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Fantasy rules

Editor’s note: This article appears in the July 31 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

You’re not allowed to complain about four things in life: nudity, free food, free drinks and fantasy football. So why would I want to tinker with the latter, a multibillion-dollar business that brings us so much joy? Because we screwed this up from the beginning, that’s why.

You know how pro sports were totally messed up in the ’40s and ’50s, back when the NBA had no shot clock, hockey goalies didn’t have masks and football players went all 60 minutes? Back then, fans thought everything was fine, right? That’s where fantasy is: great concept, semisuccessful execution, tons of potential. It’s not Kathy Griffin’s face; we don’t have to renovate everything, we just need to make some adjustments. And I’m more than willing to be the Winston Wolfe of the whole thing.

Here are the biggest problems, with my solutions:

PROBLEM: Every league has different rules.

Imagine that you and your friends belonged to various bowling leagues, only some used extra-big balls, some used 12 pins instead of 10, some counted strikes as 15 points and so on. How could anyone ever brag about a 300? You’d spend more time explaining your rules than anything else. Well, isn’t that what happens with fantasy football? Some leagues start eight guys, others start 12. Some leagues start multiple QBs, others start one. Some leagues count stats for individual defensive players, some don’t count defense at all. When a buddy tells you a war story from his league, he always has to spend 45 seconds explaining his rules. Complete waste of time.

SOLUTION: The Sports Guy’s rules.

More than you’ll ever want to know about Fantasy:

Welcome to Fantasy Football
Fantasy Football draft kit
• Karabell: Fantasy blog
ESPN Fantasy Football index

They’re logical. Plus they give me a chance to refer to myself in the third person, like Rickey Henderson. I’ve always wanted to do that. In order …

1. Ten or 12 teams per league, 15 players per teams.

2. Every week you start a QB, two RBs, three WRs, one TE, one kicker, one defense and a 10th man from any position. For that 10th-man spot, only six times can you start a QB, RB or WR. So there’s additional strategy involved: Not only do you need depth, but, since QBs always get the highest points, when you play the “second QB” card one week, you’d better need him.

3. Standard scoring: six points for rushing/receiving TDs; four points for passing TDs; three for FGs; one for PATs; six for defense/special teams TD; one for sacks/fumble recoveries/INTs; two for safeties; one for every 20 passing yards; one for every 10 rushing/receiving yards; 20 points for an arrest. However, there are wrinkles:

A) Five-point bonuses for 175 yards rushing/receiving and 350 yards passing. If somebody has a big day, that should be rewarded. Plus, it gives the “guy who loves to complain about everything, even if his team exploded for 200 points” a chance to complain when one of his players falls a yard shy of the bonus.

B) Shutouts count for 10 points, holding an opponent to seven or less counts for five and holding the other team to under 200 total yards counts as another five. Defenses don’t matter enough in fantasy. In what other scenario is a tight end more important than all 11 guys on the opposing defense? I mean, except for Ben Coates in Madden ’97?

C) Interceptions, fumbles and missed kicks count as minus-one; any pick returned for a TD counts as minus-six against your QB. We don’t penalize for incompetence often enough. If you were so desperate you had to start Drew Bledsoe, then you should constantly be terrified of his trademark hanging floater toward the sideline that gets picked off by a cornerback running the other way. In other words, it should be like real life.

You knew I’d have some screw-ups in Wednesday’s starting-from-scratch column about the English Premier League. Here were the biggies:

• Tottenham Hotspur’s nickname is “Spurs,” not “the Spurs.” Nobody ever calls them “the Spurs.” Unless you want to be a wanker. Along those same lines, the term “EPL” is never used. Only “Premier League.”

• Liverpool’s main rivals are Everton and Manchester United.

• Newscastle is now sponsored by Northern Rock.

• Celeb update: Jay-Z is an Arsenal fan and James Lipton is a Spurs fan.

