The Illinois Fantasy Football League: A Model for Long-Term Success

Bryan AndersonContributor IJune 3, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 26:  The Vince Lombardi Trophy was brought in by NFL Security and put on display.  Football fans take in all the activities during the NFL Experience on January 26, 2008 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo By Domenic Centofanti/Getty Images)

Fantasy Football has without a doubt become an integral part of the National Football League season.  Fantasy Football has become a staple not only in magazines and on the internet, but on television as well.  With the vast number playing fantasy football in the United States, I felt the need to share what has made my league so successful.

The Illinois Fantasy Football League was founded in 1991 by three childhood friends.  We had a league of eight members in the first year, expanded to 13 in the second, and settled on 12 in the third.  From 1993 on, the IFFL has had 12 members.

While the IFFL has many of the same elements of most Fantasy Leagues in operation today, there are some key differences that we have implemented that I have not seen in other leagues.  These differences are what has kept the league running for the past 18 years and are what keeps the IFFL strong today.

The most important part of any league is continuity.  The IFFL has had the same commissioner and associate commissioner for all 18 seasons.  This continuity has allowed franchises the knowledge that they can make decisions based not only on the current season, but future seasons as well.

Throughout the 18 years, the IFFL has continued to adapt and change to improve the quality of play in the league.  In the beginning, teams who were struggling would invariably throw games at the end of the season in order to improve draft position for the following season. 

We ordered the draft in inverse order of finish from the following season.

Therefore, we took measures to give teams incentive to compete throughout the season.  We instituted a draft lottery in the model of the NBA for all teams not making the playoffs.

We use this lottery system to determine the first three picks of the draft.  The rest of the picks go by the order of finish from the previous season.  The lottery insures the worst team has no worse than the fourth pick in the draft, but allows for teams narrowly missing the playoffs to gain the first overall pick.

We also instituted a losers pot for the bottom five teams in the league.  In weeks 10-14, the bottom five teams are put into a drawing.  The team who’s name is pulled from the drawing is paid cash based on their points scored that week.  If a team scored 25 points, they are paid $10. 

A team scoring 35 or more earns $20.  It’s a small prize, but has done remarkably well in keeping teams from totally throwing the final weeks of a bad season.

In an effort to keep from getting stale, we have even realigned the divisions during our 18 years in existence.  The realignment allowed teams to compete against new division rivals for the first time and did a good job of renewing interest in the league.

Another critical difference in the running of the IFFL is the waiver wire procedures that we use.  Instead of having a list of teams and an order that must be followed, teams are allowed to request ANY free agent at ANY time throughout the season. 

If no one else requests the same player within 24 hours of the initial request, the transaction is approved.

However, if multiple teams request someone within the same 24 hour window, teams then bid on the player’s services.  All bidding wars are cash bids and all money collected from the bidding wars is put into the prize pool for the end of the season. 

As an example, Matt Cassel was the subject of a bidding war between three teams in our league last season.  He fetched the hefty price of $26. 

The IFFL is a keeper/seasonal league hybrid.  We’re allowed to protect two players at the end of each season.  All other players are reentered into the common draft for the following season.  Teams then have the fourteen round draft to fill in their rosters. 

The continuity of the league has spawned something a little unforeseen in early years.  Teams who once would make player for player trades have now gone to more player for draft choice deals. 

One season, I dealt my second round picks for two seasons for Daunte Culpepper.  He rewarded my decision by having the best season of his career before blowing out his knee.

Over the past 18 seasons, the IFFL has lost members of the league.  However, we have always managed to replace those owners the following year and our membership has been a stable twelve for the past 16 years.  I attribute this stability to our commissioner as well.

A strong commissioner is needed to keep interest in the league and keep the franchises in existence.

With the vast numbers now playing fantasy football in the US, I am confident that the IFFL is not unique in anything it has done to maintain its existence.  However, 18 years and still running strong is a feat that has probably been equaled by few.