What can English fantasy football learn from USA Today?

NFL EPL Chris Butterworth

ANTICIPATION is high both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

For whether you spell it ‘colour’ or ‘color’ the fantasy football season is almost upon us.

Next month will see the 12th annual Kenna League fantasy football auction in London, the capital of ‘Merrie Olde England’.

Kenna HQ is always on the lookout for fresh ideas to inject into our preferred format, so when we spotted Make these 8 improvements to your fantasy football league on the USA Today website we immediately cancelled our high tea appointment with the Queen to find out more.

Fundamental differences between our two codes of football aside, I’m sure with a basic knowledge of gridiron and having watched two seasons of The League (or at least until the writers ran out of ideas) we can learn a thing or two from our American counterparts.

Let’s take fantasy sports writer Tim Heaney’s points one by one and see how we get on.

1. Eliminate head-to-head. Go with total points or all-play.

I get it. You want your league to resemble the NFL as much as possible, and that comes with the drama and trash talk related to competing with friends every Thursday through Monday.

But for fantasy, head-to-head doesn’t always tell the right story — a freak injury or strategy flaw in real-life play can ruin your week or season.

Playing your entire league every weekend (using head-to-head record or straight point totals) gives a clearer reflection of the best and worst squads. In this setup, the highest-scoring clubs will not miss the playoffs. (How often has that happened to you?)

You could even skip the traditional playoff format and just play this way through the final weekend, the way that other football does in the English Premier League.

‘Other football.’ I like this. It’s much preferable to the ‘S’ word, which upon hearing an Englishman must immediately repeat back in a faux-American accent.

Yes, we do run a straight points league in England, but over the last couple of years the weekly head-to-head has gained much traction, particularly in the official Fantasy Premier League game. I have tens of thousands of Whatsapp messages to prove this.

In the Kenna, the honour is definitely in straight points.

2. Eliminate the kicker.

Don’t kickers get points by putting it through the posts? Taco in The League always buys kickers and he gets laid a lot. Although he’s also a bit simple. There’s something I’m not getting here. Laid, perhaps.

3. Add at least one extra flex (running back-wide receiver-tight end) position.

Flex? Is that like a substitute?

I’m assuming by their job titles running backs and wide receivers are the ones that score the most points – like strikers in ‘other football’ – so it seems sensible to add more of these.

Not sure what a tight end is. Sounds like something former Sunderland winger Adam Johnson would experience behind a Chinese takeaway.

4. Perhaps a superflex, adding a quarterback.

I enjoyed the first two being used in the recent Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio Independence Day Invitational, which took things to the extreme with no kicker, no team defense, an extra tight end and an extra RB-WR-TE flex.

These three alterations would throw an electrifying wrench into an ever-evolving player pool. Kickers were already frustrating, and with the revised extra-point rules, it’s Stephen Gostkowski, Justin Tucker, or … dart board.

Why not get more fantasy fun out of a roster spot? Especially when you institute the wild card of the option to start another QB. Heck, go nuts, make it a two-QB lineup.

I have no idea what a superflex is either. By now it should also be fairly certain I would be out of my depth at the Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio Independence Day Invitational.

5. Use incentives to keep lower-ranked teams competitive late into the year.

Make the No. 1 pick next year the highest-ranked non-playoff team. Put money aside for weekly contests (most receiving yards, etc.) so teams can win even if they’re not going to take the full-year crown.

Force the last-place team to pay for a league dinner or perform an embarrassing dare (viral video? tattoo? viral video of the loser getting a Justin Bieber tattoo?).

Now here’s an area I understand. After one season of the Kenna we knew Manager of the Month awards alone were not enough to keep lower-ranked managers interested.

In 2006, we introduced a knockout tournament as a side competition to keep the rest of the league interested: the Canesten Combi Cup.

In certain weeks of the season teams are pitched against each other in a UEFA Champions League format. Group stages in Autumn, knockouts in Winter and Spring.

