It’s that time of the year again.  You know what I’m talking about.  July is halfway over, the MLB All-Star game is in our rear view mirror and the chatter of NFL training camp has begun.

That can only mean one thing…it’s time to get our Fantasy Football leagues in order!

For those of you who have participated in this activity in the past, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  For those of you that have not, you may be wondering “why all the fuss?”

I must admit, I’ve been doing this for so long, I can hardly remember what it is like to simply root for a team anymore.  Let’s put it this way, when I played fantasy football for the first time, there were no websites to run your leagues through.  Not even to crunch statistics.  That was the league commissioner’s job!

I didn’t realize how much of a ‘job’ that was until my third year in the league, when I agreed to assume the role of “Commish”.  It was then that I was handed a floppy disc that contained the Quatro Pro (Excel was unheard of back then) spreadsheet that was to be used to compile the data each week.

By compiling, I mean spending countless hours on Monday night, combing through the newspaper (remember those), pulling data from each and every box score for every game that had been played on Sunday (and Saturday, if applicable), and hand-writing the statistics of every single player that touched the ball.

Then there would be countless more hours spent entering this data into the spreadsheet.  After Monday night’s game had been completed, the same process took place on Tuesday to gather the data from that game.

Then the spreadsheets (plural) would be sorted, by position, top scores to bottom scores, and printed out, along with the league standings.  Upon arriving early to work by at least an hour on Wednesday, these pages would all be faxed out to each of the owners in the league so that they could peruse the information and be ready to submit their proposed free agent selections or trade offers of the week.  (Another byproduct of this process – nobody knew officially if they won or lost until Wednesday morning!)

Any such free agent acquisitions or trades would need to be submitted by 10:00 PM on Wednesday, which was done by leaving a voice mail on my house landline, which was not to be answered under any circumstance by anyone in my household on these days.  That way I could log each one down on paper and carry them out in the proper order.

I would then make a list of these transactions and have them faxed to all owners on Thursday morning.  Any further transactions were done on a first-come-first-served basis until game time, using the same voice mail system.

Now, thanks to the internet, all of this work is done for us.  So now the Commish’ job is pretty much to pick out the website to use, set up the league and be available to settle any disputes that may arise throughout the season.  There are usually two or three during the seventeen weeks!

This year I decided to start up a brand new “KEEPER” league.  This is something that I have wanted to do for a while now, but just never got around to it.  All of the leagues that I have been running over the past two decades (plus) have been ‘normal’ leagues, where everyone starts from scratch each year.

I have also decided to go after a fresh group of players, preferably where everyone knows most, if not all of the other owners.  That way we can all talk smack with each other and not worry about offending anyone, since it will all be done in fun and with good taste (right)!

It was at this point that I realized that there are a lot of sports fans that have been interested in participating for years, but just didn’t know enough about fantasy football to feel safe taking the plunge.  The rest of this story is for them!

First of all, the fact that you are a football fan has already qualified you to take part in this annual ritual.  No matter how knowledgeable any of the seasoned fantasy owners appear to be, they will still be using the same data that you will be using.  If you have been able to hold your own in football conversations in the past, you will be able to pick this ‘fantasy’ thing up just fine.

However, there are a few things you will need to know in order to set up your strategy.

The basic things you will need to know include 1) how many teams are in the league, 2) how many weeks are in the regular season, 3) how many teams will make the playoffs, and 4) is this a keeper league?

These are all basic but necessary questions.  They formulate the structure of the league and really help identify the mission of the league (such as…is this a league that is for fun or serious, or…is this league going to be around for a while).

Then you need to know the specifics of the league.

1)      How many starters at each position? – You will find that this will vary from league to league.  Most common lineups include one quarterback (QB), 2 running backs (RBs), 2 wide receivers (WRs), one tight end (TE), one Kicker and one Defense/Special Teams unit.  By adding another starter at any position, the value of that position changes dramatically, which will impact your draft strategy as far as which position to go after first.

2)      Is your league a yardage scoring league or a points scoring league? – Some leagues reward you with more points for racking up the yardage, rather than scoring a lot of touchdowns.  Other leagues run the opposite direction.  Knowing which direction your league leans will help you when debating between a RB that can break open the long one for ten 100-yard games a season, but not punch it in from the 2-yard line, versus the RB that comes in at 3rd and goal from the two yard line and ends up with three touchdowns on six yards.

3)      How does your defense rack up the points? – Some leagues don’t make it easy for a defense to score a lot of points.  Others allow them to score a point here and a point there for every conceivable thing that can occur (fumble, interception, sack, safety, blocked extra points, points allowed, yardage allowed, etc.)  If your league is like this one, you need to know which defensive units will be creating a lot of turnovers while pitching near-shutouts, and then grab them quick.

4)      Will your kicker be penalized for missing or only rewarded for connecting? – This will help determine if you should roll the dice on the guy with the strong leg but lousy aim.

Next, you need to understand that a star player in the NFL may not necessarily be a star player in Fantasy Football.

For example, Troy Aikman was one of the most talented quarterbacks to play the game, but he would always be drafted as a #2 quarterback in Fantasy leagues.  Why?  Because he threw short passes, an occasional long pass to Michael Irvin, then hand the ball off to Emmett Smith for the touchdown.

Meanwhile, an average QB on a very bad team would come out of the locker room at halftime down by double-digit points, and air it out for the remainder of the game.  He’d end up with 350 passing yards and a couple of touchdowns, even though his team never won a game!  Who cares…he just helped you win your matchup for the week!!

Also, if the league is deep with talented QBs, but only have a handful of RBs that are worth anything, you can pass on the Aaron Rogers pick and grab the stud RB in the first round, then pick up a second level QB later.  Likewise, if there appears to be fifty good WRs, you can wait until the 3rd or 4th round to grab one, while stockpiling the stud RBs and/or QBs.

Finally, remember to participate fully, even if your team happens to suck (which happens to everyone, no matter what they say).  The goal is to have fun.  If you happen to win bragging rights for the off season, that’s icing on the cake.

The bottom line is this…do your homework!  If you know the specifics about your league and you are up to speed on the actual players, you can have a lot of fun in this new venture of Fantasy Football!


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