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Taking Care of Bidness
David M. Dorey
2003

In the 1961 Academy Award- winning movie The Hustler, Paul Newman (Fast Eddie Felson) and George C. Scott (Bert Gordon) spoke after Fast Freddie lost his 40 hour pool-playing marathon to Minnesota Fats.

Bert: "You got talent."
Fast Eddie: "I got talent? So what beat me?"
Bert: "Character."
Fast Eddie: "Sure, sure."
Bert: "You're damn right I'm sure. Everybody's got talent, I got talent ... You think they call Minnesota Fats the best in the country just cause he got talent? Nah, Minnesota Fats's got more character in one finger than you got in your whole skinny body."
Fast Eddie: "I told ya, I got drunk."
Bert: "He drank as much whiskey as you do."
Fast Eddie: " Maybe he knows how to drink."
Bert: "You bet he knows how. You think that's a talent too, huh, knowin' how to drink whiskey? You think Minnesota Fats was born knowin' how to drink?"

In an auction draft, it's all about TCB, baby. Taking care of bidness. Bringing the entire winning package to your auction. Put on your sunglasses and grow out your sideburns because auction time is approaching and this is your chance to take care of bidness. Decide it right now -are you going into the auction with the confidence of Minnesota Fats or are you going to find yourself like Fast Eddie searching for an excuse you can call a reason?

What's going to make the difference? Taking care of bidness. Being well prepared for your fantasy auction so that you know walking in the door what values players should have, what you are willing to pay and no less than half of your team already in your pocket because you know you can get some key players. And for those you cannot get, you will merely replace them with better values that stayed under the radar of the other Fast Freddies in your league.

There's work to be done before you throw out your favorite player and that entails more than wearing your lucky socks and hoping against all reason that the others will let Clinton Portis go undervalued. The auction is not the first step towards a winning season - it is the final step towards building a dream team to start your season. Sure - you and everyone else is talented enough to know who the good players are. The question is who drinks the whiskey the best? While the other owners are becoming intoxicated with the idea that they have Randy Moss or Ricky Williams, the real winners are made in sustaining the flow of good players to their rosters.

Bert: Eddie, d'ya mind if I get personal?
Fast Eddie: Well, what've ya been so far?
Bert: Eddie, you're a born loser!
Fast Eddie: Well, thanks for the drink. I'll be going now.

Approaching your auction entails the same preparations as a draft. You still need to know how players are valued and ranked, where you consider your tiers of players and what sort of team you want to build knowing a few key players that you have realistic hopes in acquiring. An auction has all the same preparations as a draft and if you enter into an auction prepared like it was going to be a draft, you will start out hot and with a great looking team. Maybe a top runningback or two and a quarterback! You have never had both Faulk and Tomlinson! How can anyone compete against you?

'Fast Eddie: You know, I got a hunch, fat man. I got a hunch that it's me from here on in. One ball, corner pocket. I mean, that ever happen to you? You know, all of a sudden you feel like you just can't miss? 'Cause I dreamed about this game, fat man. I dreamed about it every night on the road. Five ball. You know, this is my table, man. I own it.

You've already gotten two "early first rounders" on your squad and still have some money left over for sleepers. Two great runningbacks while all the other teams sat on their cash and only have one. If that. You're thinking that this auction thing was easier than it looked. You almost feel sorry for the RB-impaired teams. Almost.

Fast Eddie: Didn't leave you much.
Fats: You left enough.

Oops. After another dozen very nice players are snapped up by others, you are finding out that the auction is not as much fun while watching high quality players going for only $2 more than you are able to bid. You are so close! Are they plotting against you? Are they mad because you had such a good start? Can it be that taking two great runningbacks is going to make those two players the extent of your difference makers while pairing up every week with the bargain bin guys you settle for later? Maybe this is not like a draft, after all! The others are not even bringing up players in the order of their value! How did I end up with Ron Dayne? Wait a minute, you guys are bidding too fast! Hey! HEY!

Fast Eddie: OK, OK, what do I do now? Lie down on the floor and, uh, bow from the ankles? What do I do, go home?
Gordon: That's your problem.

It doesn't have to be that way. It should not be that way. But unless you prepare, it will be that way. In most auctions, it only takes about a dozen players gone to see which bidders are already getting lost, which ones are playing it cool and holding out and who has done their homework. By the time the first forty or fifty players are gone, Julius Caesar summed it up nicely when he said "Jacta alea est" - the die is cast. All owners have made their decisions from which they cannot return. Doing nothing is a decision too.

