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Week 7

Last Week's Question

I never cease to be amazed at the questions that turn out to be "hot button" topics with the fantasy football community. Quite often when I make a deliberate effort to stir up controversy, I get only a ho-hum response. But then there are times when I ask questions that I think absolutely no one will care about—only to discover that FFers throughout the country (and even the world, as suggested by the growing number of international replies to my columns) have simply been waiting to hold forth on this or that point of how the game of fantasy football should be played.

To put it simply, I was overwhelmed by the feedback I received to my simple question about whether transaction fees are good or bad for fantasy football. Even though I will clearly have to dedicate this column and the next to survey those responses fairly, I want to offer my apologies at the outset to those whose responses I simply cannot include and especially to those who wrote in with long and detailed replies that I have had to edit dramatically in order to give readers something that they can digest.

Although those who wrote in all seemed to have a slightly different take on transaction fees, the overwhelming majority expressed support for the fees, if for no reason other than the fact that they fatten the purse. In the interest of simplicity, I'll devote this column to the responses that champion fees and the next column to criticisms of the fees. Along the way, I think a few more questions will raise themselves.

Ed's league has an interesting policy that manages to encourage trading while discouraging frivolous waiver wire activity: "In our 10-team league, we don't charge anything for trades, but all free agent Pick Ups costs $3." David's league uses similar logic:
We charge$5 for every drop/add and $1 per player for trades. I know that $5 seems like an awful lot of cash for a one-week pickup. The reason for the high price of a waiver wire pickup, but the relatively inexpensive fee for trades is to help stimulate trading in a league that has traditionally been lacking in that area. If it costs so much to fix your roster via the waiver wire (due to byes, injuries or bad drafting), then maybe people will resort to trading with their fellow league owners instead.
As simple as that sounds, I have to say that this policy is extremely attractive to me. I think most of us will agree that leagues with substantial trading are more fun to be in than leagues with 0-1 trades per year, and making trades cheaper than waiver wire pick-ups sounds like an excellent way of giving owners an incentive to trade. If you have ever been on the brink of executing a trade that stalled only because your potential trading partner insisted that you cover all fees for the transaction, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

I received a number of responses like the one from Michael, who points out that his league is "for gambling," and that it's "the best kind of gambling because 'the house' doesn't take a cut.'" I think in the vast majority of cases this is true. If transaction fees are being collected simply to line your commissioner's pocket, then it's probably time to look for a new commissioner (or a different league). But different leagues allocate their transaction fees in different ways. In Michael's league, for instance,

We use base fees to fund the winner's pool and transaction fees to create ancillary awards to keep everyone engaged during the full season.
That sounds like a fine idea provided Michael's league has found the perfect balance between transaction fee costs and ancillary payouts. But I don't understand enough about the particulars to comment further. How does this work exactly? If 7 people in the league perform transactions at $5 each one week, does the high-point team that week collect $35? Would the high-point team on a week with no transactions collect nothing at all? Or do all the fees go into a kitty and get divided up retroactively, so that the owner of the high-point team in Week 2 has no idea what he won until the season is over and the fees have been collected? Tom's league has answered those questions:
In our league, we charge a transaction fee. The fee is $5, and all of the transaction money goes into a pot, and the highest scoring team for that week gets all of the transaction money for that week. Because we also offer $25 along with the transaction money, everyone has a chance each week to recoup some of their entry fee. This encourages everyone to keep their teams competitive, because it only takes a couple of high-point weeks, and you can win back all of your initial fee. We also can only carry 3 running backs, and 3 receivers, and one of our rules is that you must use eligible players, so if you have too many players on a bye week, then you have to make a transaction to have enough players.
Brian's league takes a very unconventional approach to transaction fees, collecting them for the purpose of sponsoring a post-season fantasy season (which sounds very interesting to me, since the only downside to the NFL playoffs, as far as I'm concerned, is that there's no more fantasy football to be played):
My league has $5 transaction fees for all roster changes and all yellow list backups (excluding IR transactions). We take the funds from this, which typically amount to approximately $400/yr, and have a playoff draft after the regular season and before the NFL playoffs. With the playoff draft, we can pick any player from any NFL team without impacting our keepers. It's a great reason to have another draft, and this way we can have players on our team for a few weeks that we'd otherwise never get to root for. And, of course, it's another opportunity to win more cash!
Clint's league apparently uses transaction fees to fund a toilet bowl contest that allows the owners of losing teams to win back their entry fees.
When our playoff weeks begin, the teams with a losing record go into "Scrubbowl" contention. Here they can win back thier league dues--in essence play for free all year. It is not a lot of money out of the pot for the winners, and it keeps all the teams "active" all year.
I'm not sure that I fully understood Clint's response, but this does present an intriguing possibility. I suppose if I were to adapt it for my league, I would propose something along the following lines. Assuming that my league charges a $50 entry fee and collects $85 in entry fees, I would set up a toilet bowl playoff contest for all the teams that failed to make the playoffs. The one that finished first would get all $50 of his entry fee back. The one that finished second would get $35 back. If we had collected $165 in transaction fees, I suppose the top 3 losers would all get their money back and the 4th-place finisher would get $15. But obviously such a system has room for improvement, since the two top teams (in the latter scenario) would be playing for no stakes at all in the Toilet Bowl championship.

