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Week 11

Last Week's Question
Thanks to the responses to my question in last week's column about the best league-hosting services on the Internet, I now know which of the service providers is indeed the best one for my needs. Unfortunately, I'm the only one who knows. And even more unfortunately from your standpoint, I have no idea which league-hosting service is best for you.

I do know, however, that I am an idiot.

More precisely, I suppose I am whatever it is that comes up short of idiot on the IQ scale. I must be a sub-idiot, as any idiot could have seen that the question I posed last week was bound to provoke an overwhelming variety of responses from readers who have different needs and therefore different opinions about the same services. Also, it's difficult to integrate responses from the readers who have only used one service with those from readers who compared services. As I read through one response after another, I found myself thinking the same thought, "Yeah, this one seems honest and perceptive enough, but I just don't see any meaningful way to connect it with that last one, which was also honest and perceptive."

And then came this very simple suggestion from Joseph Cechvala:
Another way to address this issue is simply to ask people to rank those features that are important to them. You could then provide a matrix of the various sites' features and their cost.

For example, my response would be:

Must Have: reliable live scoring (NO crashes); the ability to create my own schedule and divisions; bulk loading of rosters; and commissioner power over waiver wire transactions and trades.

Nice to have: fractional scoring, year-to-year carry-over of league settings.

Don't care: support for individual defensive players.
Great idea Joseph. I wish I had thought of it. In fact, I'm going to start this whole project over as if I had thought of it. In next week's column I will present readers with a questionnaire that they can answer concerning the various league-hosting services that they make use of.

What I want to do this week is to collect a list of the features that most readers are concerned about having available on their league-hosting services. As a point of clarification, I fear I must take a moment to distinguish league-hosting services (which serve purely an administrative purpose) from the many FF information sites out there that offer insider tips and expert advice on how to guide your team to a championship. There may come a time in the future when I will ask about whether one panel of experts is better than another at giving advice about who to start each week, but at the moment, I am only concerned with league-hosting services, such as those at Yahoo! and RTSports. These services generally provide automated scorekeeping for leagues and allow FFers to make roster and line-up changes without having to bother a commissioner. I am not asking you to reveal the name of the site that gives you a winning edge in your league.

Joseph has done an excellent job of getting us started on a list of features that matter most to FFers when it comes to league-hosting services. Does the service offer live scoring? Does it allow for fractional scoring? Can it keep track of the performances of individual defensives players? How much does it cost?

Other questions that I can add to the list from the responses I have received so far include: Does it allow for live chats with the other members of my league when they are logged in at the same time I am? Do I have to enter the results of my draft into the service, or is the draft handled by the service? Will it keep track of the rounds in which players were drafted throughout the season? Does it provide a sortable list of players in terms of productivity at their position? Will it give me news updates concerning the players? Does it provide me with a warning message when a player on my roster is injured or coming up on a bye week? Is it reliable all of the time? During the week? On Sundays when everyone is trying to check their scores? Are the administrators of the league-hosting service receptive to customer suggestions and complaints?

This Week's Question
So this week's question is very simple. Can you add to the list of questions in the preceding paragraph? What features in a league-hosting service matter the most to you? I'll do my best to organize the responses to this question into a coherent questionnaire that readers will have an opportunity to respond to in the future. Then perhaps the information I receive will be useful to more than the one person who receives and digests it all!

Loose Ends
I owe some readers an apology for an assumption I made last week: the assumption that virtually all FF leagues had made the move to online league-hosting services. To my surprise I received a number of notes from old-school FFers who still handle scoring and league administration internally. Some, like Don Davis, manage things with commercial software:
I do not like the league-hosting services. I have been part of Yahoo and CBS leagues. Frankly, I find them too expensive and hard to justify the cost. At the moment, I am the commissioner of a league and we use Fantasy Football League Manager from Sideline Software. This is a darn good product that should fill most people's needs in fantasy football at less than half the cost of those other on-line services. The upside is that you can create any reports you want, customize web pages and what not (if you are an HTML whiz, you can do all types of stuff). The downside is that there is no built in message board and that someone needs to manage the software (add line-ups, do trades, run reports, etc). However, isn't that what a league commissioner is for? After being a commissioner for the last six years, I don't think I could go with anything else.
Other readers, like Gary Heidenreich, pay for nothing. Gary designed his own spreadsheet to manage his league and still does things the old-fashioned way—by himself:
Our league is a 16-team, touchdown-only league with minimal defensive stats used. Over the years, we have always used our local paper for the stats (league started in 1989). Now, even with all of the options that are available to me, I still use my spreadsheet system that I have created for the following reasons:
  • It's much quicker for me at the draft to write it down on a team roster sheet. Our draft takes 3.5 hours.

  • It allows me to use my spreadsheets with the standings and rosters as my weekly mailings and web pages.

  • Only 75% of my league has access to the web. The official scoring is from the newspaper, which everyone has access to. In our rules, if there is a problem with the newspaper, NFL.COM is my backup.

