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Week 6

Last Week's Question

In last week's column, I asked readers to demystify leagues like the ones my wife belongs to for me. Frankly, I expected to get a lot of responses from people feeling as holier-than-thou as myself, but most of the people who wrote in were extremely even-handed in their assessment of such leagues. Instead of angry rants about the inundation of the uninitiated, I received measure responses such as the following from Kevin:
One of my leagues is with Yahoo! (I believe their lowest "free" version), and it has an "autodraft." The commissioner, who is a friend of mine, insists [such an arrangement] is better since you don't have to deal with the headache of getting everyone together for a draft. However, to me, the draft is more than half the fun of fantasy football, and I don't really have that much of an interest in that league since I don't have a real sense of own[ing my] team. If it weren't for my friend, I probably wouldn't even participate.
I was looking for outrage; I was looking for vitriol—but instead I received coherent explanations of the value of leagues like my wife's, such as this response from Nate:
I have participated in several auto drafts (just for fun) with mixed results. I was always given the opportunity to prioritize my players in advance if I choose to and if not, a preranked player list was used. I remember doing it with CBS Sportsline (back when it was free), and they allowed me to rank players by position and then define what round a particular position was drafted. Yahoo isn't so flexible, allowing only one overall list. I got some weird results with the Yahoo format like picking P. Burress and H. Ward back to back. I wanted one or the other…not both.

Odd-number team leagues are not a problem and can actually be quite fun from a head-to-head stand point. Rather than having byes just have each team play two other teams each week. So your 7-team league has 14 games going any given weekend and no byes. It's kind of fun to have to keep track of two opponents' rosters as the games unfold.
While Nate accords the autodraft a kind of grudging respect, Richard wrote in specifically to defend it—and apparently with good reason:
I think a case can be made for a league where you don't do the draft. I have 3 teams this year: my money team (which has a draft) and 2 of these Yahoo! "they draft" type teams. On one of the Yahoo! teams I used [the FFToday] Cheatsheet Compiler to rank the top 100 players. Although I didn't actually draft, I made my rankings known to the computer and the computer then drafted the best available on my list. On the second team, I just let the computer [handle everything]. My thinking here is that this system lets me see how well I can manage a team throughout the season. It is a test of team management, trading, and free agent pick-up skills, not drafting skills. Although the computer in this system can set a lineup and you check in at the end of the season to see how you did, it is also possible to actively manage the team. Having the two Yahoo! teams also gives me a chance to see how well my top 100 list team compares to my "no input" team. In other words, it lets me see in a rather unscientific way what the value of my "drafting" skill is, or what value is added to the draft team and the Cheatsheet Compiler. . . . In summary, my 3 teams all do something different. The money team tests drafting AND management skills, while the 2 Yahoo! teams test team management and seek to test the validity of the Cheatsheet Compiler.
The only possible way for me to respond to Richard's thoroughly coherent reasoning is to say, "Gee, I guess I hadn't thought of it that way."

Intriguingly, it seems that no matter what question I ask or how I ask it, there is always someone who figures out how to respond in such a way as to champion the "total points" scoring system over the "head-to-head" scoring system. This week's champion of the points method is Beth, whose response also addressed the positive aspects of small leagues:
We have a seven-team league, mainly because someone dropped out before the season. The way we play is competitive (especially now with all the injuries) and we've enjoyed having a smaller league for a few years now. We do draft our own players though. We do not play head-to-head, but keep up with the scores and at the end of the season, the person with the most total points wins the league. The last few years, it has come down to the final week and just a few points. Last year, the top three teams were separated by only 1.5. To make it more competitive, we limit trades to 3 (that includes waiver wire pickups) and 3 players can be placed on Injured Reserve if they are out and can then be replaced by someone else. Where I like some things about head-to-head competitions, I , like everyone else, have been burned before, playing the best team when I also have my best week. This eliminates that problem and keeps everyone's interest throughout the season.
A reader named Mike also wrote in to defend smallish leagues and to venture an answer to my question about whether those who simply go through the motions of playing fantasy football actually qualify as fantasy football players:
I am in an 8-team league, which for our purposes works really well. Because it is only 8 teams, the games are ultra-competitive every week. Also, even the owners who may not be terribly astute still end up with a lot of good players. You still need to stay of top of things, as of course injuries will kill you.

As for the second part of your question, I do believe fantasy football has grown in participation in the last 8-10 years. But millions seems like a lot more than I thought. To me, if you play fantasy football for free it doesn't count. The purpose of any fantasy sport is to be able to win something--money, trophies, etc. Those are the true fantasy owners because you know that there is something at stake. And when there is money at stake, people will do all the work that needs to be done to win. I know if I paid for a league and was assigned players . . . well, I wouldn't pay to play in that league.

My thanks to all those who wrote in. Consider this humble fantasy writer chastened. No more will I jump to conclusions concerning leagues that I consider "too small" or drafts that I consider "too undemanding." Let a thousand fantasy leagues bloom.

In a nutshell, the question I have for you this week is simple: "Do you think transaction fees are good or bad for fantasy football?"

