A major theme on this fantasy sports column this year is how much fantasy football relies on luck. No I am not talking about Colts quarterback Andrew Luck but the concept of chance.
While all fantasy sports have some factor of luck to them, fantasy football is mostly luck and requires very little, if any, knowledge of the sport to win. I even have a continuing season-long series on the topic titled “fantasy football is all luck” (linked below this article). But why does football in particular involve so much dang luck?
The reason that fantasy football is so heavily reliant on a luck factor is because players only play one game per week. Compare this to hockey where players have a game every other day or baseball where teams play every single day of the week. Luck decreases with more games played. When your team only plays one game per week, a single performance can literally make or break your entire matchup. One game from just one player could spell doom for your fantasy team.
Take Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs for example. Last weekend, Charles had 233 rushing yards, 55 receiving yards, and a touchdown. This translated into a 34 fantasy point performance, which was probably enough to single-handedly win the weekly matchup for his fantasy owners.
This would be the equivalent of a baseball player hitting 10 home runs, 30 RBI’s, stealing 10 bases, and batting for a .500 average all in one week. This just isn’t going to ever happen. One player will not win or lose you a matchup in fantasy baseball like it does in football. Fantasy baseball actually takes knowledge of the sport to win. It’s more team based. You need to constantly analyze trends in player stats and keep up with hot and cold streaks, setting your lineup accordingly each day. All you have to do in fantasy football is plug in some starters and hope for the best until next week.
Football players also have no consistency which only makes things worse. Sticking with Jamaal Charles as our example, he had 3 rushing yard and 19 receiving yards for 1 fantasy point the week before last. The guy goes from 1 fantasy point one week to 34 the next.
Want another example? How about wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald who had 114 receiving yards and a touchdown for 17 fantasy points last week. That is pretty good but look at his stats from the week before when he managed just 4 receiving yards and 0 fantasy points.
Charles and Fitzgerald are supposed to be elite options at their respective positions! Which player is going to show up this week? The amazing one or the terrible one? You never can tell so just roll the dice. These examples are not rare occurrences, either. Each week I highlight the lucky and rotten breaks of the week in my weekly series “fantasy football is all luck” linked below. If the best players perform with such ridiculous inconsistency, then it’s obviously even more of a problem for mid and low tier options.
The only way for fantasy football to be more skill-dependent is to completely change the way it is scored in head-to-head leagues. Rather than having players put up a certain number of total points for your team, maybe it should be scored in a categorical basis like other fantasy sports. So for example, receiving yards would be a category, rushing yards, passing yards, etc. Then whoever wins the most categories in a matchup wins that week.
Using a scoring system like this would ensure that a huge game from Jamaal Charles doesn’t single-handedly decide a matchup. It would just decide the rushing yards category. This is much more balanced and would take some of the luck out of the game.
Such a change will of course never happen in established fantasy games like Yahoo! and ESPN but it might be something to think about for a smaller up-and-coming fantasy sports company trying to set themselves apart from the competition.
[Update: 9/29/12] I would like to point out that I am not 0-3 in my league so this is not simply a disgruntled rant. At the time of this writing, I am actually 3-0. You can follow how my team does all season in my series here.