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A Fun Way To Reduce Tanking In Your Leagues

@thedynastyrobot is here to discuss a unique take on implementing a draft lottery system to your dynasty leagues

Many league commissioners will use the standard draft and league formats in many dynasty leagues. However, it’s essential to think about potential league issues and avoid them before they occur. It will be impossible to have a rule book that takes all things into consideration. This was clearly illustrated this year by the Bills/Bengals debacle to decide league champions. However, there are many items around blatant tanking that can be addressed. In doing so, you can help to keep your league more fair and fun throughout the year.

Lineups – A Gentlemen’s Agreement

There is an unspoken rule in fantasy to start your best lineup. However, that in and of itself will not always suffice. The idea is that each weekly matchup should be a best effort to win, even if it goes against that owner’s goal of obtaining the worst record possible. This also helps keep scheduling fair. If you beat someone early while trying to win and then blatantly tank later on, your opponent’s schedule will have been unfairly constructed. While this is fine if your strategy is to tank, you still need to provide your best effort. Ideally, a league runs best when the incentive is limited to those near the bottom.

The Concept Of A Draft Lottery

Unlike the NFL, which has no anti-tanking provisions, the NBA gets this aspect correct. The idea of a ping pong ball determining the fate of your franchise may seem too random. However, it actually accomplishes quite a lot. In the NBA, odds are skewed in favor of the worst teams. But there are still odds that even the 14th worst team out of 30 could get the first overall pick. The chart below from aptly named shows the current 2023 NBA lottery draft odds.

How The Percentages Breakdown

There are a few things to take away from the chart. Clearly, the worse you finish, the higher the odds will be that you get an earlier pick. The second, more subtle element is that the odds don’t change for the first three teams from getting the first through the fourth pick. There is a slight advantage in your overall pick, which starts to show in the odds for picks five and on. This causes the range for the top three teams to separate from 3.7% to 4.1%, a very small advantage. The NBA’s goal of eliminating competing for the first pick (read: tanking) is fully achieved.

The NFL has the least amount of games of any major sport. The league has the most season-ending injuries of any sport. The NFL is the only sport without a multigame series playoff format. All of this leads to much more variability in the NFL than in any other sport.

It’s interesting that the NFL doesn’t implement this most exciting anti-tanking event of variability into its process. It would have eliminated the advantage the Bears received this year over the Houston Texans. The Texans would have had the first overall pick but beat the colts by one to lose out to the Bears in the 1.01 sweepstakes. The Texans played through the whistle, unlike the “well-rested” Bears. This gave Houston fans as much excitement as a then 2-14 team could to the detriment of their franchise.

Playoff Seeding – Time For A Draft Lottery

Well, if the NFL won’t fix their mistake, we, as dynasty commissioners, should step in for our leagues.

Using March Madness To Determine Draft Order

Our leagues have utilized a split between the six teams in the fantasy playoffs and the six teams left competing for the first overall pick. This mirrors the NBA’s near 50% team split for the lottery. The six teams in the playoffs are ineligible for the first pick. They compete in the playoffs for a pot of money, as all standard leagues do. The six teams not making the playoffs are then ranked based on “max points for.” Their record is ignored as we are looking for the theoretically worst teams assuming each started their optimal lineup.

Using max points has its pros and cons. It will unfairly harm teams that have depth but are still rebuilding. These players are likelier to pop one week or another than many who do not see the field. However, this eliminates the reason for a team to start a non-optimal lineup and accrue guaranteed losses. Outside of trading away productive assets or dropping players, there are no further tanking methods in play to better their chances of winning the lottery. Once the rankings are set, these teams will compete for the first overall pick based on March Madness (Men’s NCAA basketball tournament) as a proxy.

More Fun Than Ping-Pong Balls

In place of a ping-pong lottery system, we have devised a way to leverage the excitement of March Madness into our process during a time when there is typically a lull in the fantasy world. During Covid-19, my league-mate Ryan Nitschke devised the system conceptually. In its initial form, the six lottery teams would select from the four 16 seeds making it to Round 1 and any two 15 seeds. This would give the worst two teams an advantage in having the 15 seeds instead of the 16 seeds.

I added the idea of just using the 16 seeds. Since there are six of them now with the 68-team play-in system format, it works out perfectly. By leveraging this aspect, we additionally could give a more consistent benefit to the worst two teams by allowing them to select a 16 seed with a play-in bye. This would, in turn, guarantee at least a top-4 pick rather than a top-6 pick. Now let’s get more into the details of how this process works.

The 16 Seeds & Play-In Round

March Madness has six 16 seeds. Two of those teams are not competing in the play-in round (the equivalent of a bye). The other four 16 seeds will play amongst each other for entrance into the tournament’s first round. The dynasty owners will select their March Madness team based on reverse “max points for” final league standings. The lowest-place team (least points for) will get the first 16 seed team selection.

Effectively, the worst two teams in the league will get the 16 seeds with byes which locks them into a top-4 rather than a top-6 draft pick. The next four teams will select amongst the play-in 16 seeds, likely taking the favorites in each of their games with picks 3 and 4, leaving owners 5 and 6 with the underdogs. The dynasty owners who selected the two play-in game winners who advance to round one are safe. The dynasty owners who selected the losing teams in the play-in games will have draft picks 5 and 6. The tiebreak for the fifth pick is based on whichever 16 seed lost by the least. If it remains a tie, the lowest “max points for” owner between the two will get the 5th pick.

Round 1 Of March Madness

After the play-in round and with picks 5 and 6 already determined, the four remaining 16 seeds will play the 1 seed in the tournament. Whichever teams lose by the least will get the first pick in the draft, and so on through pick 4. The same tiebreak rules apply using “max points for.”


This is a great way to run your leagues. You have effectively reduced the value of tanking, so all games matter. Team owners won’t run into a scenario similar to what occurred in the NFL this year. Most importantly, you will now have a reason to watch the play-in games! Degenerate sports gamblers unite!

This also adds a wrinkle to the draft pick valuing process. Getting the assumed 1.01 or 1.02 is a risky bet pre-March Madness as it could just as easily fall to 1.04. Effectively picks 1.01 and 1.02 each have a 25% chance of landing the first pick, while 1.03 through 1.06 have a 12.5% chance. A slight advantage exists to 1.03 and 1.04, but betting favorites are typically very small favorites, so the advantage is limited.

The real tanking decision in the league comes down to whether to try for playoffs as the 6th best team or slide down to the lottery as the 7th best team. The fantasy playoffs can be chaotic, so giving up a chance in the playoffs may be a very poor decision. If your league pays out for third place, the calculus ups the value to compete. However, the desire for 1.01 can also be quite tempting if your team doesn’t stand a chance to move on.

If March Madness isn’t your thing, this concept can easily be turned into a rock, paper, scissors competition. You could add some athleticism to it and make your own punt, pass, and kick competition. Whatever you can dream up can work and avoid teams tanking while keeping the league entertaining all year round.

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