Introduction to fantasy football auction leagues

by James Eberspacher on May 1, 2013 @ 10:33:45 PDT


Are you looking to spice up your fantasy life? Don't get too excited, it's not what you think. We're talking about your fantasy football life. If you've been in a straight draft style - you know, the kind where you draft a player, then wait 20 minutes to draft another - you might be looking for a new challenge. If you are, then an auction league might be just what you need.

What the heck is an auction league?

Auction leagues are simply a different way of drafting players - a tweak on the normal format used to determine the regular-season rosters for your league. Most leagues start out with a serpentine draft style, which plays out like the draft in the National Football League, but at the end of the round, the final pick has the first pick in the upcoming round. Auctions differ in the fact that teams can draft players at any time until they draft their entire squad.

Auctions utilize made-up salary caps that each owner has at his or her disposal to create a team. Each owner has a set budget - for example, $180 - with which he or she must create a roster from the list of available players. During the draft, a player is put on the auction block, making him available for your fantasy league to bid on him. This process continues until all teams in your fantasy league have complete rosters.

Converting your league into an auction format is a simple and painless process. It doesn't affect anything other than how players land on a roster. It can be used in any type of format, head-to-head or rotisserie, and with any style of keeper or re-draft league. There is some work in setting up a league and tracking players, but that shouldn't keep you from setting one up for your league. However, before we show you just how to do that, we'll give you the reasons that may either push you in that direction or scare you away.

What is so great about an auction league?

First off, auction drafts can provide a new and interesting spin to your fantasy league. For those owners that have been in the same league with basically the same owners for multiple years, auctions can provide a different angle by which owners can try out new ideas. Auctions can be a fun way to hold a draft, and every owner must be well-informed as to the true values of each player respective to the rest of the players in the league. Any monkey can pick up a cheat sheet and draft the best player on the board without much preparation. Right now, everyone has someone from his or her league in mind. Auction leagues almost completely eliminate the chance of someone who isn't prepared from drafting a competitive team. Owners have to be well-prepared; otherwise they will have difficulties in managing their squad in a fast-paced draft.

In addition, auction drafts can break up the monotony of straight-pick leagues and help prevent the same owners from winning each season. After a few seasons in the same league with basically the same owners, each owner begins to learn the other owners' tendencies and strategies. Therefore, owners that are able to alter their own draft strategies based on that of the other owners are the ones that are going to be the most successful. Auction drafts are a great way to prevent this from happening. Unless they devote most of their free time to fantasy football, there is a good chance the other owners have not participated in an auction draft. This is a good way to bring every back to square one if one owner is dominating straight-draft leagues. However, the fundamental points, such as the types of players these owners target, may remain similar.

Our final point and another strength of auction leagues is how they can change the way free agents are signed during the season. In non-auction leagues, this is usually accomplished on a first-come, first-served basis or by waiver order. In auction leagues, free agents are usually bid on with remaining cap dollars or a separate, fictitious budget. This allows teams to grab their favorite one-week wonder as long as they can outbid their fellow owners. It makes for very interesting overspending stories, in which you can ridicule your fellow owner for years to come. Be careful, because it can happen to you, too, if you're not prepared.

Auction?! We don't need no stinkin' auction!

While auction leagues can sound fun, they do have downsides to them. This is due to added complexities like money and salary caps. While it is "monopoly" money, auction drafts do include some sense of financial strategy. As a result, the pure fantasy football minds might be at a disadvantage if they can't even balance their checkbook. While it is great that any team has a chance to draft any player - unlike in a normal drafting league where the team that picks at No. 12 has no chance of landing that top running back - it is at least a slightly negative aspect that each owner might not be able to put up a competitive team simply because they lack the budgeting skills.

The fact that switching to an auction league could shift the power in your league can be as much a con as a pro. This is because an owner might rank players perfectly in the preseason but not have the ability to work an auction and thereby not be able to construct a competitive team; this can even happen to an auction veteran at times. Another problem is becoming caught up in a bidding war, which is common for novices and all but ruins their budget. This could in turn cause the guilty owner to be turned off by your league, not wanting to play.

An additional downside - or upside, depending on how you look at it - to auction drafts is that they take much longer to conduct. While a regular draft could take as little as two hours, auction leagues usually take somewhere around three to six hours to complete, depending on the size of your league. This is because each player that is drafted must be bid on, which alone takes a few minutes. The major consumption of time is early in the draft, when owners are fighting for the players they want. Toward the end of the auction, as the bidding wars subside, the time moves by rather quickly as teams complete their full roster. In contrast, it can only take seconds to draft a player in non-auction leagues. As a result, make sure that if you are going to do an auction league, you realize it will take much longer to complete.

Auction league rules

If, after all of that, you decide that an auction league is right for you, then you should certainly read on. If it's not for you just yet, don't be discouraged. You can implement an auction draft in your league at any time.

Money matters

The first order of business in creating your auction league is to set a salary cap - a set number of dollars each team will receive to use to assemble their roster. Technically, you can set your cap at whatever you want it to be. It can be as high as millions or as low as single dollars, as all that will change with a different salary cap is different player salaries, which is all relative anyway. The higher your salary cap, the higher you should set the increments by which bids on these players have to increase by. For example, in a league with a $50 million salary cap, increments should not increase by $1 - the auction would take forever.