The personality of their teams and the direction that will be going the rest of the way is already set. Maybe a sleeper or two will be had, maybe not - but the main contributors to their teams will already be set. The biggest question is if they made the decisions themselves or they allowed the other team owners to make them instead of actively doing it themselves. There are many ways to build a team, the best one is to follow the plan you make - not what you are forced into accepting.

In a draft when you pick, say, at the #8 slot, you know when it is your turn your choices will be from the entire NFL minus seven better players. Your second pick will be from the NFL minus sixteen better players and so on. In an auction, you get to evaluate and decide on every single player, the only question is if you want him more than the other eleven team owners. It is truly intoxicating for your first auction. It is still intoxicating in your tenth auction. The only difference will be if you learned how to drink along the way.

Let's try to gain some character and learn how to drink before we get to the auction. That begins with preparing for your auction as if it were a draft by knowing your league, the players values and the tiers in which they reside.

1. Knowing Your League
This can be a critical factor and yet one that only you can determine. It is made easier by knowing the individuals in your league, particularly if you have played fantasy football with them before - even if only in a drafting league. An auction is similar to a poker game in many ways - there are the big bluffers, the risk takers and the guys that sit on a pair of tens and hope for the best. In an auction, owners must decide what value they place on players and knowing what players an owner already has shown to like is very beneficial in your plans.

Most fantasy owners overvalue the players from their favorite team. If you live in Kansas City, expect Priest Holmes to cost a fortune. In San Francisco, Terrell Owens is not going to be forgotten in the auction. In Miami, Ricky Williams may be the highest costing player. If you really want those players sure to be even extra costly, then figure that into your plans because they will not be cheap. By the same token, if you do not want those sure to be expensive guys, then feel free to bring them up early and allow others to burn their cash up chasing them.

Half the fun of fantasy football is interacting with other team owners and talking football before anyone has any players is not only fun and a good way to enjoy friendships, it also.. 'ahem'... allows you a bit more information on how other teams may chase - or avoid - certain players. Most people go into stealth-mode a week before the auction and yet are freely sharing ideas up until that point.

Look at the previous year's rosters and see what team had which hot player. That will be fresh in their memory as a guy they need to get. If you want him, keep track of the other team to see how high they might go to acquire him. If you know that one team owner is a big bluffer and likely to attempt driving up prices with no intention of getting a particular player, there is little as fun as seeing him get stuck with a player he never wanted.

Each league is different and each owner is different. Knowing a bit about who they like and how they operate is a good tool to use during bidding. People certainly can change, but normally - they do not.

Sarah: How did you know my name is Sarah?
'Fast Eddie: You told me last night.
Sarah: I always lie when I drink.
'Fast Eddie: Okay, so what is your name today?
Sarah: Sarah.

2. Knowing your players
No different than any draft, auction or contest - you have to know your players. You can always rely on a cheatsheet (personally I highly recommend The Huddle's) or better yet, you can use the analysis and observations of others to come up with your own. If you are not aware how players are ranked and should perform, then it really does not matter what method you use to build rosters.

When dealing with an auction setting, you need to know the relative values between positions and where tiers occur within them.

Knowing what your scoring rules are, especially if it is an existing league with previous history, you must know how each position compares to all others in both the points scored by the best players and how deep quality players exist. More than likely tight ends do not score much in your league and yet there are three that score much higher than all others. That makes them much more valuable and the others below much less valuable since there are so many tight ends that score similar to one another.

More than likely, you will have runningbacks scoring highly along with quarterbacks, wide receivers less so but more than any other position and then "the rest". The fact that you need two runningbacks (or more) and likely only one quarterback means that runningbacks are even more valuable since they are far more scarce and in higher demand. Chances are very good that the best net effect will be getting two good runningbacks, a decent quarterback and maybe one or two good receivers. That does depend on your league's scoring though and you should be aware what positions carry the highest value along with their demand.

Just because some positions like tight ends, kickers and defenses may not score a lot in your league does not necessarily mean they do not deserve attention in an auction. Even an extra two points a week can make the difference. Often those "less worthy" positions go far undervalued since they are not in high demand you can pick off a top defense, kicker and/or tight end since no one values them highly.

Knowing your positional values must also be accompanied by knowing where tiers occur within them. A "tier" is an admittedly arbitrary line you draw in your rankings which says all the players above the line are similar enough to be considered a group and all below the line represent more than an incremental step down. For example in our current rankings, our first tier of runningbacks is seven deep - pretty deep for an initial tier that normally only holds three players. But we see that any of those first seven would be a low risk/high reward for a team while the next tier has much more risk and likely less production as a group. For tight ends and receivers, the first tier is only three players. It is just establishing a feel for the risk/reward that players represent.