• Arsenal did win the Premier League in 1998 and 2002. Not sure how I screwed that up.

• The LeBron comparison for Theo Walcott didn’t work — Walcott hasn’t played a single minute yet.

• Amazingly, I forgot to mention that Tottenham Hotspur’s emblem is a cock and a ball.

• In my Godather/London analogy about the Premier League, Chelsea should have been Sonny, not Manchester United. Just a brainfart on my part.

• Multiple readers agree that Highbury (Arsenal’s stadium) is more like Wrigley than Fenway.

• Wigan coach Paul Jewell wrote in himself to say, “I do not wear a trenchcoat on the sidelines, more often than not I wear a warm-up jacket. Sometimes a suit. Cheers!”

PROBLEM: Nobody can pull off a schmuck-free league.

Look, the duties of an owner are simple: Don’t bring your girlfriend/wife to the draft; don’t draft someone that was already drafted; don’t draft an injured guy (leading your buddies to be thrust into an awkward position of either screwing you or giving you a do-over); try to field a competitive team; create an offensive team name; start a lineup of healthy players every week; return e-mails or phone calls within 24 hours unless you’re trapped under something; and, when all else fails, at least come up with an occasional funny e-mail or message-board post.

But what about owners who bring nothing to the table and do a terrible job with their team? For whatever reason, it’s less awkward for guys to dump a girlfriend than to discard a deadbeat fantasy owner. There’s always some crazy reason to keep him around, like “It would be awkward for the commissioner to run into him at work” or “Let’s cut him some slack, he’s going through a divorce.” Ridiculous. We already have to deal with too much dead weight in real life, we don’t need it in our fantasy lives.

SOLUTION: The “three strikes and you’re out” rule.

Here’s how it works: During the draft, if you don’t make any jokes and sit there looking like Mike Holmgren watching the Super Bowl XL video, that’s a strike. If you repeatedly take too long to make picks, to the point that everyone is screaming 12-letter expletives every time you’re on the clock, that’s a strike. If more than twice you draft someone who was already drafted, because you aren’t paying attention, that’s a strike. If you draft an injured guy (leading to the aforementioned “should we or shouldn’t we give him a do-over” intervention), that’s a strike. If you spend the entire draft whispering on your cell phone to some unseen partner and ignoring everyone in the room, that’s a strike. If you’re too cheap to buy your own magazines and ask to borrow someone else’s, that’s a strike. If you forgot to bring money to the draft, that’s a strike.

But wait, there’s more. After the draft, if you don’t return an e-mail or a phone call within 72 hours and can’t come up with a valid excuse, that’s a strike. If you go more than a month without sending a group e-mail or making a message-board post that belittles the credentials of someone else in the league, that’s a strike. If you belatedly respond to someone’s e-mail or phone call with a snarky comment like “Sorry I took so long to respond — some of us actually have jobs” or “Just in case you forgot, there are more important things in life than fantasy football,” that’s a strike. If you started someone who’s out for the season, or if you didn’t use the waiver wire to try to replace that person, that’s a strike. If you make a horrendously shady trade, even, if it gets overturned, that’s still a strike. Three strikes and you’re out. Simple as that.

(One other note: If you don’t show up for the draft, can’t do it by phone and have the gall to send a lackey with some half-assed list you make to pick your team, that’s three strikes. Go away.)

PROBLEM: It’s impossible to make it through a season without a one-sided trade causing complete chaos.

We all know that the wrong trade can divide a fantasy league faster than the Spelling family fell apart. In my West Coast league a few years ago, the first-place team had Brett Favre and Peyton Manning. It needed a receiver and traded Manning straight up for Amani Toomer. You read the correctly. Nearly 700 angry e-mails and five near-fistfights later, the trade was somehow approved. If that wasn’t bad enough, the first-place team won the title — Toomer filled a gaping hole at receiver — and Manning’s new team finished second. From then on, we called it Toomergate. And, honestly, I never want to go through anything like that again. It was more traumatic than the last 20 minutes of “American History X.”