The best way to go about doing an auction league, especially for the first time, is to use the industry standard of $200 for rosters of 16 players. This means the average player on each roster will come in at approximately $13. This "standard" was taken from the original rotisserie baseball, which used $260 for a roster of 23 players (approximately $11 per player). By setting a cap of $200, you can allow increments by as low as $1 and play in an auction league as it was meant to be run.

Draft day

In this section, we just want to give you a couple of quick tips on making your draft day run smoothly.

The best tip is to have someone act as an auctioneer. This will help by keeping your draft running efficiently. A non-owner is the best type of auctioneer as it eliminates any potential for bias. The auctioneer's job is simple. He or she asks for the next player, keeps the bidding moving at a fast pace and awards the player to the team with the highest bid. There are also online auction draft sites that use software to automate as much of the process as possible. Some of them are very, very good.

A final thought for draft day - if you are not using an online program - is to make sure you have an official draft board that tracks players, salaries and remaining cap dollars for each team. It is also a good idea to track positions that need to be drafted by each team. A main board will ensure that teams aren't going to be over their cap and will have enough money in their bankroll to draft players at required positions. Not only will it solve any potential conflicts about cap dollars, this will also keep your draft running efficiently.


You need to have rules in place for how trades and transactions are completed once the draft is over. Again, you can keep it rather simplistic and just handle these two areas as a normal, non-auction league would with the salary cap and player dollar values no longer applying. If you want though, you can take the auction one step further in regards to transactions.

One way to keep the dollar value throughout the entire season is to give each team a set Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB). For example, each team has $100 to spend on free agents for the entire season. Free agents are determined on a bidding basis - just like the draft - with each team putting in a weekly bid for free agents and the highest-bidding owner winning that player. The money each team spends on free agents is subtracted from his or her FAAB, and when all of the money is gone, no more transactions can be made.

Taking the dollar values even one step further, you can set a hard salary cap for the entire season, which no teams are allowed to exceed. For example, if you have a draft budget of $200 and a FAAB of $100, each team must never exceed the $300 total at any point in the season. As a result, each owner must take into consideration team salary when making trades. Trades that would result in one owner exceeding the cap would be voided.

A different spin is to set a cap amount for the entire season before the draft. A team then drafts players and signs free agents during the season without exceeding the cap amount. This simply throws a twist into the draft as it creates many different strategies. Some teams will spend their entire budget on draft day, while others will stash some away for a rainy day (in other words, injuries), and we all know it rains a lot in fantasy football. In this option, as a team drops a player, they recoup the salary that was previously paid to that player. This results in fluctuating dollars remaining in their hard cap. However, it is beneficial to those owners that lose a high-dollar player to injury.

One further step - which might not be popular - would be to hold teams accountable for dropping players. This part of an auction league would heavily rival cap penalties that real NFL teams have to deal with. For example, when you drop a player, his salary is subtracted from your allowable salary cap. Therefore, if you drop a $12 player, your new salary cap would be $288 instead of the original $300. The problem with this is that each team could potentially have a different salary cap, which might be hard to track.

Auction leagues as keeper leagues

Once you become comfortable with your auction league - if you are willing to put in the time and effort needed to keep the books - auction leagues translate nicely into keeper leagues. There are a few options you could use to determine your keeper rules.

One option is each team having a set keeper salary cap. For example, each team could have a keeper cap each season. One common system is to use a keeper cap of $20. This means that all of each team's keepers must cost less than $20. You could do a few things with this. First, you could reward owners who find deep sleepers and good values in your draft and allow each team to keep as many players as they wish, as long as they fit under the keeper cap. However, that could result in a very one-sided league for the next year if one team is able to compile an excellent keeper group. A better way to go about could be to set the keeper rules on two sides: First, the keepers must not exceed $20; second, the maximum number of players kept is four, regardless of whether the owner uses up his or her full $20 keeper cap.

Another option is to have a set number of keeper players. This would allow any team to keep that number of players from their current roster for the next season. In order to make sure the same players aren't kept each year, any player that is designated a keeper should have his salary increased for the following year, possibly by $5. Therefore, a $12 player that is designated a keeper would have a $17 value for next year and a $22 value for the year after that if he is kept again. This allows for players to be reinserted into the available players to be drafted. This process should be used for any keeper league options.

What happens to the players that aren't kept? Those players have their salaries reset to $0 for the following season, and they are placed back into the general player pool to be bid on during draft day. These players' salary from the year before is irrelevant, as they are back on the bidding block.

The final word on auctions

As most owners will find out from being involved in auction leagues, they can be a great way to change things up; you can instill a set of strategies and fun that your league might be lacking. Auction leagues that instill some of the other options like keepers and FAABs will help their leagues become as close to what an NFL general manager experiences without becoming a true "dynasty" league (see our "How to Play Fantasy Football" article for more information on dynasty leagues). While it might take extra work, and be extra stress for the commissioner, that shouldn't be an issue if you have an organized and trustworthy person in charge. You may have to convince the masses that an auction league is more entertaining, but once you persuade your league to switch, you may never go back to a straight-pick draft again.

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About James Eberspacher

James Eberspacher has been Commissioner of a "high performance" fantasy football league since 1994. He has created an entertaining and challenging league by designing a unique scoring system and a creative sense of writing and style. He has been a KFFL Contributor since 2003.

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