him get away with that." The commissioner (even if he is brand new to the job) is expected to do something--something that is fair, something that sets a good precedent for the future, something that makes an example of the offending party without being too severe.

If you know a commissioner who inherited a broken set of rules from the person he replaced, please let me know how s/he responded to the first significant exploit/violation of the rules. Did he issue a decree? Ask the rest of the league for advice? Put matters to a vote? Form a committee? Let it slide and change the rules for the next offender? And how well did his response go over with the league?

Last Man Standing - Week 13 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

Trap Game: Indianapolis over Detroit (6-5, Was, CLE, TB, Den, ATL, SF, NYG, NO, MIA, DET):
Andrew Luck has shown over the season that he has the poise of a veteran quarterback and relishes the challenge of winning games on late scoring drives. He will need all of his poise to defeat the talented Lions, but after Houston’s come-from-behind victory on Thanksgiving Day, there may just be enough film on Detroit for the rookie to find his way to a win. If the Colts are to pull off this upset, they will have to find a way to improve on their last-place ranking in interceptions (only five all season, but two for touchdowns) when they play the NFL’s number one ranked passing offense. The Lions cover a lot of yards (412 per game), but they average just 24 points per contest, which is why their defense has to figure out how to stop giving up an average of 25 points per game (23rd overall in the NFL). This will be a close match, but Matthew Stafford and crew have not lived up to their potential this year. As such, this game has the makings of an upset in spite of the fact that the Colts carry a better record.

#3: Dallas over Philadelphia (11-1: PHI, TB, CHI, AZ, HOU, BAL, GB, SF, SD, NE, WAS, DEN):
Those who have read this column over the years know that I live in Philadelphia and am a huge NY Giants fan. That said, is it possible for both Dallas and Philly to lose this game? No, because there must be a winner (or at least a tie). Both of these teams have gone through rough patches in years past, but I can't remember these two NFC Beasts ever looking so lost on the field as they have at points during the 2012 season. Philly fans are the first ones to tell you that their coach Andy Reid should get the axe, but it’s difficult for any NFL team to put a quality team on the field when their best three offensive weapons are injured (Vick, McCoy, and Jackson). While the Cowboys have not looked great, especially on T-Day against Washington, the Eagles are the right tonic for what ails “America’s Team.” Take the Boys and await the announcement of the firing of Reid next week.

#2: Green Bay over Minnesota (9-3: CHI, WAS, NO, HOU, SF, PIT, MIN, NE, ATL, BAL, DEN, IND):
The Packers come home after being manhandled by the New York Giants but look to get back on track this week against their divisional foes. This will be the first meeting between these two teams over the next five weeks and the Packers may find that the Vikings are hardly a pushover with Adrian Peterson leading the 3rd-ranked rushing offense in the NFL. With Clay Matthews expected to miss his third game in a row because of a hamstring injury, the Green Bay front seven will need to work hard to shut down the run. But if they do, the Lambeau faithful should have little to worry about in Willie Ponder and his 30th-ranked passing offense. Outside of Percy Harvin, who may still be sidelined with a sprained ankle that was clearly painful during practice this week, their options are limited. Meanwhile, Greg Jennings WILL return to the lineup for Aaron Rodgers this week after being out because of abdominal surgery. The reunion of Jennings with Jordy Nelson and Randy Cobb is bound to create mismatches in the Minnesota secondary.

#1: Buffalo over Jacksonville (11-1: HOU, SF, IND, BAL, NYG, ATL, NE, CHI, GB, PIT, DAL, CIN):
It’s late in the season, and the pool of Last Man Standing choices is starting to shrink. Since we’ve already used up all of the usual suspects, what’s the best of the rest?

Buffalo. It's scary, but it's true.

This game won't be easy for the Bills, as Chad Henne looks to be revitalized under center with Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts finally providing the first viable wide receiver duo in Jacksonville since Jimmy Smith and Kennan McCardell in the early 2000s. Although the Jaguar offense is hardly a powerhouse (ranked last at this point in the season with under 290 yards per game), their dismal ranking is belied by the fact that Henne has thrown for 6 touchdowns and almost 700 yards in two games since replacing Blaine Gabbert. But as improved as the Jacksonville offense is, their defense is just horrible. Steve Fitzpatrick and Stevie Johnson should shred the 30th-ranked defense at home and win this game in a squeaker. This game is hardly for the faint of heart, but with limited quality options available this week, a contest between two teams with a combined 6-16 record may just be your best bet.

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