Quiz #113. Worst Ball
What do Underdog and Immanuel Kant have to do with COVID? Steve's Stay-at-Home Coronavirus Quiz for February 2, 2022.
By now, you know. I’m a little bit obsessive-–which is sort of like saying someone is “a little bit pregnant.” You either are—or you aren’t. So, yes, I am obsessive–-but, again, if you’ve been reading along and are now on Quiz #113 of this series, you already knew that.
Show me a rabbit hole and I will jump down it, digging further and deeper than the average bunny, leaving no stone unturned.
One of my obsessions is fantasy football–-though I’m really more consumed by sports pools in general, always trying to come up with different formats and contests, governed by complicated rules of my own creation. For decades, for example, I have run what I have called the Jeopardy Pool for the NCAA’s March Madness mens’ college basketball tournament. In the Jeopardy Pool, you get to make your picks round-by-round instead of all at once with a bracket that you fill out-–and are stuck with–-before games start. In Jeopardy, your bracket is never busted by an early-round upset. In Jeopardy, several games are designated as “Daily Double” games where you can wager as many of your points as you like on the outcome of that game. In Jeopardy, the final game is Final Jeopardy where people in the pool submit their picks for the winner in secret, wagering as many of their points as they wish. In almost every year that I’ve run this pool, the winners of the Jeopardy Pool come down to the results of the Final Game–-and that’s a good thing, a sign the rules worked.
As for fantasy football, it’s become an almost year-round activity. During the summer, you can play in so-called “Best Ball” leagues where you draft players–-and once you pick your team, you’re done. No trading, no picking up a new player because one of the guys you drafted got hurt. You pick your players before the season starts–and that’s it. The leagues are scored by how your players do in “best ball,” taking the best results each week from your squad within designated parameters. In some leagues, for example, you get to draft 20 players-–and each week’s “best ball” scoring comes from 1 quarterback, 2 running backs, 3 wide receivers, 1 tight end and 1 NFL team’s defense for each franchise in the league. There are apps and web-sites that run best ball leagues–-and with them, fantasy advice from paywall websites and knuckleheads on Twitter. During July and August, 2021, I jumped head first into best ball, drafting a team in 27 different leagues.
This is the avatar I use for all my fantasy teams which are always called “Lewis Oil.”
As noted in Quiz # 62. Football Fantasy, the real point of fantasy sports is simply trying to prove that you’re smarter than the other guy or gal. Are you going to be the one in your league who’s smart enough to pick up the right rookie? Can you figure out which second-year wide receiver is going to have his breakthrough year? In August, 2021, did you think that Cooper Kupp would have a great year because he’d finally be playing with a great quarterback? (Kupp DID have an incredible year. He’s in the Super Bowl–-and any best baller who picked him up in August reaped the benefits of that wisdom all year long.)
Because you’re picking your team in July and August, injuries play a big part in determining your success. Pick a player in August who gets hurt in October and you’re out of luck–-but it’s much more than that. NFL players are working out in training camps in the pre-season and, sadly, players often get hurt in the pre-season. Best ball leagues usually run with each person in the league having a set amount of time, typically 8 hours, to make their pick. (If you fail to make your pick in the allotted time, the website makes the pick for you.) If there’s a pre-season injury to a starting player in the NFL, it can have an instant impact on every best ball draft.
First, of course, you want to make sure you don’t pick up an injured player. More important, however, an injury to a starting running back immediately changes the value of other players in any best ball draft. All of a sudden the back-up running back is now the starter–-a player you had ranked as your 100th pick is now a top-25 selection.
If you’re playing in a best ball league, then, you need to pay attention to what’s happening in training camps. Who’s playing well–-and who’s gotten hurt? If you’re lucky enough to be “on the clock” when injury news breaks, you can also be the first person in your league to scoop up a back-up whose perceived value has changed overnight. (Do you see where this is headed?)
Again, in best ball leagues, the apps or web-sites set the time limit that each person gets to make his or her own pick. (You can join so-called fast draft leagues where you only have 1 minute to make your pick. The draft takes less than an hour. You join the league from a lobby of waiting drafts, filled with random people across the internet—many of them truly dedicated gamblers who play in these sorts of leagues to make a living. Most leagues, however, are slow drafts (including the Scott Fish Bowl) with 8 hours the industry standard for each person to make their picks. 8 hours gives you enough time to live your life–-and make your picks.