Pete's league uses the transaction fee to generate substantial money during the season:
Our league thrives on the transaction fee. We pay out $225/week to 3 winners (points league) and pay out over $6000 over the course of the year. We pay the 3 top-point getters at the end of the year too (part of the $6000). Oh, by the way, how can one generate so much money? [We start with an entry fee of] $200. We also allow multliple owners to own the same players [and to purchase players for $10 each]. Last week 7 guys picked up McAllister, adding $70 to the purse. Everybody wins something over the course of the year, and that makes guys want to come back for more next year.
Who can resist a league in which "everybody wins"? By charging a hefty fee for transactions and setting up a rules system that encourages players to make transactions weekly, I can see how this league appeals to the avid football gambler. But the system Pete uses might be a little overwhelming for the casual FFer who is just trying to make the playoffs in his office league.

Yet another unconventional approach to the transaction fee (and one that can be implemented, I think, by the average league) comes from Neil, who writes:
We've recently implemented a payout for the transaction fees that adds a bit more strategy/interest in our league. The final transaction fees will be split into thirds and paid out to the owners with the highest scoring QB, RB and WR during the regular season (player must be in your lineup for points to count). This not only may give teams out of the hunt something to root for down the stretch (say they had Culpepper and an otherwise awful team), but it also adds a little more excitement at auction time since you might spend a little more $ on that QB/RB/WR who you feel will dominate and get you some extra cash come year-end.
I would have to see this idea in action to be sure that it didn't just end up giving more money to the teams that had already won. It seems quite possible (even likely) that the best players at those key positions will be on the teams that are already advancing deep in the playoffs, but if even one of them appears on the roster of a struggling team, I can definitely see the idea from Neil's league doing wonders to keep owners interested. Another strategy to that end comes from Rod:
We've had $5 transaction fees for many years (10 or so). We take the transaction money and put it in a separate pot for what we call 'skins'. These skins vary and recently we've tried to include skins that will keep the 'bad fantasy season' team owner interested. In the past we've have a skin for the most points during playoff weeks for non-playoff teams. This could be for weeks 15-17 or whenever your playoffs run. Another could be the highest point getter for a transaction during playoff weeks. This keeps non-playoff teams interested. We usually have about 5-7 'skins' each year that can add up ($100-$150 per skin). Other 'skins' we've used in the past include 'highest losing score in one week', 'most points by a special team/def in a week', 'best transaction in one week' (most points), 'best week to week point turnaround', etc. These 'skins' may and do keep 'bad fantasy season' owners involved.
Variety is the spice of life, and it looks like Rod's league manages to keep things fairly spicy. I particularly like the idea of a skin game for "highest losing score in one week," as those of us who play in head-to-head leagues know the frustration of putting up a fantastic performance only to lose by one point to another team with a performance that is just a hair more fantastic.