I suppose that's straightforward enough, but for readers who may not know exactly what I am talking about, I'll elaborate. I belong to a league that is about a decade old by now. (It's been through so many changes that it's really hard to say when it stopped being the league that it used to be and started being the one that it is now-but that is a story for another time.) When the league started, the commissioner had no choice but to be an absolute workhorse. He had to calculate the scores himself and type up a massive email that went out to everyone in the league, informing us of who won and who lost and by how much. Try that on for size, you whippersnappers who never knew of fantasy football before the CBS Sportslines and Yahoo!s and RTSports-type services streamlined it into what it is today.

Anyway, that preamble is simply a way of explaining that when our league instituted a $1 transaction fee for every trade, every waiver wire pick-up, every injured reserve categorization—when our league instituted that transaction fee, it was primarily the commissioner's way of defending himself against burnout. If it cost you a buck every time you wanted to modify your roster, the thinking seemed to be that people wouldn't go hog-wild with roster modifications. And if we weren't all deluging our over-worked commissioner with requests to change our #4 receiver (who would be on the bench anyway) sixteen times a week, then he might just retain his sanity long enough to get us through another season.

I wholeheartedly approved the implementation of the transaction fee when it was introduced. It seemed to me like a good way of forcing people to think very carefully about their teams before making frivolous changes that could suck the life and enthusiasm out of our commissioner.

But here's the thing: the Internet did finally catch up with fantasy football. The commissioner no longer has to pore over the box scores. He no longer has to send out massive emails. He still has to approve trades, but our website handles waiver wire transactions automatically (according to a wish list based on standings within the league).

Now the transaction fee has been a part of our league for so long that we haven't really thought of doing away with it. In fact, we decided that with inflation, we should double the fee to $2 per transaction. Nobody grumbled. But I'm beginning to wonder whether there's any justification for keeping the transaction fee. The league runs more smoothly and effortlessly now than it ever did, and it runs just as smoothly whether there are two or twenty or two hundred waiver wire transactions in a given week. To be sure, all those transaction fees go into the pot and fatten the purse for the winner at the end of the season, but I have to wonder whether they come with a cost.

This week, for instance, I had Thomas Jones on a bye and Onterrio Smith suspended. I needed someone to help out Shaun Alexander in my backfield, and I had to go to the waiver wire for help. Our waiver wire runs on Wednesday evenings, and at that point, Jonathan Wells looked like he might get substantial playing time. So I went for Wells. Ka-ching. That was two dollars. Then, on Sunday morning, I woke up early to check on Wells again. I didn't like his prospects as much as the prospects of Minnesota's Mewelde Moore. So I cut Wells for Moore. Ka-ching. Another two dollars. Was Moore worth the investment? Absolutely. But the only reason I made the investment is because it is still early in the season and my playoff prospects are alive and well. If it had been Week 13 and I had a losing record, would I have been willing to pay $4 to make two changes at running back in one week? Not likely. Anyone who has ever had a bad fantasy season knows how apathy can affect your team management even though you know you have a responsibility to play as hard vs. the team you face in Week 14 as you did vs. the team you faced in Week 1. But I can't help suspecting that in leagues with transaction fees, the teams that are out of it about two-thirds of the way through the season have a disincentive to try to get back into the thick of things.

What do you folks think? Anyone willing to make a case for or against transaction fees?

LMS Picks for Week 5 (Courtesy of Matt)

As we get further into the season you need to start looking a match-ups that not only give you the best chance to win this week, but also allow you to win over the next two or three weeks by not taking the teams that you might need later in the season. With that said, here are some games that you might want to take a risk on.

Trap Game(s): Tampa Bay at St. Louis:
I picked Tampa Bay as my trap game last week and I see a little bit of a pattern beginning here. The Bucs are feeling good after holding the Saints to 109 yards passing and they just might just know how to stop the Rams' passing attack. If this game was played in Tampa, it would be a perfect upset pick, but two weeks in a dome might be one too many for the Bucs.

#3: NY Jets over San Francisco (3-2 This Season):
Are the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets good enough to beat the 49ers? Bet on it. While the Bills almost beat them at home, the 49ers defense will not be able to contain Martin and company. This might be a little bit of a shoot out, but take the home team straight up.

#2: Cleveland over Cincinnati (3-2 This Season):
This is the week of how many times will you be able to take a particular team during the season during your Survival Pool. Cleveland is at home against a team that has one of the worst defenses in the league. And while the Browns' defense is not completely healthy, if they shut down Rudi Johnson and make Palmer beat them, they just might pull this one off. This is a tough game to pick as a lock, but at some point during the season you have to reach deep down into your bag of tricks.

#1: Buffalo over Miami (4-1 This Season):
While the temperature might not be below freezing on Sunday, the Dolphins will get an icy reception on the flight home from Wannstedt if they lose. Many are saying that someone has to win this game, but it is possible that it could end in a tie. With that said, the Bills should win this one hands down. Look for new faces on both sides of the ball from Sage Rosenfels who will start for the Dolphins at Quarterback and Willis McGahee who will be featured at tailback for the Bills. The Bills have had a chance to win their games this year, but this should be the first one that actually goes up in the win column.

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.