fantasy football     JOIN THE HUDDLE    


How to Start an Auction League
Todd Kleinheinz
August 9, 2004

The days of the standard fantasy football draft may not be over, but they are definitely dwindling.  More and more leagues are going to the auction style format, and I can not blame them.  Most fantasy football players believe they have the draft system down to a science, and for those who don’t have it down, the amount of information out there via magazines, websites, radio and even TV shows, is staggering. 

Any yahoo can swing by the bookstore on his (or her) way to the draft, find the cheat sheet page and come away with a half way decent team.  How do I know this?  Because I’ve been victimized by such fantasy players.  Weeks, and sometime months, of pouring over stats, projections, schedules, and depth charts were all thrown out the window because it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how the first few rounds of the draft were going to go.  Auctions eliminate that problem.  They allow the true fantasy football fan to rise to the top and reward owners for those late night list revisions, and hours spent on the internet.

But how do you get started?  Just like any other fantasy league, with a quality road map on setting one up and running it, it’s as simple as ready, set, hike.  Consider this your road map.

Assemble the Crew

If you already have a league in place, all it takes is convincing the owners that are already in place to convert from a standard draft to an auction style one.  If you are starting from scratch, start spreading the word.  Tell your co-workers, your friends, members down at the gym, and get them to spread the word as well.  All you need is between 8-12 football fans looking to enhance their football season.

Having an auction league requires more attention to detail, and a strong knowledge of players, and teams.  Be sure that the members of your league understand that an auction league takes a bit more preparation time.  Don’t worry about having to start the league with less then your desired amount of members.  Having a lower number of active and knowledgeable members is better then having a large league with a few people who won’t be fully into the auction style format.  Remember, once word starts to spread among your friends, family and co-workers, expanding the league should be easy.

Draft vs. Auction

So what is the main differences between these two styles?  The standard draft simply distributes players by everyone taking their turn in selecting a player.  With this system everyone is guaranteed of getting one of the top 12 players (assuming there are 12 teams in the league, which we will for the purpose of this article), however you will only be able to get one of the top 12 players.

With an auction, if you have your heart set on LaDainian Tomlinson, bid for him.  If you want Peyton Manning, bid for him.  If you want both, bid for them.  Just realize, like most NFL teams have to do, that the salary cap is out there looking to push you back down if you try to over spend. 

Fantasy auctions are pure Americana, it is capitalism at its best.  At the center of an auction is the idea that only one owner believes that each player is worth a certain amount, if they didn’t, others would have the option to raise the bid.  So right off the bat you can put a favorable tally in the column of the action, because no player is off the board without you having some say in it. That’s what every fantasy owner really wants, that’s the basis of fantasy football, to build and control a team of NFL players that simulates the actions of the NFL.  If the members of your league still need some convincing, have them simply look over the rules that will be the hook.

Getting Started

Once you have convinced everyone that auction style is the way to go, you need to establish some league rules.  First you will need the standard rules, such as how many players will be on a roster, what kind of playoff format will be used, what kind of free agent system will be used during the season?  These can all be hashed out by the commissioner and other members of the league.

Now, auction rules must be put into place.  What is the salary cap (usually a nice round number like $100)?  What is the minimum bid ($1)?  What increments do the bids have to advance by (at least $1)?  How many players, and what positions need to be filled by the roster (2 QB, 4 RB, 6 WR, 2 K, 2 Def.)?  Once you know this, as well as your point system, you should be ready to get started. As with traditional draft leagues, the most fun is typically mandating the starting lineups and then allowing teams to determine what depth they feel is appropriate for their own team.

Nominating Players

Just prior to the start of the auction, a list should be established for nomination purposes.  This can be as easy as drawing cards or going by the previous years final standings.  Owners will then begin to nominate players.  The owner slotted with the #1 nomination will call out a player and a bid amount.  This player is now “on the floor”, and open for bidding by all team owners.  Owners who wish to bid on a player simply put their hand in the air and yell out the increased price.  Many of the top players will have prices rise quickly, and not always by only $1.  If someone wants to jump the bidding from $5 to $10, they can do that.  This is usually a time saver for players that are known to command high prices.  For lower level players, rookies, or backups, it is customary to start the bidding at the minimum, and raise it by the minimum, you don’t want to over spend, and keeping it low may enable you to save a bit of money for other players.