But here’s the rub. If you have 12 people “gathered” together in a league and each has 8 hours to make 20 picks each, the draft can take weeks. Twitter and message boards in these leagues are filled with people complaining about those people who always take their full 8 hours to make their picks.
And yet, this has also become one of the great “takes” on Twitter. The advice from some self-appointed experts is that you should always take the full 8 hours to make every pick. Why? Something could happen in your 8 hours that will impact your draft pick. Pick in less time and you minimize your window to get any advantage on others. Picking your player when before the full 8 hours when you’re “on the clock” is for suckers. Let others do that. You’re smart. Wait the full 8 hours.
The rules need to be fixed then, right? Seeing this problem and knowing I had a solution, in August, I sent an email to the Help desk for Underdog, one of the popular sites that runs best ball leagues.
Something good about Best Ball is turning bad.
I have played in handful of low stakes, slow drafts throughout the summer--and in the last several weeks, I have noticed that they have all slowed down. More and more owners are taking the full 8 hours to make all their picks.
It's no coincidence, then, that in the last two days, I have seen posts on Twitter from some wanna-be fantasy football experts which strongly advise all owners that the only way to approach a slow Best Ball draft is to take the maximum amount of time to make every pick…
Short term, my response has been to block any "expert" who advises that you always take the maximum time to make your picks in a slow draft. In part, I suspect they're looking for attention with a "hot" take. That attention won't come from me. And yet, I fear this viewpoint is taking hold. In part, it's because it does make some sense. The rules say you can take 8 hours--so take them as you try to milk any competitive advantage you can. Still, just because you can do something, does it mean you should?
In a 12-team, 8-hour Underdog league, there are 216 picks. If everyone adopts this single-minded approach, then a 12-team, 8-hour Underdog draft would take 72 days--3 picks each day. Start on July 4th--and finish on Labor Day…
What's the solution? I propose that such leagues take either an auction or chess-clock approach to their drafts.
For the auction approach, in a draft of 16 players, every owner gets the option of having two 8-hour clocks on their picks, two 7-hour clocks, two 6-hour clocks, etc. In this way, if you have your pick and make it in under 1 hour, then you still have your two 8-hour picks in the bank for when you might need it--either because you know you may be off-line or because you know you want to wait as long as possible in the middle rounds. If, however, you want to take as much time as allowed making your first few picks, you have that option--but you then lose the ability to use the full 8 hours in the later rounds.
For the chess-clock approach, you set a maximum total time for each team to make its picks at the start of the draft. In this way if you make your picks fast in the early rounds, you give yourself the option of taking longer in the late rounds. Spend that time up front and your late picks are forced to be quick.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that there may not be a reason why you might want to take the full time in making some picks. If your pick comes up a few hours before a pre-season game, for example, you might want to wait until after the first quarter to see who rolls with the first team. It's the people who have made waiting the maximum time a universal approach who are ruining the game--at least for me.
Sadly, it seems, this is the nature of rules in any game. Someone finds a singular advantage in a rule meant to treat an exception and exploits it so that the rules need to be changed to make sure that universal adoption of that exception does not ruin the game.
We need to change the rules to protect us from the worst in Best Ball.
I am sorry to say that I never got a response from the good people at Underdog. (If they adopt the auction or chess-clock idea for 2022, you now know it came from me.) Still, I think there are a few takeaways here.
First, in creating any game, you need good rules-–rules that anticipate (and thwart) how individuals will exploit those rules to their full individual advantage over others in the game.
Second, I think there is a parallel here to the COVID vaccine saga. Put aside politics and any discussion of disinformation, back in July, 2021, there was still a hope that this country would reach the point where enough people would be vaccinated that we’d have some kind of herd immunity against the spread of COVID. (Remember herd immunity?) For vaccines to really work, everyone needs to play by the same set of rules—and at the very least, there should be systemic disadvantages for those who choose not to get vaccinated. If there were an airline that required vaccines for passengers, I’d be on board. I’m OK if insurance companies want to charge higher premiums for the unvaccinated. I want to work for a company that has a vaccine mandate. I wish there were more government vaccine mandates. It’s sad to me that arguments in court about the need for vaccine mandates have had as much impact as my email to the Underdog Help desk.