Tiering is important in auctions since you want to determine in advance what player tiers you want to be selecting from and when a certain tier is clearing out fast - say tier #2 runningbacks, you need to be aware that you better not wait much longer. Once a grouping or "tier" is cleared out and the next one has plenty of players in it, then there is no need to reach too high for a player knowing there are several other equivalent players remaining. In an auction, you may be facing eleven other owners vying for a player, but all it takes is one other guy to spark a bidding war for a single player. Do NOT get locked on players individually or you will deviate from your budget and battle plan. Do get locked on a tier of players and take the best value from it that you can.

Fast Eddie: Well, you don't leave much when you miss, do ya Fat Man?
Fats: That's what the game's all about.

Knowing your league, the players and their tiers, are all factors that should be done before any draft or auction, to the extent that they can be done. When we move our preparations to the auction aspect, we have to consider the one tool that drives fear and loathing into any good American. Probably also Canadians, Europeans and any other person with a pulse and money in their wallet - a budget. You must understand your money before you can apply it successfully to satisfying your needs.

3. Creating a Budget

Let's say you have a salary cap of $200 to spend on 18 players. First player up is LaDainian Tomlinson. You went to Texas Christian University when he played there. You shared an elevator with him once (or at least he certainly looked exactly like him and he was tall and everything). You had him the last two years on your fantasy teams and own his jersey. The bidding hits $77 and you start to sweat like a crack addict, and, like, you still have all this money to spend and it is LaDainian, man! LADAINIAN FREAKING TOMLINSON! $80!

Fast Eddie: Please don't get off me now, Bert.
Bert : (holding the money) I know when to quit and you don't. Win or lose, you don't know when to quit.
Fast Eddie: (on his knees) What do ya want me to do, huh? What do ya want me to do? Just say it and you got it, but please don't get off me now.

You have to make a budget so that your salary cap dollars get you the maximum overall value possible. For an example, lets take a sample 12 team league that uses a 16 man roster and require 2 QB, 4 RB, 4 WR, 2 TE, 2 PK and 2 DEF with a weekly starting lineup of QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, TE, PK and DEF and a salary cap of $100 to spend.

1. First cut for relative positional values 2. Consider scarcity versus demand 3. Consider the # of starting players. 4. Consider the # of total roster depth 5. Tweak for final auction budget plan
QB1 $15
QB2 -
RB1 $30
RB2 -
RB3 -
RB4 -
WR1 $30
WR2 -
WR3 -
WR4 -
TE1 $10
TE2 -
PK1 $10
PK2 -
DEF1 $5
DEF2 -
QB1 $15
QB2 -
RB1 $50
RB2 -
RB3 -
RB4 -
WR1 $25
WR2 -
WR3 -
WR4 -
TE1 $4
TE2 -
PK1 $3
PK2 -
DEF1 $3
DEF2 -
QB1 $15
QB2 -
RB1 $25
RB2 $25
RB3 -
RB4 -
WR1 $15
WR2 $10
WR3 -
WR4 -
TE1 $5
TE2 -
PK1 $5
PK2 -
DEF1 $5
DEF2 -
QB1 $10
QB2 $5
RB1 $25
RB2 $15
RB3 $7
RB4 $2
WR1 $15
WR2 $5
WR3 $3
WR4 $2
TE1 $4
TE2 $1
PK1 $3
PK2 $2
DEF1 $3
DEF2 $2
QB1 $11
QB2 $2
RB1 $25
RB2 $15
RB3 $5
RB4 $2
WR1 $15
WR2 $10
WR3 $3
WR4 $1
TE1 $4
TE2 $1
PK1 $2
PK2 $1
DEF1 $2
DEF2 $1

Armed with this budget, I can enter the auction knowing what I am willing to spend per position and for depth. The above budget addresses my need for two great runningbacks, two very nice receivers, a decent yet not great quarterback probably (there are always others), just enough to get a decent tight end and then my kicker and defenses allow me to bid once on a player brought up by someone else.

I know going in what I want to pay and am willing to pay. I know if I go over $25 for my RB1, then it will come out of somewhere else. Conversely, if I get that RB1 for less money, I can pump up another starting area like quarterback or receiver. My budget is a good reflection of how I value my team players. If people want to go nuts on runningback, I can decide to join the folly and wreck my budget as well or I can hold off, knowing that runningback will be weaker for me but that all my other positions just got stronger with more money to spend.

Tiering players keeps me honest. I will not get hung up on one player that goes too highly but I will pay strict attention to my tiers because there is where you can find value picks. Guys that are relative equivalents but will not go for the same price.

