Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tweaking the Bad Quarterback League

Anyone who has ever managed a fantasy football team has suffered the indignity of watching the team's points decrease after the quarterback throws an interception, fumbles, or gets sacked for a safety. It's frustrating and can mean the difference between victory and defeat. But what if there was a way to celebrate the badness of your quarterback? What if interceptions, fumbles, and safeties became things you wanted to see? Enter perhaps the most important innovation in fantasy sports since our own Fantasy Olympics: the fine folks at Grantland have developed the Bad Quarterback League to do just that.

The premise is simple: assemble an eight-person league, and divide up the league's thirty-two quarterbacks by whatever draft mechanism you see fit. Then, your quarterbacks score points for everything that goes wrong in their games. You don't have to pick a quarterback in particular--so if you own Jacksonville, and Blaine Gabbert gets benched, you still get points when Chad Henne fumbles. Last year was the league's inception, and this year marked the introduction of the Failure Machine, an automatic scorer for your league.

I started a league, "What the Tannehill?", inspiring a few friends to join and coercing a few others, and set out to use the Failure Machine. But the more I played around with it, the less I liked it. Here are my tweaks to the Bad Quarterback League format:

Each player only drafts two teams. Nobody wanted to go through the motions of drafting teams with quarterbacks who can actually complete passes. And if we decided to go with a "starters/bench" league format, is anyone realistically going to play Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers ever? We limited our draft to an eight-person snake with a single bend, so once the guy with the first pick also took the sixteenth, the draft finished.

Each player can "start" both teams every week. The Failure Machine builds in a limited number of starts for each team, so you can't just ride Brandon Weeden to victory every week. But that's a lot less satisfying than being able to rack up points each time he's intercepted for a touchdown. It would be like setting up a "real" fantasy football league where you draft Drew Brees but can only start him an arbitrary fraction of weeks. Furthermore, I'd sold the league to my friends--many of whom are competing in at least one "real" league--assuring everyone that BQBL would require a minimum of effort and basically no management after the draft.

Scoring is cumulative, not head-to-head. In "real" fantasy football, each player has a head-to-head matchup against another team every week. The "winner" is determined from how many of these matchups any given team wins. That's how the Failure Machine is set up as well. But with so much of the decision-making already stripped from my version of the BQBL, the head-to-head model didn't make much sense. Instead, we'll be scoring our league in at least two ways. First, all the cumulative points scored by both of a player's teams will be added together to get the league's points champion. Second, the league's consistency champion will be the player who has the highest score in the most weeks. We may give an award to the person who drafted the best, as well.

The result is a system that doesn't mandate much strategy (or reward much strategy, depending on how you look at it) but does provide a humorous look at the game's less-renowned quarterbacks. It gives a nice respite even if your actual fantasy team has collapsed--maybe Eli Manning threw four interceptions, but at least Sam Bradford did too. Most of all, it works the same viewership magic that any expression of fantasy sports does: why else would you have a reason to watch a Raiders-Cardinals game?

If you're interested in how all this works, you're welcome to follow along with our league.