Monday, August 23, 2010

Living in the past

It is the year 2010 and some people still participate in fantasy drafts using the 'snake' format. For the unaware, a snake draft is the common style where one person picks at a time and the selection process follows through one team after another. When everyone has selected a player of their choice, the order then reverses back on itself in a snake fashion, allowing the person who selected last in the first round to select again, going first in the second round. And so forth. Snake drafts are used routinely. I know this because I am one of these people who uses them, although not by choice. I also know this because for the fantasy league that I created, which of course utilizes the auction draft capability, I have had many people decline to join citing the fact that they don't like or aren't familiar with auction style drafts. To put this argument in some perspective, imagine that you were trying to persuade a friend to see a movie. "You still haven't seen The Dark Knight. Go see it," you say. Your friend then responds by saying, "Nah. No thanks. I'm not big on movies with color. I prefer black and white films."

I am sure a similar conversation to that may have taken place once or twice when refracted light and color was first added to the film genre. Perhaps one of Charlie Chaplin's relatives was against going to see this color movie, or just a person scared of change was. But after a week or two, I'm sure everyone was on board. The same cannot be said of fantasy auction drafts. Even though it is well perfected and has no clear downside, people are still against making the switch.

The argument for snake drafts is easy. Snake drafts are simple and painless and require very little thought. I'm American; I'm busy; I play fantasy sports but only because it's cool to and not because I enjoy the process. If I was really a huge fantasy sports fan anyway, I'd play baseball and not football. Football is the cop-out of fantasy sports. There are only 16 days where I have to check on my roster. After that, let luck take my team where it desires. Since I am all of these things, I do snake drafts. I only have to pay attention on my turn. I usually just take the best player available, and especially if my league only contains 10 teams, my roster will fill out nicely no matter what I do. That is the snake draft argument in a large, rather obnoxious, nutshell.

Convincing a snake drafter to abandon their prehistoric drafting style and participate in auctions is about as hard as de-housing a hermit. Yet I don't understand the hesitation. Auction drafts are capitalistic, engaging, and everything we want out of our fantasy experience. In this type of fantasy sports draft, an auction takes place, just as the name hints at. Each player is put up for bid. The person who bids the most wins the player. Each team has a set budget and set roster to fill. The concept is simple. The execution is anything but.

The real downside to a snake draft is the lack of freedom. If you are dealt the sixth overall pick, you have no shot at the five best players. That is that. There is nothing to be done. There is no point in complaining, and there is no getting around it. Sounds like a dictatorship of a draft to me. And what if you have the first pick but would have rather "traded down" than select the number one player? Too bad. There is no trading down in fantasy drafts, and by not selecting that best player, you would be putting yourself up for ridicule and humiliation. But not only that, you would be hurting your team. The draft slot you are forced to draft in is about value and wasting the top pick value to select a seemingly lesser player is bad business. You'd be better off taking that top guy and trying to trade him as soon as the draft ends. Talk about an ordeal.

Now let's say you have ventured in to the wonderful world of auctions. Here it rains skittles and everyday is 74 degrees outside. In the world of auctions, there is no draft slotting. You are free to make whatever type of roster you wish. If you want to spend 90% of your money and grab the top three players in the league, go ahead. If you want to wait out the other teams, and grab bargain after bargain later on, go ahead. If you want to draft Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers even though you can probably only start one (depending on league settings of course) go ahead. Auctions give us the freedom we deserve as American citizens. No more should we be bogged down by the dictatorship that is a snake draft.

But the auction has still more to offer, if you can believe it. Auctions are more complex than that. You are free to screw other players by who you nominate and how you bid. And what's more fun in fantasy sports than screwing over your friend? Bidding up a player you aren't interested in just to force your buddy to spend more of his dough is the epitome of friendship. And yet, you always risk the possibility of the reverse screw. Bid up said player $1 too much and get stuck with him. This is part of perhaps the best thing about auctions: having to pay attention and adjust on the fly.

I've already made it clear that snake drafts are for the lazy and uninformed. Thus, auctions are for the players who love their fantasy sports and want to be challenged. There is no strategy to think about before a snake draft takes place. You wait to see what position you are slotted in, wait to see who is drafted before your pick, and then click someone. Do that 15 more times and you're done. In an auction however, strategy must be continually adjusted for the market. You can come up with a plan prior to the draft yet be forced to change it when something goes awry.

For example, coming into this season's fantasy baseball draft, for my auction I was targeting a few players, but also eying a few guys to avoid. For my third baseman, I wanted a second tier player, who would cost me less but not produce much less than the top guys. Evan Longoria got nominated, and I decided not to bid. I thought I could get Ryan Zimmerman for less, and he wasn't much worse of a player. Well, apparently another owner had similar thoughts. Zimmerman got nominated and we bid back and forth until I came out victorious, yet spent a bunch more than I had hoped to. I could have passed on Zimm too, yet then been forced to pick through scraps to fill my 3B slot. Instead, I spent some more and had to adjust later, not having as much money left as I had anticipated. That's an auction at its finest. Even if you have a plan and want to stick to it, there are always adjustments to make. To me that's what makes fantasy sports fun.

So if you love your fantasy sports dry and bland, by all means, stick to your snake draft format. But if you enjoy thinking out moves, anticipating opponents' decisions, altering game plans in a moment's notice, and want to get the most out of your 'fantasy' then do a damn auction.

By the way, I am in no way affiliated with the trademark of auction drafting, nor compensated for this post, yet sending me money for the advertisement would not be frowned upon. I'm looking at you ESPN Live Auction capability!

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