4. Devising an Auction Battle Plan

In tandem with your budget, you must devise how you will build what sort of team in an auction. There are three types of bidding strategies that your budget can address:

Go Big - Going big means that you are planning on selecting at least two if not three of the superstars. You know, going in, you are going to snag Marshall Faulk, Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper. And you can, possibly, do this. You can certainly get Deuce McAllister and Shaun Alexander. And like cherry vodka, it will please you immensely while the night is still young.

Upside - You get superstars! The main tenet in fantasy football is that you have to score better than the league's weekly average in order to win consistently. This is a great way to do just that. As long as you are able to fill in the rest of the roster with at least middle of the road players, you will likely win a lot. Get a few sleepers to come through for you and you are sitting pretty. Often the league champs come from teams that take this risk. Often the cellar dwellers do this as well.

Downside - You are one injury or star-turned dud from being a cellar dweller. Just like the NFL, you have to make it unscathed all season and have to have those stars perform in relation to their paycheck. You know, about half those top players do not meet expectations too. Do ya feel lucky?

Charlie: "How do you feel?"
'Fast Eddie: "Fast and loose."
Charlie: "In the gut, I mean. "
'Fast Eddie: "Tight, but good."

Go Wide - This plan is the most common. It entails normally getting two studs and then focusing the majority of all your cap towards the starting slots with far less for back-ups. Teams that use this end up with rosters very similar to what they get in a traditional draft. It is safe and effective. They will usually have about one player that would have been picked from each round of a draft.

Upside - You do not get killed by one injury and produce solid numbers as long as overall your team stays intact. While you normally have no stars, you do not have many duds. It is a great way to remain competitive at all times. No one ever laughs at this strategy.

Downside - This is a ticket to ending up at about .500 on the year. These type teams normally fill the final standings between the 3rd best and 3rd worst teams. No stars and no come-through sleepers normally. This is the standard formation from those who are used to picking players, one per round, all their lives. 'Yawn', I never do this one myself but then again I've never excelled at drawing inside the lines either.

Fast Eddie:" How should I play that one, Bert? Play it safe? That's the way you always told me to play it, safe. Play the percentage. Well here we go, fast and loose. One ball, corner pocket. Yeah, percentage players die broke too, don't they, Bert? How can I lose?"

Go Deep - This strategy is not for the feint of heart. It entails waiting, normally for the first 40 players to be taken before finally winning a bid. Think of it this way, it is like having all your picks come between the fourth and tenth round of a normal draft. There are no known superstars but no duds either. Your picks are all upside players with an eye for getting as many sleepers as possible and hoping to land a full set of starters out of them. This is the guy that waits patiently while everyone takes all the name players. And then, about 40 or 50 players into the auction he will rule because he has all the cash to take any player he wants for a good while.

Upside - No injury, or even a couple injuries, really hurt this team. It is all solid, maybe not spectacular yet, talent and has the best depth and likely the best trading position as well. This plan also contributes it share of championships. This has been my traditional favorite but you have to get the sleeper players correct.

Downside - You have to manage this team like a mad man. Trade, free agency and always tracking all your players to see who is stepping up and who needs to be shipped out. Unless you land several sleeper types, this is also a ticket to nowheresville.

Fast Eddie:" How can I lose? Because you were right. It's not enough that ya just have talent. You gotta have character, too. Four ball. Yeah, I sure got character now."

Armed with knowledge and prepared for anything, you need to decide if you want to go big, wide or deep. And you have to know that before the auction starts. You'll see soon enough which of the three plans other teams will follow. Assess the risk and make that play. Knowing player values, tiers and your budget will allow you to see the value picks that make a big difference. Every strategy of bidding had its own unique upside and downside, it all points back to being able to value the players correctly before the auction starts.

Auction drafts are easily the most fun to conduct and leagues that have turned to salary caps instead of just drafting serpentine again have witnessed a new, higher level of fun and involvement for all team owners. If you think seeing someone pick a retired player in the 13th round is entertaining, try watching two knuckleheads blow a third of their salary cap on a guy you would not touch for a minimum bid.

We all have talent in knowing which players and in the worse case, it is easy enough to find out who is good from someone else. That alone is not enough in an auction. You have to Take Care of Bidness - your bidness. It is not about how well you know players, it is about how well you get the best ones on your team and how you build a complete team that can produce the highest total points every week. Take the time to build some character into your auction strategy and realize the difference between valuing all the players and bidding on them versus taking your turn each round to select whatever remaining players are still there.

Be prepared, have some fun and you'll be toasting lady luck by the end of the evening.

Fats: "I quit, Eddie. I can't beat you...(To Gordon) You've got yourself a pool player."
Fast Eddie: " Fat Man, you shoot a great game of pool."
Fats: "So do you, Fast Eddie."

Rack 'em, cue it up and get ready to break...