And so it is that I woke up this morning, February 2, 2022, to remarkable graphics on the front page of the New York Times. When this all started in 2020, who would have thought that the United States would lag behind other nations in vaccine rates? (Remember the “Hunger Games” fights last January and February when people clamored to get a vaccine appointment?) And worst of all, according to those NYT charts, the US is leading other developed nations in its COVID death rates.
Is it any wonder, then, that I have turned to fantasy football (and other obsessions) to fill my time and occupy my thoughts? As noted in Quiz #111. No “...One!” I took a break from writing this quiz precisely because I was tired of trying to figure out coronavirus and where things might be headed next. Fantasy football and football pools are a lot more fun!
In part, this leads me to a shameless plug for Steve’s 28-Question Super Bowl Quiz. Want to have some fun with the Super Bowl? Just answer these 28 questions about the game.
Interested? You can play for fun or money. Just use this Google Form.
And guess what? If you’re thinking that you might be able to “win” the quiz by going against the grain, picking those answers that others did not, I’m ahead of you on that. When you submit your quiz, you’ll get a link to the Sheet with everyone’s answers–and the rules are set up so that everyone can change their answers up until kickoff.
Thinking about all this also made me think of Immanuel Kant from my moral philosophy days. (I majored in philosophy in college and went to philosophy graduate school for two years before starting in TV news.) Kant’s notion of the “categorical imperative” was somehow lodged in my brain-–though I had to Google the term to remember again exactly what it meant. Wikipedia had the answer.
"Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law."
We all need rules to bring out the best in us–and to prevent us from acting in ways that are the worst for all of us.
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What did NOT happen during these dog days of winter, 2022?
A. I was on a work “Teams” meeting, sitting on the couch next to the dogs who were sleeping. Fred, Betsy’s dog, was snoring so loudly that people in the virtual meeting could hear it–-and a colleague asked, “Who’s that snoring?”
B. Sara and I watched Saturday Night Live off of the DVR on Sunday night. When Payton Manning appeared on Weekend Update, I pointed out to Sara that it was the real Payton Manning. Like Manning, Sara has watched “Emily in Paris”--and, while disappointed at my pointing out the obvious, she laughed at Manning’s analysis of the show;
C. Inspired by a Facebook post from former colleague and Coronavrius quiz reader Mary Bock, I am taking online Spanish lessons from Duolingo. “Yo soy un hombre;”
D. I am reading Joe Posnanski’s wonderful book, “The Baseball 100.” Beyond his great storytelling, the book is remarkable for its rich appreciation of players from the Negro leagues. Have you ever heard of Oscar Charleston? I only learned his name this weekend when reading about him in Posnanski’s book where he is listed as one of the top 5 baseball players of all time;
E. I ordered a copy of “The Baseball 100” for my son Ted who has a February birthday. Amazon sent me a notice when the book was delivered Tuesday night–-complete with a nighttime picture of the box at the front door. I looked at it quickly and saw that it was not our front door so clicked on the thumbs-down box in the email to rate the delivery as “Not so great,” alerting Amazon that they’d delivered the box to the wrong address. 15 seconds later, I remembered that I’d had the book delivered to Ted and Erica’s house and–-sure enough–-a second look revealed that the picture of the delivered package was, in fact, at their front door. I quickly texted Ted to get the package from his front door in case the Amazon driver came back to retrieve it because I’d told Amazon they’d delivered it to the wrong address.
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Here’s the previous quiz in the series: Quiz # 112. Let Me Explain.
Here’s the first quiz in the series: Quiz #1. Stella and Social Distancing, March 13, 2020
Here is an archive of all the quizzes.
The quiz is explained here: Steve’s Stay-at-Home Coronavirus Quiz.
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I welcome your ratings, comments and corrections (from typos to gaps in truth).
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