Examining Leagues With Special Rules
By Jeff Pasquino
July 14th, 2010

Just like ice cream, fantasy football comes in many flavors. There is the old standard vanilla way to play, but for those of you looking to spice things up, there are several other varieties to try.

Different fantasy league formats can be grouped into five general categories:

  1. Player Selection Methods
  2. Scoring Methods
  3. Roster Setups
  4. Alternate Scoring
  5. Draft-Only Methods

Let's take a look at each one:

Player Selection Methods

Auction and Salary Cap Leagues

Auction and Salary Cap formats appear the same to the casual player. Both types give the team owner a budget to buy players, which is usually around $10 per roster spot. The difference is in the player marketplace. Salary Cap Leagues give each owner a menu of players and prices - if you want a player, this is his cost - take it or leave it. These leagues also allow owners to have the same players, which does not happen in auction leagues. Auctions have one player in the market at a time and all the owners get a chance to bid. Every owner gets a shot at each player - if you want Adrian Peterson bad enough, just bid more - so there are no arguments as to who gets to pick first. Everyone is on equal footing.

Many owners focus on how high to go for their stud players, but often the better strategy is to work backwards. There are only so many dollars available for the entire auction so if you can find bargains for a few bucks, you will save money for bidding on bigger names. Knowing that ahead of time affords prepared owners to get both studs and valuable role players on their team.

Another piece of advice in Auction Leagues is to have at least $2 per remaining roster spot at all times. When the auction winds down, many players go for $1. Having that extra $1 to grab the players you want goes a long way.

Modified Draft Order Leagues

These leagues are often called by other names, but the idea is the same: change up the normal back-and-forth draft to even out the teams. Some fantasy players believe that teams picking first have a huge advantage - not just in getting the best player, but also getting to have picks No. 24 and No. 25 (three of the Top 25 players). To balance this out, other pick patterns have been invented. One method is the "3rd Round Reversal (3RR)." Here the draft reverses after Round 2, meaning the first selector goes last in Rounds 2 and 3 making the order 1-12, 12-1, 12-1, 1-12, 12-1 and so on. Another is "Double Snake" or "Double Serpentine" (1-12, 1-12, 12-1, 12-1, 1-12, etc). There's also "Banzai" or "3rd Round Switch (3RS)" (1-12, 12-1, 12-1, 12-1, 1-12, etc).

Do these methods work? Actually, they do balance things out quite nicely. "3RR" has been adopted by many leagues, including a few high-stakes leagues, so it is gaining steam among fantasy owners.

Scoring Methods

Points Per Reception (PPR)

PPR leagues are almost as common as non-PPR leagues today. Several years ago, many fantasy players complained how leagues were won and lost based on running backs, so they wanted a scoring system that boosted the values of wide receivers and tight ends. PPR scoring boosts both positions; prolific pass catchers can see their fantasy totals go up 100 points or more with this scoring change, so it is very important to check if your league uses PPR.

Traditional league (non-PPR) players often criticize PPR simply because a catch is not as meaningful as 10 yards (both are typically worth one point). While a one-yard catch hardly seems worth the extra point, the scoring change is meant to help WRs and TEs overall, not necessarily to glorify these lesser plays. A case could also be made in non-PPR leagues that goal line specialists are glorified - why should that last yard be worth six extra points just because the runner started near the goal line?

Some PPR leagues take this rule a step or two further. One modification gives no PPR points to running backs, which hurts RBs that often act as a receiver. Other changes include a tiered PPR scoring, such as two points for a TE and/or half a point for a running back. One article at Footballguys.com proposed a unique approach - a point per first down reception ("Points Per Deception" by Jeff Pasquino). All of these changes work towards boosting the scores for players in meaningful ways to try to increase the value of pass catchers.

Decimal Scoring

Before online scoring for fantasy leagues, most scoring was done by hand. This labor of love was still hard work, so rounding scores to the nearest whole number made a lot of sense. Now with computers, the Internet and automatic scoring sites, decimal scoring makes much more sense. Now the possibility of a tie game is virtually nonexistent. Another positive to decimal scoring is that every player gets full credit for their production. If a player runs for 95 yards, he gets 9.5 points, not just nine points. Gone are the days where fantasy players hoped a player picked up a few yards to earn one extra point for their fantasy team. It makes perfect sense that if a player runs for 79 yards and has 29 yards receiving, he should get more points than a player with exactly 70 and 20, respectively.