However, not all fantasy leagues put transaction fees back into the pot. I received dozens of responses such as this one from Jason: "One reason we have kept the league transaction fees is that all fees go towards our end-of-the-year party that we hold during the NFL Super Bowl." I'm not sure, but a quick survey of the responses that poured in this week indicates to me that transaction fees more frequently go to pizza and beer than to sweeten the pot. But since more and more leagues are managing to stick together after job opportunities take participants to all points throughout the nation and abroad, I also received responses such as this one from Brian K.

Originally we used the transaction fee pot to have a party at the end of the season for all of the team owners and families. However, since our league now is spread out over 2500 miles of the country, we split the pot up into fifths and add it to the payouts. We think that having payouts for half the league keeps everybody interested in playing for the whole season instead of giving up early because they don't have a chance. Usually 2nd through 4th places aren't decided until the very last week. 4th place gets their entry fee back and then 5th place gets a portion of the transaction fees collected. Seems to work really well for us and our league has enjoyed it. Makes for more excitement all the way to the end.
As much as I like the innovative solutions of readers like Neil and Rod, I suppose that most FFers are more comfortable with arrangements such as the one adopted by Brian's league. There are a number of variations on this theme, such as the following from Dwight:
Our league uses transaction fees, but the money generated goes into a side pot, apart from our entry fees. The transaction fees are then split between the team that had the best overall record and the team that had the highest single-week scoring output. We feel that this way, it rewards 1) the team with the best overall regular season record, since we all know how much it sucks if you paste everyone during the regular season then throw up a goose egg in the playoffs and finish out of the money, and 2) a team that might not make the playoffs, but puts together an outstanding week - they have a chance to recover some (if not all) of their entry fee. By doing this, we give more people a chance to win some money, and that seems to help us retain players from year to year, and give people more incentive to put their best lineup in, even if they're eliminated from a playoff spot.
I confess I had never considered giving a substantial pay-out to an owner based on a single performance in a single week. But I have to say I like the idea. A lot. We all know that the David Pattens of the world are capable of putting up better numbers than the Randy Mosses on very special occasions. But we also know that they can only put up those numbers if they are playing. I like Dwight's idea because any team-even the worst team in the league-has a chance of putting up the most points in a single game on any given Sunday. And if everyone knows there is a substantial reward for that accomplishment, then you won't see David Patten in the lineup on his bye week just because his owner is out of the playoff hunt.
Another great suggestion comes from Tim:
Our 10 team league has a $1 transaction fee, and our playoffs are weeks 14-16. That being said, week 17 has always been a real downer, so this year we are drafting our own teams for week 17 with the winner taking all of the dough in the transaction pot. Teams can have the same players if they wish [all the teams can start Culpepper at QB if they want], so you have to add a tiebreaker (total points scored in the Colts game, for instance). We'll all get together to sip some suds and see who can really call their shot for 1 week.
I also received a number of responses along the lines of this one from Mike:
The cost of Internet services to run leagues have been increasing each year. In our league, the funds generated by transaction fees pay for our league service, without taking money out of prize pool. I've never received any complaints from the other owners in this league.
I don't think the owners in Mike's league should complain about this, but I don't understand how a fixed cost (the fee charged by an Internet service) can be offset by an unpredictable amount of money (since there's no way to tell, before the season begins, how many transactions will occur in a league). In my league at least, we generate far more money in transaction fees than it would take to cover the cost of our Internet service.

I'll close (for now) with a sort of philosophical statement on transaction fees that comes from Mike S., who writes:
I think League Transaction Fees (LTF) are an important part of FF. First, they enrich the kitty--nothing wrong with that. Second, a fee for transactions rewards those who draft well and punishes those who draft poorly. If you do the research, make the right calls, and do the work, your transaction fees should be fairly minimal provided your rosters are big enough and you're not unlucky with injuries. However, if you go into the draft with only an outdated FF magazine, you're going to be making some poor draft decisions and setting yourself up for a lot of transaction fees.

