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Fantasy Football 101: What’s in a league?

Welcome back everyone, and thank you for the support and interest in the opening article of the Fantasy Football 101 series. Last Tuesday we addressed some basic FAQ about what Fantasy Football actually is. Today, we are going to break down a good sampling of the various types of leagues you can join. If I miss something, feel free to hit me up in the comments and we will provide more information on whatever topic you address. Next week we will begin some reviews on Scoring Systems and Roster Setups, but for now, let’s talk about what kind of league you want to, or are, playing in, and why it matters…

So now you know what fantasy football is and you are looking to join or establish a fantasy football league. The mind typically starts thinking about scoring systems, roster setups and players you want to draft… But before we can go there, we need a league. Let’s take a quick look at the kinds of leagues you can participate in, and why the differences matter.

Public League vs. Private League: Public leagues are usually hosted by the actual provider itself and often don’t have a true League Manager (the person who runs the league/has admin privileges for the league). Anyone can join a public league as long as there is a team currently without an owner in the league. Private leagues are run by specific people, for specific people. You need an invitation, a password, or both, to join a private league. The big difference is exactly what you’d expect: The "Who" you play with aspect. A private league lets the LM control who joins so you can have a league of friends & family, co-workers, or fellow WCG followers as an example. You will likely know or at least have discussed the league with some of the other participants, and can gloat when you beat them, nag when they don’t participate, and trash talk while you wait for the upcoming matchup. A public league typically lets anyone else join it, so you may not know anyone at all. I use Public Leagues as "test" leagues to try out new theories in drafting, roster management, or to learn how to play. It can still be fun, but it won’t likely be personal.

Standard vs. Custom League: This is based on whether you use the provider recommended league settings for scoring systems, rosters, etc. or you generate your own. Really, if you make any modifications to the rosters or scoring parameters, you have customized the league. Individual Defensive Player, Points Per Reception, or even just adding an additional point bonus for 100+ yard games for running backs (if it wasn’t standard) will turn your league into a custom league. This also means adding keepers/dynasty formats (addressed more below). There is nothing wrong with customizing a league, it’s easy and fun, but this is why we told you to read the rules carefully when you join a league – it changes the game play and you must be aware of that.

Free vs. Paid League: Some leagues are free to manage/join, and some carry a league cost. If someone is paying a cost to own the league, they likely will push some of that down to the team owners, and even if not, it’s still a paid league. Sometimes free leagues (from the provider perspective) add a buy-in requirement, making them paid leagues as well. This could be for a number of reasons including cash prizes, year-end trophies, eligibility for prize contests, or access to exclusive content. Whatever the reason may be, if someone is paying for it, it’s paid.

Just-for-fun, Money & Prize Eligible: If there is no potential award for winning, its "just-for-fun". I would argue most trophy leagues fall into this category as well, but you could consider them "prizes" if you wanted to be technical about it. Money leagues have actual cash award payouts. My money league lets you profit if you place 1st or 2nd, get your buy-in refunded for 3rd and 4th, and everyone else subsidizes the league costs and the cash prizes. Prize Eligible leagues are a generic catch all for the leagues sponsored by the provider or some other organization that allow your team to be compared against other teams from other leagues to determine the "best" teams, and some of the best get prizes. These can be trophies, gift cards, money, cars, you name it, and someone is using it as a gimmick to get you into their brackets. Obviously, Money & Prize Eligible leagues can be more competitive, though don’t underestimate the killer instinct of some people supposedly playing "just-for-fun".

What are Keepers and Dynasties? Keeper leagues let you retain a set number of players from year to year. Whether it is 1 player or more, the concept is that you get them in your first draft and then get to keep them for the following season. Sometimes you have to yield draft picks to keep a player based on their future or past ranking, or even where you drafted them, so check out the rules (notice a trend?). When you get to keep numerous, or even all, of your players, and can hang onto them for multiple seasons, if not indefinitely, you get what is called a "Dynasty" league. This impacts your draft strategies because the pool of players is smaller, and future stars may be more valuable than reliable players that would give more impact this season.  These are fun, and I participate in a few, but if you are casual, it might be best to avoid such off-season maintenance and additional draft strategy work. I also don’t recommend it for new players because you will make a lot of first year mistakes in the draft that could cost you for years to come. Pay close attention to the roster of any dynasty team you are "taking over" for a member leaving a league – They usually left because they weren’t very good and their roster was a liability. That being said, I love dynasty leagues, so if you are interested, don’t hold back, just be prepared for some bumps in the road.

How Many? This is kind of a miscellaneous topic, but how many teams are in your league can make a big difference too. Typical leagues are 10 or 12 team, but I have seen 8 and 16 team leagues as well. The concept is simple but the planning can be challenging. The smaller the league, the more "stars" on each team, the bigger the league, the less talent available on waivers/free agency. Simply put, if most teams average 16 players (9 starters 7 bench), then the difference between an 8 team league (128 players) and a 16 team league (256 players) creates a huge talent gap in the free agent market.

Thanks for stopping in, and here is a quick look at some of what may be coming down the pipe next:

Fantasy Football 101 Articles to come: Roster Setups, Scoring Systems, Types of Drafts, IDP Special Report, PPR Special Report

Other things on the back burner: Pre-Draft Fantasy Watch, A Year in Review: 2010 (5 part series), Post-Draft Fantasy Update, Fantasy Football Team Reports (8 part series, by division)

Let me know if you have any other suggestions or ideas, and we may add them to the future articles list. Please note, content will shift to actively preparing for and monitoring the 2011 season in late July/Early August.