SOLUTION: Form a trading committee.

Enlist three unbiased outsiders who aren’t in the league but are friends with a few of the owners. It’s not like you’d have trouble convincing them. They’ll be delighted to kill a few minutes at work arbitrating. And you think I’m kidding. They’ll be like, “Wait, you want me to be on your league’s new trading committee? Sure, I’m available!”

PROBLEM: The free agent system is a complete failure.

You know how someone does a brutal job picking his team and gets rewarded with first choice on the free agent wire every week? “Congratulations, you stunk out the joint; now you get to add a receiver who just exploded for 190 yards and a TD last week!” How does that make sense? You’re almost better off tanking Week 1. Anyway, those days are over.

SOLUTION: A weekly auction.

Give everyone a budget of $100 to spend on free agents. Every Thursday, if you want someone, you bid for him; highest bid wins. Not only is it more fun than humans should be allowed, but there’s some genuine strategy here. Let’s say nobody picks Bethel Johnson, who busts out with a 160-yard game in Week 1 after Joe Horn breaks his collarbone patting himself on the back. And let’s say you need a wide receiver because Chad Johnson blows out his knee dry-humping the upright. What do you bid for Bethel: $15? $20? $25? Isn’t this more exciting than everyone putting in for the same three standouts, followed by the three most incompetent teams landing those guys?

PROBLEM: There are never enough trades, and the trade deadline isn’t exciting enough.

Tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about.

SOLUTION: The deadline is Thursday night, 3 a.m., right before Week 11.

Here’s the catch: On that night, every owner needs to go out drinking with his fellow owners. Nothing greases the skids for blockbuster trades like a few rounds of tequila shots. (I wish we could make this mandatory for pro sports as well.) And if somebody doesn’t show up for the deadline bash and fails to provide a good excuse, that counts as a strike (see three-strike system).

PROBLEM: Unless you make the playoffs, your fantasy football season is done by Week 14.

Everyone willingly accepts a shorter season. Why? Because that’s the way we’ve always done it. Well, isn’t it possible we messed up from Day 1, like when HBO greenlit “Arli$$” and kept it on for seven years?

SOLUTION: Make the regular season last 17 weeks.


Here’s how this works:

1. The top four teams advance to the playoffs.

2. Playoff teams can protect just six players from their roster, which makes the original September draft more interesting. Now someone like Tom Brady is worth more than someone like Drew Brees, because of his playoff value.

3. Playoff rosters increase to 11 men: one QB, two RBs, three WRs, one TE, one kicker, one defense and two extra guys (any position). To fill out the last five spots, you hold another, minidraft, via e-mail, in which the playoff teams pick from the teams that fell short. Best record gets the first pick every round, second-best picks second and so on. Regular-season champs get an edge, but not an insurmountable one. Also, there’s a skill to picking the playoff guys: If you like a wild-card team — like Pittsburgh last season — do you load up on those guys or play it safe with the top seeds?

4. Scoring is cumulative through the four playoff rounds. Highest total points wins.

Think about how your life would change with the 21-week system. You get a minimum of three extra fantasy weeks. The whole “fantasy teams getting screwed in Week 16 because contenders rested their guys” debacle is gone. Make the playoffs and you get to prepare for an e-mail minidraft. Like you wouldn’t love that? And in January, not only do you get to watch playoff football, but there are fantasy implications with every game! What’s better than that?

Remember, the whole concept of fantasy is based on procrastination: guys wasting incredible amounts of time preparing to pick the team, then picking it, managing it, arguing about it, following it, rooting for it and alternatively bragging/complaining about it. That’s why we’re involved. We should keep tinkering with the product until we get it right.

If that makes me a world-class complainer, so be it.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His new book “Now I Can Die In Peace is available on and in bookstores everywhere.

Filed Under: Fantasy

Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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