Tip Drill: Enough checkers, let's play chess

Scott Pianowski

Looking to keep the momentum going from our runaway-freight-train rollout, we're back with Day 2 of the summer-long Tip Drill, your quick stop for a daily bite-size tip. Dig what's here? Great. Not your speed? No worries - you're free to go back to your CFL Handicapping seminar. Now, on with the tippage . . .

Fantasy Football has more luck in it than any other major fantasy game. It's a dirty little secret of sorts, not always talked about, but it's out there. Baseball, hockey and basketball seasons run on forever, use a lot of players, and give us tons of data points to normalize the results. Football is a game of the short run and goofy bounces, where the office secretary might win the whole enchilada because of accidental clicks on Adrian Peterson and Randy Moss.

It doesn't mean we have to like it or accept it, of course. There are ways for smart guys to shift the balance back in their favor, and that's our topic for today. Forget pandering to the lowest-common denominator; let's subtly change our leagues so that talent is rewarded. Today's minor tweaks give sharp players like you a better chance at tomorrow's ring.

Consider any and all of these adjustments to your league:

Start More Players

This should be an easy sell to fantasy players anyway, because more starters leads to more action, and that means more fun. But the sharpies in the crowd especially like it because it lessens the impact any one player can make, good or bad. You want more results in your league, not less. One hit on draft day should not make you an auto-contender, and one major injury shouldn't kill your season. The more players you add to the starting mix, the less volatility in our exercise.

Where to start? You can pretty much always add another starting receiver and the NFL's depth will support it. Flex players? I'm on board. If you've got 10 owners or less, I strongly urge multiple starters at QB. Once you start playing this way, it's hard to shift back - you'll be more invested in every Sunday. Forget mirroring the shape of a real NFL roster; let's get more players into our fantasy world.


More Rewards for Total Points

Head-to-head might be more fun, but total points is definitely more fair. Find a happy medium between the two. Consider weekly or seasonal prizes for the highest-scoring teams. Let "points for" determine the final playoff spot or two. Every league seems to offer a bad-beat story where a very high-scoring team finishes with a losing record because its virtual fantasy defense can't stop anyone. That's not skill, that's randomness. Total points tell a truer story.


Add Skill to the Free-Agent Chase

Many leagues still divvy up free agents with the "worst is first" model, and I don't know many sharpies who care for it. Why give a reward for having a bad team? Aren't you sick of never having a cushy free-agent slot in the middle of the year because your team is usually good?

I prefer a FAAB system for free-agent divvy-up, a blind-bidding tool which requires owners to handle a season-long budget and make strategic decisions. If you're not ready for something that involved, at least put waiver priority on your free-agent slots so the same crummy teams can't get pick of the litter every week.


Trim the Bench Spots

One of my favorite private leagues requires us to start jumbo rosters every Sunday, but with a very slim taxi squad. It's a challenge to handle week-to-week maintenance because good players will inevitably be cut, especially during the bye-week season. More critical decisions to make, more tricky calls to decide on? That's what the sharp owner should want. (Tied to this point, you'll notice that the "donators" in most leagues absolutely hate the bye-week season. Tricky decisions, deep scouting required? That's not their game. And when you force them into that element, plenty of leaky decisions will follow.)


Move up the Draft Date

A decent chunk of the fantasy community, novices and experts alike, hates this idea. Okay, we all fear late-August injuries, those hit hard. But give me one additional reason why an early-August draft is such a bad concept?

I prefer an early start because it allows for more speculation and uncertainty; it gives us more ways to out-project our opponents. The donator needs everything spelled out for him (position battles, new offensive schemes, etc) before he's comfortable dipping his toes in the water. The sharpie can connect the dots on his own, can see patterns before his opponents, can figure out the lay of the land before the common guy. Why wait for the answer key to come out in late August? I say you draft sometime in the next two weeks, confident that you'll be able to out-speculate the other guys in the room.


Switch to an Auction

Okay, they take a lot longer than common drafts and there are some logistical issues with them, true enough (though the internet has caught up in recent years - thanks, Fantasy Auctioneer). But auctions are also more fair, more interesting, more dynamic - and more challenging. The donators want to forever play checkers, keep the rules basic and simple. See if you can slide them over to the chessboard, and watch your EV increase.

These are just a few ideas on a theme, I know there are many others. How do you reduce the volatility in your league? What's your pet format? How can we make Fantasy Football a better game?