Now my experience shows me that a well drafted team, with an owner who generally stays the course because his roster is good, can be outperformed by a team that executes a large number of waiver wire moves to both make up for a poor draft and take advantage of injuries, mega sleepers, and short-term fantasy wonders. However, this often requires a lot of moves, with many bad pick-ups to get to those key players.

Now, this is fine with me, as there is more than one way to skin a cat. However, the waiver-wire junkie should be forced to pay and stand by his "chance" waiver wire picks. If you want to take a flyer on Lamont Jordan based on trade rumors (like I did), then pay your three bucks and be done with it. Conversely, I picked up M. Moore prior to his blow-up last week for three bucks, and now I have a quandry for the Jamal Lewis absence-W. Dunn or M. Moore. But I should have to pay for those chances. You shouldn't get freebies with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. No one could really predict on draft day that Moore would be starting Week 5, let alone accrue 190 total yards. Poor drafters shouldn't have this advantage without penalty.

I'm inclined to agree with just about everything that Mike says, but I'm not so sure that the Mewelde Moores of the world are only important to poor drafters. I think it's quite likely that the best drafters are going to be the FFers who stay on top of Minnesota's mercurial running game, and the absence of a transaction fee would reward them for being so well-informed about the NFL that they could make as many moves as they like. But that quibble aside, I stand by the gist of Mike's argument. I'm sympathetic to the idea that if you want to overcome a poor draft with a lot of waiver wire activity, you should be able to do so—but at some cost.

This Week's Question
This week's question comes from Randy, who writes, "I'd like to see an article on keeper leagues regarding 1) roster sizes and 2) the ideal number of players to keep from one season to the next."
Since next week's column will be a continuation of the discussion of transaction fees, readers can still weigh in on that topic. But I will also start collecting answers to Randy's question for the column that will appear two weeks from now. Those of you who have been in keeper leagues for a few years, please let me know why your rosters are the size they are and why you keep however many players you keep from season to season.

LMS Picks for Week 5 (Courtesy of Matt)

Well folks, unfortunately Matt's other responsibilities prevented him from writing up his LMS picks this week, which means that you are stuck with me. Since I was eliminated from my LMS pool in Week 1, I'm a bit rusty, but here's what looks good to me.

#3 Philadelphia over Cleveland
Who proves what to whom in this game? Does Jeff Garcia prove to Terrell Owens that he never needed an elite receiver? Or does Owens prove that all he needed to become the best in the business was a more "athletic" quarterback? ("Athletic," you'll recall, is Owens' word for the kind of quarterback he wanted. Whether that phraseology implied that Garcia was not athletic is for you to decide, gentle reader.) I don't think this game can prove anything about whether T.O. or Garcia was the more important component to the success San Francisco used to have in the passing game. I think all it can prove is that Garcia's surrounding cast is vastly inferior to Owens'. And I expect that to be borne out by the score.

#2 Minnesota over Tennessee
If there is one team I truly admire in the NFL, it is the Tennessee Titans. They are a tough bunch of characters, and they have gotten off to worse starts than 2-3 and still made the playoffs. But I saw the Titans falling to pieces at home vs. the Texans on Sunday. It was bad enough that Drew Bennett (and, to a lesser extent, Derrick Mason) were dropping passes. Then came the moment when Bennett dropped yet another pass--and Mason, in disgust, threw his helmet on the field, incurring a 15-yard penalty on top of a failed 3rd-down conversion. I think the Titans are in a tailspin and that it's going to get worse for them before it gets better. The Titans have now lost three divisional games at home, and I fail to see how they can defeat the NFL's most productive offense in Minnesota.

#1 St. Louis over Miami
You only need to make one pick each week, and it's starting to look like you will only be in trouble on Miami's bye week and on the three occasions that the Dolphins have to face divisional rivals for the second time. Otherwise, you will be able to pick a new team every week just by taking whoever the Dolphins are going to lose to. This week they get to lose to the Rams. Mike Martz will doubtless do his level best to screw this one up with pointless challenges and poor clock management, but I don't think that even he can find the will and determination that it must take to lose to Miami.

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.