Check out Fanball's Fantasy Football 2009 magazine. In "Darn the Luck! Fantasy Football Play Formats" (26-27), Danny Goldin discusses the flaws of head-to-head formats, and suggests a few alternatives. One of those alternatives will be familiar to Hazelweirders, and to regular readers of this blog:
"Another format that I personally recommend utilizes what is called a power scheduling system. In this format, every team plays every opponent every week. For example, let's say you play in a 12-team league. If you score the most points in the league on a given week, you'd accumulate an 11-0 record. On the flipside, if you end up with a lowest point total, you'd go 0-11."
Terrific! We call this cross-country scoring, but by any name I support the revolution. Thank you, Danny Goldin, for helping to spread the revolution.
However, Goldin's power scheduling system also includes "a creative playoff format." I believe the concept of fantasy football playoffs is absurd. In fantasy football, you have no control over your opponent's performance; the game is more like golf, where several competitors play independently and the best performer wins, without impacting each other's performance in a concrete way. A fantasy playoff, then, simply rewards a team for having a hot performance in week 15, 16, or 17, or for facing an opponent (or opponents, in Goldin's variation) that has a cold week. I understand a playoff in real football: the teams compete in a contest in which they directly engage with each other. But in fantasy football, why should week 15 be more important than, say, week 8? Or week 11? Or week 2? It's just random. Fantasy playoffs are another way in which luck gets injected into the system.
Luck will always be a part of everything. However, when devising a fair competition, you should attempt to limit hazard as much as possible. Awarding a fantasy team that had its best performances in week 15 and 16, but may not have been the best team over the course of the entire season, allows hazard too much control. With cross-country scoring, you can just eliminate the playoff entirely. The Hazelweird League has no playoff, and it's pretty rare for the champion to be determined before week 17.
A few other suggestions:
We've also developed a way to maintain interest and competition to the very end of the season. We now determine the next year's snake draft order by the order of the final standings the previous season. Not reverse order, but the same order. This will be the first season we try it, but it is an effort to prevent people from tanking at the end of the season for better picks (I've done it: in 2005 my entire week 17 lineup was Minnesota Viking players). We hope that people will compete with interest to the end of the season, partly for pride, of course, but partly to secure better picks the next season. I also don't think it will lead to a great competitive imbalance, since I'm not sure there's a direct correlation between early picks and winning a league.
I also have a recommendation for other leagues. Determine your snake draft order early, then allow for trading of draft picks. This can add a few months extra fun to your fantasy football league. It also allows for even more strategy and control. Of course an auction draft is preferable (it's fair and extremely fun), but if you must do a snake draft, allowing the trading of picks gives you a little more control. And why wouldn't you want to stretch out the fun of fantasy football?