Understanding Fantasy Football

Understanding Fantasy Football

Fantasy football describes a whole family of related strategy games that are based on the statistics and real-life accomplishments of football players. Most often based on National Football League (NFL) action, but also found in college-based versions, fantasy football allows the game’s fans to compete against one another on a weekly basis drafting lineups of players to face off against one another in a statistical matchup based on player statistics.

As with fantasy baseball, with a history tracing back to its APBA and rotisserie-league roots, fantasy football also boasts a background that goes back several decades. Several researchers date the advent of fantasy football to the creation of the California Bay Area’s Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League (GOPPPL) by football people connected with the Oakland Raiders, way back in 1963.

Whether that was truly the first “fantasy football” league will likely never be known for certain, but ways for fans to play their own football-based games were already appearing everywhere. Football-themed games could be found on toy-store shelves and inside football-card packs, which often featured game pieces as inserts or as part of the card’s design.

The GOPPPL league, however, may have introduced the “league” concept that’s more often associated with fantasy football as it’s generally known today. In most leagues, a group of friends get together and draft their own virtual teams – usually with just a few players on each roster drawn from the real-life skill positions – and then square those made-up teams off against one another in a season-long clash of weekly matchups.

The early ‘90s saw fantasy sports take off, first baseball and then football and other sports. New magazines appeared dedicated solely to fantasy football, baseball and the other sports, while established sporting magazines found themselves needing to introduce fantasy-sports sections to satisfy reader demand. What the early ‘90s started, the advent of the Internet continued, and fantasy football has continued to grow, in leaps and bounds, for nearly two decades.

Fantasy football was buoyed by a significant court decision in the early 2000’s and solidified by language in the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) that clarified fantasy-sports betting as expressly legal as a game of skill. The game’s growth shows no sign of slowing any time soon. The reason fantasy football is legal, while traditional sports betting often isn’t, is that fantasy players aren’t betting on the games themselves, but rather on the individual performances of athletes that might not have anything to do with who won or lost the actual football game.

It’s a game of skill, and the more you play, the more you’ll recognize that truth.

Game Formats:

Head-to-Head Leagues

Head-to-head leagues pit individual fantasy-team owners’ lineups against one another, with a win or loss based on that week’s statistical performances. Season-long stats for individual players don’t mean as much as compiling a winning record in the week-to-week matches, and advancing to the playoffs.

Total Points Leagues

The counterpoint to weekly-matchup, head-to-head leagues, total points leagues accumulate points based on the season-long performance of one’s drafted players. Total points leagues are a traditional format more closely related to traditional fantasy-baseball leagues. Some total points leagues feature end-of-year playoffs, while others do not.

Keeper Leagues, Dynasty Leagues

Keeper leagues allow for season-to-season roster retention of some but not all players. Dynasty leagues are keeper leagues that allow retention of most (or all) players, and are a specialized format usually reserved for long-term, stable fantasy leagues. Developmental dynasty leagues add another twist, by allowing for the drafting of college players for future use, as a way of promoting year-to-year roster turnover.

Salary Cap Leagues

Salary cap leagues began as a variant on auction-style formats (below) and dynasty leagues, in which long-term dynasty style leagues were forced into roster turnover from year to year by salary inflation, the same way veteran players receive higher salaries in real life. The term has since grown to include the format most common to daily and weekly fantasy sports leagues.

Daily Fantasy Sports

Daily fantasy sports is the modern spin on traditional fantasy sports that allows an action-building twist: Participants can select new lineups each day or week, participate in varying formats and leagues, and do this repeatedly while still not being bound to participate every single day or week, as in longer-running leagues. Daily-fantasy sports leagues typically employ a salary-cap format, and are the fastest growing segment of the fantasy-football world. This site specializes in one-day fantasy sports information.

Auction Leagues

A variation on traditional draft leagues in which team owners select players who are not immediately added to one’s roster, but are instead then the next player to be bid on at auction. Each team owner receives a fixed budget ($200 or another figure) for building one’s team.

Variant: Two-QB Leagues

Places more emphasis on the quarterback position by adding two QB’s to each roster, compared to the single-QB lineups in use in most fantasy-football leagues. The scoring change adds emphasis to the QB position and, in large enough leagues, can force unusual strategic decisions.

Fantasy Football Playoffs

In most leagues, the final three or four weeks of real NFL play are reserved for fantasy league playoffs, to assure that full lineups are available from the complete league of rosters. However, playoffs-only leagues can be run, as can leagues based on the actual playoffs, which often include special scoring rules.