Saturday, August 11, 2007

Fantasy Football: the flaw of head-to-head illustrated

Right now I'm watching The Singing Bee. In the round I just watched, there were four competitors. The competitors were split up into pairs to compete against each other.

In this round, contestants were provided with song lyrics, but with blank spots. The goal of the competition is to fill in the blanks with the most correct answers.

In the first head-to-head pairing, competitor A gave a very good performance, getting 12 lines right. But competitor B did slightly better, getting 13 words correct. Competitor B moved on; competitor A was finished.

In the second head-to-head pairing, competitor C did horribly, getting only 2 words correct. Competitor D had an easy time, getting 8 words correct, and she moved on.

So four competitors played, and they had no impact on each others' performances. Competitor A got 12, competitor B 13, competitor C 2, and Competitor D 8.

So the competitors with 13 and 8 points move on, while the competitors with 12 and 2 points are finished.

How is this fair? If this contest were performed fairly, the competitors with 13 and 12 points would move on. Remember, this was essentially an individual contest: though contestants were paired against each other, the game does not allow one competitor to affect the performance of the other competitor. If the game were checkers, then the opponents would be taking turns, playing on the same board, and affecting each others' performances. But this wasn't the case: they each performed individually, but because they were paired head-to-head, the top two competitors didn't succeed. Competitor D, who performed worse than competitor A, actually ended up ranked ahead of competitor A.

Isn't the goal of a competitive contest to try eliminate as much hazard as possible to allow a fair competition, thus allowing the better performers to move on? Certainly chance and luck will still play a role in the success or failure of the outcome, but the game usually attempts as best as possible to limit chance and luck, thus allowing the best performers to succeed. In a checkers tournament, for example, you might get randomly scheduled to play a world-class checkers player; however, you are still able to compete and have a chance to win, because your performance is directly against, and directly impacts, your opponent.

Transfer this to fantasy football. You have a team that is trying to score as many points as possible. You are paired against an opponent, who has a team that is trying to score as many points as possible. Neither of you are allowed to impact each others' performances. And while this is happening, there are other competitors, also trying to score as many points as possible, and they are paired up into head-to-head competitions.

So though you have no impact on anybody else's score, and nobody else has any impact on your score, your success or failure is dependent largely on who you are randomly paired up to compete with. You might finish with the second highest score of the week, and you will finish the week with a loss, while other performers who did worse than you will end with a win.

There are two ways to attempt a fairer league, to attempt to allow good performers to succeed more than inferior performers, that still has an element of luck but attempts to take a major factor of chance out of the game.

You could determine your champion by total points (but then you don't have to follow the team week-to-week).

Or you could use a point system: the highest score gets 9 points, the second highest score gets 8 points, etc. You can set this points system up in terms of wins and losses, in a competition where each week you are in direct competition against every team in your league.

We call this Cross Country Scoring. Let the Revolution begin.

Cross Country Scoring also eliminates the stupidity of a fantasy football playoff. It is absurd to compete for 14 weeks or so, determining who is the best, and then allowing an inferior performer to win the league because he/she had a high scoring team for just a few weeks. Oh, yes, in real football this can happen, but real football is a competition in which you can affect your opponent's performance. Not so in fantasy football. If you play in a fantasy football league with a playoff, it is largely luck whether you win or not. It's not a matter of picking the best team: it's a matter of picking a team that happens to have its best performances in weeks 15, 16, or 17, or catching opponents who have their worst performances in weeks 15, 16, or 17.

And that's stupid. That's random. And a fair, competitive league should attempt as best as possible to eliminate randomness.

And in a Cross Country Scoring system, every single real NFL game is likely to have a fantasy impact. In a head-to-head matchup, there are all sorts of NFL games that have no impact on your weekly performance: all that matters is the performances of your team's players and your opponents' team's players. In a Cross Country Scoring system, you are competing against everybody in your league, meaning every single fantasy football starter can affect your performance. It makes it a whole lot more fun to follow the sport.

So as we set up the barricades for our fantasy football Revolution, let us sing together a rousing revolutionary hymn from the epic musical, Les Miserables:

Red, the blood of angry men.
Black, the dark of ages past.
Red, the world about to dawn.
Black, the night that ends at last!

Vive la revolution!


  1. Anonymous9:14 PM

    Head-to-head matchups and 3-week playoffs are definitely unfair ... I have been in plenty of leagues where the best overall team didn't win. Then again, a lot of other things aren't fair, either: injuries, bye weeks, bad calls, etc.

    This is why I think the standard format continues to dominate:

    - With head-to-head matchups, it's easy to keep track of where you stand ... you're rooting for and against a handful of players. Battling the entire league every week is tough to manage (e.g., LT just had a big game--do I care?) and also a little depressing (practically every touchdown from every game hurts you).

    - With playoffs, most teams have a chance to win it all for most of the season. With scoring accumulated throughout the season, it's a lot tougher for a team that's in 4th or 5th place in Week 10 to end up on top.

  2. actually, 2 years ago the team that won the league was in last place for most of the 1/2 half of the season then went on to win the is only hard for a team in 4th or 5th place to win it if the top team is totally dominant...even last year the team that won it had LT, Manning, and Baltimore D, but there were still 3 teams battling in the last few weeks and 2 teams going into the last two weeks.

  3. Anonymous3:08 PM

    One of my leagues are going to try to find a pay site that has a scoring system as close to the "every man for himself" type of system you have here.

    I won the same league two years ago by having 3 players get hot at the same time, on one hand it's exhilirating, but for those that had a "better" team it can be frustrating.

  4. Anonymous12:01 PM

    In my 8 team league we play head to head with no playoffs, all 17 weeks. Best record wins, if there is a tie for best record then it goes to most points for the season. Last year we had a 6 way tie going into the last week. 6 people didnt know if they would finish first or 6th, very exciting.

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