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Commishes: check your playoff rules for problems now (1 Viewer)


While I address this to commissioners, of course it's worth checking your league even if you're not a commish.

Now is the time to double check your league's rules regarding the playoffs. If you catch a problem now, you can get it corrected easily with owners agreeing to what makes the most general sense.

But if you wait until you hit one of these issues, then owners are going to argue in favor of the interpretation that helps their team rather than for the general best one.

So best to double check your league rules now before anyone knows how it will impact their team this year, and clarify them as needed. I send out a copy of the seeding rules, game tiebreaks, etc, each year about this time so if anyone objects to something later I can point back to it and show them they had a chance to speak up.

Some common problems we see every season that are easy to avoid in advance:

1) Do you have a "never fails" method as the last step in each seeding tiebreak?

Even if you use 3 decimal places and have 6 tiebreak steps, you want something like "coin toss" as the last one. But you could also go with something like "team who had the worst seed in last year's playoffs". I think the Big Ten has (or had) a tiebreaker something like that. Whatever it is doesn't matter, just have something that always resolves the tie.

2) Do you have tiebreakers for individual playoff games, and do they contain a "never fails" method as the last step?

A lot of leagues allow ties in the regular season, and just plain forget that you cannot allow a tie in a playoff game. Especially leagues who use decimal scoring and just never happened to get a regular season tie, but then get one in the playoffs.

We use things like most touchdowns scored by starting players, most total yards gained, fewest turnovers, etc. But then they always should end with a tiebreak that can't fail, like one of my leagues uses "coin flip", the other uses "highest seeded team advances".

Worth noting that if you did not set such a method in advance and you have a tie, that you should avoid the suggestion to have both teams advance to the next round and their opponent then plays the one who scores higher in the following week. That's not fair at all to the opponent as now he is having to essentially outscore two teams that week instead of one.

3) If you have head-to-head in your tiebreak, what happens in a multi-team tie if there are differing number of games played?

For example, "head to head" as a wildcard tiebreak. Teams A and B are in a division and played each other twice, and Team C is out of division and played each of them once. So A and B have 3 head to head games, and Team C has 2. Do you not use it unless the games played are equal? Or does 2-1 count as better than 1-1? If some teams don't even play each other, is 2-0 better than 1-0?

There is no "right" answer to how to do this that I know of, though many will argue some are more fair than others. You can emulate the NFL, you can emulate some other system, you can do it the way you want. Just now is the time to realize you didn't clarify it, and do it before you actually have to apply the tiebreak. If I made a suggestion it is to not use head-to-head since that is generally random scheduling, each fantasy team would have scored the same regardless of opponent for the most part. While in the NFL, your actual opponent impacts what you score directly, so it makes more sense for them than for fantasy.

But if you include it, just be clear. One good way of keeping it but avoiding the problems is that if games played are uneven, that only a head to head sweep of all other teams will win the tiebreaker step.

4) Clarify that when a team is eliminated from a multi-team tiebreak, whether remaining teams start a fresh tiebreaker back on step 1

Though not universal, I think it is still pretty standard in sports that when a team is eliminated from a tiebreaker, that the remaining teams essentially start a fresh tiebreaker back on step 1. Though a lot of people don't consider that and will just plunge ahead to the next tiebreaker with the remaining teams.

The most important thing is to clarify in advance which way your league does it.

5) Clarify that every playoff spot gets its own newly run tiebreak, or not. That is, clarify if being "runner up" for a previous playoff spot means anything.

Some people will try to resolve multiple playoff spots based on order of elimination in a single run through the tiebreaks, with the winner getting the best spot, a runner up getting the next, etc.

If you want to do it that way you can, but you really need to clarify such. Again I think there is a standard across most sports is that every playoff position be given its own fresh tiebreak with just the remaining teams. I want to say the NBA has some weird quasi- system that doesn't always obey that under some specific conditions, but that's the only example I'm aware of that doesn't start tiebreakers fresh for each spot.

If head to head or division records or eliminating division teams first is involved, the team who was "runner up" in the tiebreak for the 1st wildcard may not be the team who wins the 2nd wildcard's tiebreak. So each should get its own tiebreaker run, or clarify if you don't follow that standard.

6) Clarify if you break a multiple team tie down by division first before proceeding.

If your rules don't specifically have this as the first tiebreaker, then I would assume that you don't. But if not just make it clear. What this is saying... in the NFL if there was a tie for the wildcard between the Bears, Lions, Giants and 49ers... the NFL would eliminate teams from the same division in step 1 until only one remained from that division. So the Bears and Lions would be involved in a tiebreak first, with one team eliminated and the other then beginning to compete in a 3 team tiebreak with the Giants and 49ers. If the Cowboys were in the mix, then the Lions and Bears would have one team eliminated and the Giants and Cowboys would have one team eliminated before the 3 remaining teams started their tiebreak.

There is no reason you have to do it this way. None of my leagues do. The NFL does but I don't believe it is used in most other sports so it is not a standard. So again I would not assume it is done this way unless you list it in your tiebreaker. But some people will just assume your league does it the NFL way, so clarify either way so if an owner argues to try to get into the playoffs, you can refer back to your email from 2 weeks before and shut him up.

7) If you include "Division record" for wildcard spots, clarify whether it applies to teams not in the same division.

This is sort of like #6. Some people just list it because they know the NFL uses it, but they don't clarify that it only applies to narrowing it down to one team per division. Or like the NBA where they don't narrow it down to one team per division, but if the tied teams are all in the same division then it is used.

So make it clear... if you include it and Team A and Team B are in different divisions, does division record get used between them, or not.

I tried to keep that "Things to check on" rather than "how you should do it" for the most part, but I did want to give some impression on what you should expect to be considered standard.

That said, I will advocate that simple tiebreakers are best for avoiding problems, especially for seedings. We used to have something very similar to the NFL, and finally scrapped it. Limiting it to things like division record only used for division winner, and then highest points for, highest points against, and finally coin flip, avoids all those head to head arguments. And even things like whether you restart the tiebreakers after one team is eliminated won't matter since they'll go exactly the same whether you restart the tiebreak or not.

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Thank you for this, Greg; it is invaluable. In fact, all of your commissioner/league setup threads/posts are really, really helpful.

Thanks for the reminder. I always post in my league the tie break scenarios even though we've never had one.

Good reminder. Our league has all of these due to a couple of the situations happening in the past that weren't clearly defined. Its always good to check the rules before it can become a problem.


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