Tiered or Bonus Scoring

Bonuses or tiers in scoring reward players that reach certain performance criteria such as 100 yards rushing or receiving. Each league is different, but three to five extra points for a 300-yard passing game or 10-reception game is standard here. The catch is that if a player falls just one yard or catch short, the bonus is not triggered and there are no extra points awarded.

In these types of leagues, not all players are worth the same, even with equal stats. When choosing between players that you think will have comparable production for this season, go with the player that can have more big games in order to reach those bonuses.

Roster Setups

Flex Positions

Many leagues go with a traditional offensive formation as their starting lineup. Usually this means that teams have two RB spots and either two or three WR spots in their starting lineup. Some leagues try to boost scoring and also allow for variety by adding a "flex position", which is usually a RB/WR spot, meaning that either a RB or a WR can be inserted into the starting lineup in that space. Creating even more lineup options, other leagues also allow a TE to be used as a flex.

The benefits of using a flex include higher scoring and the ability to use a stronger lineup than what is normally permitted. If an owner has three stud RBs, they can all play. Another bonus is when a team has many players on their bye weeks, putting together a decent lineup is easier by allowing for multiple formations.

Two-Quarterback Leagues

With just 12 teams in most leagues, the quarterback position is not as valuable (in most seasons, Tom Brady fans). To bring back the value to the position, some leagues require starting two QBs each week. While this may create several headaches throughout the year with injuries and byes, the challenge is often quite enjoyable.

Superflex Leagues

Other leagues allow for the option to start two QBs each week, but give some lineup relief by using a "superflex" spot. This is a flex that can also be a quarterback. This allows teams to plug in a RB or a WR when one of their quarterbacks is injured or has a week off.

In both types of Two-Quarterback Leagues, the values of quarterbacks skyrocket. Drafting becomes much more interesting as many teams take three or four QBs and often take two in the first seven or eight rounds, if not sooner. No team wants to be stuck without good QBs, and unlike RBs or WRs that change during games, usually only 32 QBs ever see action each week, so scarcity drives the demand. The good news is that if you get several good QBs, their trade value is also quite high, which is not common in traditional leagues.

Alternate Scoring

Best Ball

Some owners do not want the hassle of setting a lineup each week. The dreaded "who do I start?" questions come up every week, and often the lineup chosen is less than ideal. Watching for last minute news about injuries can also create a hectic Sunday morning.

Best Ball takes away that headache by allowing the lineup to be automatically picked for each team. Every team gets their perfect lineup for that week - the best possible score is the one that counts.

All Play

Another common attraction for fantasy leaguers is their schedule. Some established leagues have owner rivalries, but many other players can tell of stories where the schedule cost them a victory. How many times have you seen a team with a bad score get lucky by playing the worst team possible that week? Have you ever lost a game because you played the top scorer for the week just by chance?

All Play leagues solve this problem because there is no schedule - you play every owner every week. That means in a 12-team league, you have the chance to go 11-0 or 0-11, so huge swings can happen in the standings.

Draft-Only Methods

DraftMasters or Draft-N-Go

"DraftMasters" or "Draft-N-Go" league setups are tailored towards owners who gear up for the draft and then do not want to manage the team on a weekly basis. These leagues draft teams before the season - sometimes weeks or months in advance - and then let the chips fall where they may. A combination of Best Ball and All Play are often used because the owners have chosen players for the year and just cross their fingers that all will go well.

Teams drafted this way are often deeper than in a typical league. As such, knowing the depth charts and the possible players with upside will greatly help your chances. Grabbing your star running back's backup is also a good idea, as is grabbing two QBs from a good passing offense when the starter could be either.

Survivor

This format takes the DraftMasters type to another level. Owners draft a team that will play out for the rest of the year with no changes, but each week the team with the lowest score will be eliminated from the league. Teams with the top score each week also earn "immunity" for a week up until only a few teams are left. Ultimately, one team remains standing and is the lone Survivor.

As you can see, there are many different fantasy football formats out there. Some league styles are not right for everyone; still, try a new league format or two for this season to see if you enjoy the new challenge. There are so many flavors of fantasy football. Why stick with just vanilla?

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to pasquino@footballguys.com.