And trust me, it's broken.
I've played in several fantasy football leagues each year for the past decade or so, and over time, you learn some things. You learn that Priest Holmes is going to burn someone. You learn to trust the elite quarterbacks to stay elite. But more importantly, you learn what makes a league fun, and what makes it frustrating. Right now, I'd like to share with you a few ways that I think your league can be more of the former, and less of the latter.
I figure the first of July should be plenty early to get your league on board with the changes.
Use Fractional Points
I get not using fractions back when fantasy sports were conducted with pencils and paper, but this is 2010. This is the year that every pre-teen science fiction writer used as his setting when I was growing up in the 1980s. Technology allows us to calculate fractions pretty easily, so there's no reason not to use them.
Certainly the advantages of using partial points are obvious. Say you give 1 point for every 25 passing yards. Does the difference between 173 yards and 178 yards really constitute an entire point? Is it unreasonable to think that 222 yards is actually more valuable than 203? The reality is that we have the mechanisms in place to allow yards to be assigned a specific, decimal value. Using those mechanisms will allow us to be maybe just a little more certain that the most deserving team will win on any given Sunday, and that's always an admirable move.
You also almost certainly eliminate ties, which nobody wants. As the old saying goes, ties are like kissing your sister, which unless your sister is Rachel McAdams is pretty gross. I guess it's gross either way, but man, she's gorgeous.
Shorten Your Benches
Losing a player to injury can be a bummer. Losing a player to injury and finding nobody on the waiver wire who even comes close to being startable is brutal. When this happens, chances are it's because your league has too many bench spots on each team. It seems the convention is fifteen roster spots, split up into nine starters (1 QB, 3 WR, 2 RB, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 DEF) and six bench spots. Most teams won't have a bench tight end, kicker, or defense, so you have six bench spots for six starting spots.
Too many. You want to force people into tough decisions, and you want to prevent players from being held just to be held. I'm in favor of having one bench spot for each non-special team position (QB, WR, RB, TE), plus one additional spot for every four total non-special team roster spot. In the case of a standard league, you have seven of those roster spots, so you get one additional bench spot, for a total of five. That keeps the waiver wire populated with the occasional interesting play: a borderline tight end, a slot receiver on a pass-heavy team, a goal-line running back.
Speaking of improving the depth of your waiver wire options...
Use Return Yardage at the Same Rate as Passing Yardage
Default Yahoo leagues don't implement return yardage at all, which borders on criminal. But even when leagues do use return yardage, it's often at an irrelevant pace, something like 40 or 50 yards per point, when rushing/receiving is 10 yards per point, and passing is 25. That means that, in order to match a 100-yard rushing/receiving day, a return man would have to accumulate 400 or 500 return yards.
As a reference, the all-time record for most kickoff return yards in a game is 304, and for punt return yards it's 207. The most prolific return man in 2008 (among startable players in standard leagues; that is, non-defensive players) was Darren Sproles with 1,625 total return yards. Michael Turner and Adrian Peterson had more rushing yards than that, and thirty quarterbacks had more passing yards than that. Certainly we can all agree that big return numbers have a positive impact on a real-life football team. Since fantasy football is supposed to reward players who do positive things for their real-life football teams, it's only fitting that return yards become part of the equation.
Most importantly, giving real value to return yards turns otherwise unstartable players into reasonable quick fix options. Joshua Cribbs is an elite return guy, but in a normal league, he wallows on the waiver wire. Adjust the return yards impact, though, and he becomes a decent option if you're in a bind. And that's really all we're looking to create here, is a little extra depth on the waiver wire for tough situations.
Consider Eliminating Kickers
Now, about a year ago, I was adamant that kickers should be eliminated from my main football league. I didn't (and still don't) like the complete luck that's involved in kickers acquiring points. They're completely reliant on particular offensive sequences to create the opportunities for them to kick field goals, and those sequences are extremely difficult if not impossible to predict. With most other facets of fantasy football already being somewhat unpredictable, why add in what essentially amounts to a roll of the dice for a few extra points?
I've backed off of that stance somewhat, however, as a result of the simple logic of one of my fellow league members. There are kickers in real football, so there should be kickers in fantasy football. It's a simple enough reasoning, but it does make sense. So, while I still think that kickers are unnecessary for a fantasy football league, and I think that removing them will result in the "better" fantasy players doing better in the win-loss columns, I understand keeping kickers. My recommendation here is just to make sure that you're not just keeping kickers because of convention, and that you actually find value in having kickers on your teams.
And Whatever Else...
Listen, I don't know your league. You know what your owners find interesting, and what they don't care about. I personally like assigning .25 to .50 points per reception, and giving 2 points for 100 yard receiving games versus 1 point for 100 yard rushing games, to increase the value of wide receivers versus running backs. But that's not for everyone. My most sincere recommendation is to listen to your league. You're going to find things that bother everyone in your league, and those are the most important things to change.
And the fractional points thing. That's just a no-brainer.
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