The Canesten, as it became known, has since produced winners from all over the league. Sadly, pharmaceutical giant Bayer pulled sponsorship last year. The competition is now called The Narcozep Cup.

As for last place punishments, the thought of frogmarching the season’s worst manager to a tattoo parlour is an amusing one.

All of a sudden it feels very British, but in the Kenna our only demand on relegated managers is they return next season with a new team name. And of course they have the stigma of relegation, living with the contempt of the rest of the league.

It’s unlikely an English manager would return to the Kenna next season if we pinned him down for a tattoo of Jimmy Savile. But it’s worth running past the Kenna committee.

Let’s stretch the boundaries further with these final three suggestions:

6. Install at least two spots for individual defensive players.

IDPs bring a new vision of fantasy — who’s going to make the most plays on the other side of the ball? It’ll help improve your league’s overall knowledge of football even more than your basic league does.

Does American fantasy football only reward attacking players? If you do, you’re like the English guy in the pub wearing a Real Madrid Ronaldo shirt ‘because I only support winners, yeah’.

Defence is more important to us than a dentist. A dentist’s chair, on the other hand…

7. Award a bonus if an owner’s quarterback throws a touchdown to a teammate also on that fantasy club.

It’d be cool to find a software that could deploy a Stack Bonus, if you will. Nailing a stat-sheet-stuffing QB-WR connection is one of the most rewarding feelings in daily fantasy football, so why not embrace the thrill of Ben Roethlisberger-to-Antonio Brown every week?

You can just about throw average draft position out the window if that happens — another dynamic twist.

I guess this would be the equivalent of Riyad Mahrez assisting a Jamie Vardy goal.

A sticking point here for the Kenna since managers can only sign one player from each Premier League club.

Also because the championship Leicester team looks like getting carved up by the transfer window deadline.

8. Hold a live free-agent auction every Tuesday or Wednesday night.

OK, probably a pipe dream. But imagine how high that Week 1 wonder’s price can climb in Week 2.

Blind bids are cool, but not as fun as an active bidding war. Limit it to one or two rounds, then kick off first-come, first-serve pickups the morning after.

But would fantasy league widows allow this?

Here’s where it’s difficult to maintain enthusiasm and diaries for a 10-month season.

The Kenna holds two transfer windows – in October and February – where managers sign available form players for exorbitant sums.

Released players are sold on the open market, so you only get what another manager is prepared to pay.

Tough if most of your team are injured, have moved abroad or just plain rubbish. But not to worry, it’s another marathon session in the pub and you’ll leave up to date on all the best current affairs jokes in the worst possible taste.

Any other suggestions?


Panini stickers – I’m sure the US must have Panini sticker books or an equivalent, the ones where you have to collect all the players.

Why not auction off a packet of stickers first. The winning bidder doesn’t know who they’re buying, but can choose from the five players in there. We trialled this successfully at the Jean-Alain Boumsong Euros auction last month.

Forfeits – what happens if someone tries to buy a player they shouldn’t have? Either because they’ve run out of money or they already have player in that position?

This became a common problem early on the Kenna. Usually after several rounds of ale.

We stamped it out fairly quickly introducing the Titus Bramble ruling. Anyone buying an illegal player, or sometimes just attempting to buy one, is given a player instead so bad no one else wants them.

You can see where we tried to formalise the Titus Bramble ruling from page seven of this document.

Be careful with this though. It almost came to blows once.

More booze – the Kenna would never condone irresponsible drinking, but it’s important to keep things loose for what can be a six-hour pub session.

Surprise managers with a compulsory cocktail upon arrival (raise the entry fee to cover it) or introduce random shots of Jagermeister if certain players are drawn. Whatever you do, get managers to mix their drinks.

As a chairman – or commissioner – you’ve failed unless half the league wakes up the day after the auction with a three-day hangover and half a team of chaff they don’t remember signing.

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Author: The chairman

Ascended to the chairmanship of the Jeff Kenna League Fantasy Football League in 2007 after co-founded the league in London in August 2005.