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Week 14

Last Week's Question

Last week's column featured a question from Gordon, who wrote in to request an explanation of how multiple-conference leagues work. I'll begin with an explanation of what multiple-conference leagues are for readers who are unfamiliar with the concept.

The ordinary (single-conference) fantasy league has room for something like eight to fourteen teams—often separated into two or more divisions. An eight-team league might look something like this:

8-Team League
 West Division  East Division
Team A Team E
Team B Team F
Team C Team G
Team D Team H

Similarly, a twelve-team league might look something like this:

12-Team League
 West Division  Central Division  East Division
Team A Team E Team I
Team B Team F Team J
Team C Team G Team K
Team D Team H Team L

The scheduling for the eight-team league will obviously differ from the scheduling for the twelve-team league, but the leagues are similar in that both will (in most cases) draw on the same pool of NFL players. Obviously, there will be a lot more depth in the eight-team league than in the twelve-team league, but you would expect to find Shaun Alexander on only one team in the eight-team league, just as you would find him on only one team in the twelve-team league.

In most circumstances, the key difference between the traditional single-conference fantasy league and the more elaborate multiple-conference set-up is that different conferences each draw on a separate pool of NFL players. The multiple-conference league in which I participate includes forty-eight teams broken into four conferences of twelve teams. Each conference is further divided into three divisions of four teams. Each of the four conferences has its own draft/auction, with the result that Shaun Alexander plays for four different teams in my league. Theoretically, it would be possible for two teams in different conferences to have identical rosters, but anyone who has ever experienced the vagaries of a draft or auction firsthand will realize that the chances of that happening are infinitesimal.

Although it is entirely possible that there is a 100-team league out there somewhere featuring ten conferences of ten teams each, I want to keep things simple, so I'll use an example of a two-conference, sixteen-team league. It's easy enough to imagine how such a league would evolve. It starts as a ten-team league in an office somewhere. But one player has a friend who wants in, and another has a father-in-law who's interested, etc. The league grows to twelve players and then fourteen, and then two more people want in, but the others who already belong to the league are already complaining about how thin the talent has been spread. So the league reorganizes itself into two separate conferences with two separate drafts. One of the beauties of this arrangement is that the two different conferences do not have to organize themselves along identical lines. One conference can have an auction; the other can have a traditional serpentine draft. Between waiver wire activity, injuries, and the unpredictability of the NFL, both conferences will end up sending competitive teams to the playoffs. I speak from experience on that point. Even if all the best FFers are concentrated in one conference and all the neophytes are in the other, both conferences will send competitive teams to the playoffs.

Here is a model:

American Conference
 West Division  East Division
Team A Team E
Team B Team F
Team C Team G
Team D Team H

National Conference
 North Division  South Division
Team I Team M
Team J Team N
Team K Team O
Team L Team P

If you play in a points-only league, then your difficulties are pretty much over once you've organized the conferences. But since Gordon asked about the way to handle scheduling in head-to-head leagues, I'll say a bit on that point.

For the sake of this example, let's say that our sixteen-team league intends to have its Super Bowl (rightly or wrongly—that's a different column!) in Week 17. In that case, a simple way to arrange the schedule would be to have all the teams in each division play each other twice (six games); they would also play each team in the other division in their own conference once (four games); and to round out their regular season, they would play all of the teams from a single division in another conference once (four more games).

Each conference would send two division champs and one wildcard to the playoffs. The team with the best record from each conference would sit out the first week (Week 15) with a bye. In week 16, the teams with the bye would face the winners of the preceding week's match-up from their own conferences. The winners of those games would advance to a Super Bowl in Week 17.

To clarify, let's follow Team A through a season in a multiple-conference league. In Weeks 1-3, Team A plays divisional rivals B, C, and D. In Weeks 4-7, Team A plays intra-conference rivals E, F, G, and H. In Weeks 8-11, Team A plays inter-conference rivals I, J, K, and L. Then, in Weeks 12-14, Team A plays divisional rivals B, C, and D once more. Having gone undefeated, Team A sits out in Week 15 while Team E (the conference champ from the East Division) dukes it out with Team F (the wildcard team in the American Conference). Team E wins that game and goes on to play Team A in the conference championship in Week 16. Team A wins that game and advances to the Super Bowl to play Team M (a club that Team A never saw in the regular season). As it turns out, Team M wins—because I hate happy endings, and Team A was starting to get on my nerves anyway.

Obviously, that's just one way of arranging the season and the playoffs. You might want to have your Super Bowl in Week 16; you might want to send more than six teams to the playoffs. If you find that you can't squeeze in as many games as you would like, then you can always schedule double-weeks (weeks in which teams face two different opponents—often one from their division and one from another conference). You might need to have just three double-weeks in the course of your regular season, or you might want to have teams play two games each week. Figure out what you want—and make it happen.

So to answer Gordon's questions one at a time:

Q: How do your playoffs work?
A: Much like the NFL playoffs, with teams playing other teams from their own conferences at first and then moving on to face other conference champions.

Q: How do you distribute your payouts?
A: Pretty much the same way we did back when we were a single-conference league. Roughly 65% of the kitty goes to the Super Bowl winner; roughly 25% to the Super Bowl loser; and roughly 10% is divided between other teams that make the playoffs (with a little more going to those that advance the furthest).

Q: Do you only play teams in your own conference?
A: Heavens, no.

Q: What is a league-hosting service that can handle a 48-team league?
A: We use, though presumably there are other choices.