  • Our sheets are personalized, as is my weekly write-up. The write-up was a tradition started before I became the commish (in '95).
My thanks to readers such as Don and Gary for reminding me that not everyone has gone the way of the Internet. However, I will point out that it is unsurprising to see that Gary's league is a TD-only league. I'm sure there are plenty of commissioners out there who are perfectly capable of managing a performance league with nothing but a calculator, a legal pad, and a weekly set of box scores. But why would they want to? And while I understand that Don's question ("Isn't that what a league commissioner is for?" ) was mainly rhetorical, I will say that there is plenty for a commissioner to keep up with apart from how many points Tiki Barber earned this week according to a particular league's scoring system. A commissioner has to organize the draft, establish the rules, collect the fees, monitor the league for problems, settle disputes, and distribute the winnings at the end of the season. The commissioner of our league still does all of these things, but since we moved to a league-hosting service, I'm sure he wonders how he used to find the time to tally our scores and update our line-ups every week.

Final Thoughts on Collusion
I received two late responses concerning collusion this week from readers who did not have a chance to see my question concerning the topic until the follow-up column had already appeared. I include them because I think they will be of particular interest to readers. The first comes from Mike, whose league has a unique way of handling collusion:
We have a long-standing FF-League (dating back over 25 years), with 20 or so owners pretty consistently over the years. To curtail collusion, we cut off inter-franchise trades after Thanksgiving. However, any "fishy" trades prior to that cut-off can be vetoed by our panel of Commissioners, usually 3. Anyone who is [unhappy about the commissioners' ruling] can lobby to become a Commissioner the following year, but in a league our size, nobody really wants the responsibility that comes with being a Commissioner. Therefore, we never have a problem with such trades.
This is one of the funniest ideas I've ever heard. "If you try to cheat, we'll make you serve as commissioner! See how you like the added workload."

Another suggestion came from Paul:
I didn't see your article until today, Nov 11. I just wanted to make a quick suggestion. We don't use this rule because we use a veto rule, but I will be putting it up for vote next draft.

What if teams can only trade up or down two spots based on the standings? The 1st-place team can trade with 2nd- and 3rd-place, 3rd can trade up or down from 1st to 5th etc, etc. Last place (12th) can only trade with teams in 10th- and 11th- place. This method would definitely stop bottom dwellers from dumping their good players to top teams.
An interesting suggestion. It certainly would keep the 12th-place team from colluding with the 4th-place team, but I'm concerned because it would also prevent the 12th-place team from making a perfectly reasonable trade with the 4th-place team. Most trades occur because one team has depth at a position where another team is thin. If I have an extra running back and need a receiver, I don't just pick a receiver's name out of the air and try to trade with whatever team has that receiver. I look at the other rosters and try to find the team that needs help at running back and appears able to spare a receiver. Usually I'll be lucky to find one or two suitable trading candidates in any given week in a 12-team league. By this proposed system, I had better hope that those teams are close to me in the standings, or I can't deal with them. If anyone else has had success with a method similar to the one Paul suggests, tell me about it and I will try to cover it in the near future.

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matt)

Trap Game: St Louis at Buffalo
St. Louis completely handled the Seahawks last week in their win at home, but this week they are outside in the cold breezes of western New York. Buffalo's defense is ranked fifth in the NFL and if the weather is bad, the game should play into the Bills' hands. Tory Holt might not play because of a concussion suffered in last week's game and the Rams are built for speed on dry turf. Also, the Rams are giving up 140 yards per game on the ground, a weakness that Willis McGahee should be able to take advantage of.

#3: Jacksonville over Tennessee (5-4 this season):
Who would have thought at the beginning of the season that Jacksonville would be in 1st place while the Titans were in 4th in the AFC south? Jacksonville is playing good defense and David Garrard has filled in very nicely for the injured Byron Leftwich. Look for Garrard to get the start again this week for Jacksonville while Antowain Smith fills in for Chris Brown at the running back position for the Titans. Brown has been hampered by turf toe all season and this will not heal until after the season. Look for the Jags to win this one on both side of the ball at home this week.

#2: San Diego over Oakland (7-2 this season):
Ladanian Tomlinson and cast look to continue their winning ways in Oakland this week. The Raiders rank in the bottom 3rd of the NFL in all defensive categories while the surprise Chargers are ranked second where it counts, on the scoreboard. Look for this to be a runaway as Marty mixes it up with play action passes and quick hitting runs.

#1: Indianapolis over Chicago (6-3 this season):
Okay, last week's pick in this spot was a little bit of wishful thinking, but Arizona was ranked 28th against the run. This week the Colts roar into the windy city against a starting quarterback with a 49.1 passer rating and a 3-0 record. Sooner or later Krenzel's lack of security with the ball will come back to bite the Bears and with the Colts defense improving, this may be that week. Marvin Harrison will also look to reconnect with Manning as he was all but forgotten in last week's game. The Colts should get up on the Bears early and be able to tee off on the inexperienced Krenzel.
For responses to this week's fantasy question or to share your LMS picks, please email me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football season.