I hope my answers help, but I did receive feedback from a couple of other readers on this question. The first response comes from Paul:

I have participated in a 24-team, 2-conference league for the past several years. Each conference is broken into three divisions. Each divisional rival is played twice while six of the remaining eight teams from the other two divisions are played once. Additionally each team plays one inter-conference game per season. In those instances, duplicate players simply cancel each other out. Our play-offs seed the top eight teams in each conference with the top three teams (division winners) selecting their opponent for the play-off game. The highest remaining seed again selects their opponent for the second round. All pay-out is maintained within the conference as it allows for easier accounting; however, the two conference champions (super bowl winners) then play in week 17 for two things: 1) bragging rights; and 2) as a means of determining which conference rules will be used for the following season's inter-conference games. There are not many significant differences; however, for next year we plan to incorporate home-field advantage for the inter-conference games. By having the home-field advantage, the visiting team will have to have a line-up submitted no later than 12 hours prior to kick-off and the entire line-up is cemented; while the home team will have the ability to change their line-up right up-to kick-off. The number of times that a wrinkle like this will actually effect play is very minimal, which is good; however, when it does, it makes winning the game between the conference champs much more meaningful!
A reader named Junior wrote in to point out that multiple conferences are the only way to address the problem of player talent being spread too thin:

The league I run was originally established ten years ago with ten teams. It grew to 11, then 12, then 15. When we hit 15, drafting depth became a problem, and we needed to find a solution. The answer: We converted to a salary cap league. There are plenty of publications available that rank every NFL player, and it allows multiple teams to draft the same player. If every team wants to spend half their salary cap on Priest Holmes . . . good luck. We have 28 teams now, and every team is unique. Sure, everyone has scooped up dirt cheap studs like Ruben Droughns, but our league has a hard cap. So if you spent 95% of your cap on draft day, you don't have much money for free agents throughout the season. Plus, if you cut someone, you're on the hook for his entire salary--even if that player sustains a season-ending injury. It becomes more a game of cap management strategy than a race for players. I like it because it brings an added dimension to fantasy football. I'm in my league, plus three others. They are all salary cap leagues, and I'll never do a non-cap league again.
This Week's Question
This week's question concerns the simple matter of how to resolve ties in playoff games in head-to-head leagues. Brian poses this question in a very general way:
I was wondering how other leagues handle ties in their playoffs. We haven't switched to decimal scoring which would reduce the chances of ties, but I was wondering how other do it to be fair.

But Jay writes in with a very specific gripe concerning the same subject:

My league's rules are very simple concerning ties. We don't recognize them. If two teams tie in the regular season, then their game is simply pushed to the next week, and whichever team scores the higher points that week gets the win. It sounded reasonable enough to me when I started.

But now it's created a huge problem. Our playoffs started in Week 13, and two playoff teams tied. I don't think they have any problem with the push, but I sure as heck do, since I manage the team that is supposed to play the winner of their match-up. I don't know which one of them I'm playing until after the Week 14 games have been played, and then I'll be playing against whichever one scored the most points. From their perspective, it's business as usual, but from my perspective, I have to play two opponents this week instead of one.

I think I'm getting hosed here, but the commish says this is what the rules stipulate. I think it's pretty clear that since the rules only make sense when applied to the regular season, there should be another way of implementing them in a single-elimination playoff scenario. Why should I have to play against two teams this week when I did nothing to make them tie? It's crazy.

If you can get your readers to brainstorm for a more reasonable solution to this problem, I would appreciate it. But please tell them that there's no point in saying that our rules should have been clear on this point before the season began. That really won't help me! I need something I can take to the commissioner that we can all live with.
Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matt)

Trap Game: Tampa Bay over San Diego:
No one in their right mind would have said that this would be an upset pick earlier this season. However, San Diego's defense is not playing at the level it was earlier this season. In recent weeks they have given up 17, 31, and 17 points since their bye week. They are 3-0 over that time period, but that haven't faced a defense that has created 7 turnovers during that same time period. The Chargers do have an advantage in that they have two weapons, Gates and McCardell that go down the seams against the Cover 2 defense—which might just be enough to pull out the victory.

#3: Dallas over New Orleans (7-5 This Season):
Does anyone doubt that the Cowboys might have a chance at the Wild Card? Julius Jones alone can beat New Orleans by running the ball up and down field against one of the worst defenses in the league. Aaron Brooks has been inconsistent and might be fortunate to have some garbage yardage, but if the Cowboys play the Saints the way that they played the Seahawks, it should be a laugher by the 3rd quarter.

#2: Arizona over San Francisco (10-2 This Season):
San Francisco is demoralized and Arizona is still in the hunt. Although the Cardinals lost the last game in overtime to the 49ers 31-28, they should be able to win this game at home. The only concern would be if Maurice Hicks is the starting running back. Last week the Cardinals gave up 196 yards to Kevin Jones, and it looks like the Cardinals run defense has now sprung a very big leak.

#1: Green Bay over Detroit (8-4 This Season):
The Packers were embarrassed in Philadelphia last week against a team that most likely will represent the NFC in this year's Super Bowl. Fortunately for those same Packers, they face the Detroit Lions at Lambeau field. The early forecast for this game is cold rain changing over to snow, perfect conditions for the Pack at home. Kevin Jones may have run for 196 against Arizona on the turf, but conditions will be less than optimal for the rookie. Look for Favre and company to bounce back this week and keep pace in the NFC North.
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.