If no bids are made on the nominated player the owner who nominated the player gets him for the nominated price.  This is another reason you will want to start out slightly below market price.

During the 2002 auction in my league, an owner stood up to nominate a player and said “I’d like to nominate Emmitt Smith, $4.”  Emmitt was in his last year with Dallas, and hadn’t had a very productive fantasy season in a few years, thus no one bid on Emmitt, and this owner had to take him for $4.  This is just an illustration of why you should start low, this SGFL owner could have probably had Emmitt for half the price, and saved himself a few bucks for a late round steal or rookie.  But he started too high and got stuck with him.

Whatever the final price is for that player will be deducted from that owners salary cap.  A few minor rules should be taken into consideration.  A nominating owner can not nominate a player that would put him over the required number of players at a certain position.  For example, if two quarterbacks are required and an owner already has two, he can not nominate a QB when it is his turn because in the event that no one else bids, that owner would have to take him, thus putting him over the limit of 2 quarterbacks.

Finally, once an owner has filled his roster he is no longer involved in the nominating or bidding process.

There is no advantage to nominating early or late, it is simply a way to get the auction started and the players on the floor.  Be sure that a handful of calculators are available, because let’s face it, math usually isn’t the strong suit of everyone in the room, and with the addition of beer those minimal math skills decrease even further.  Being able to calculate how much money you can spend on a certain player and still have enough to fill your roster is one of the most important things and owner can do, especially in the mid to late rounds.  It will allow them to spend the maximum amount for that last “need” player, and keep enough money for those final backup positions, defenses and kickers.


Any owner with salary cap room can bid on a player.  Bids must be raised by the appropriate amount and will continue to move up until no one is willing to bid higher.  The person conducting the auction, usually the commissioner or owner who nominated the player, will keep track of that player, calling out high bids and pointing to the owner who currently holds the high bid.  Once bidding stalls, the conductor will call out, “Going Once, Going Twice, Sold to (owners name) for (final price)”.

This is by far the highlight of the auction.  Just when you think you have the guy you’ve targeted for a nice low price, someone calls out from the back “Bump it up a buck.”  And so the process goes.

An auction can take slightly longer then a normal draft because it is more than merely calling out a player’s name.  It is important to give enough time for owners to double check their money amounts as the bidding is going on, but not so long that it is dragging out the entire process. By the same token, auctions proceed at a much quicker pace and involve all owners at all times.

Salary Cap

With a predetermined salary cap that can not be broken, each owner knows, or better know, how much they can spend on each player.  It may become difficult for one person to keep track of everyone’s salary cap, that is why each owner should keep a running tally of their salary cap and confirm it with the commissioner each time they add a player.  This will allow all owners to see just how much money their competitors have, as well as keep owners from breaking the salary cap.

A penalty for not being aware of your salary cap should be put in play before the auction.  If for some reason a team goes over their salary cap because of their own bad math skills, a penalty, usually having to throw the player that put them over the cap back into the pool of players, should be enforced.

End of the Auction

At the end of the auction, once every team has filled out their entire roster, the salary caps should once again be confirmed.

If your league allows you to pick up and drop players, you will have to establish how much free agents picked up during the season will cost.  You will also have to determine if you can redeem a dropped player for his full auction value.  But once again, these rules are individual to each league and can be hashed out and modified by discussion and votes by the league members.

A sample auction league may set free agent prices at the minimum salary ($1).  All free agents are claimed after week 1 in an order from worst to first.  This gives the teams with the worst record first shot at any players that were missed in the original auction.  However, in order to promote more trading than free agent pickups, only allow 2 free agent pickups a season.  This may seem very low, but it does promote trading.  Consider a roster limit size of 21, so no owners can stack their roster with a large amount of minimum players, just hoping to trade them away later on.  Owners must stay under the $100 salary cap, and under the 21 person roster size.

These are the rules that must be talked about prior to the auction. Every player is different because of the price that was paid for them rules about penalties need to be known.

During the Season

Trades become tricky, and just like the NFL, they need to fit within the salary cap, so a package of lower priced players for that one high priced player may need to be done, but remember that roster limit (if you have one).  That is why you want the best players, for the least amount of money.  Remember, at no time can you break that salary cap.

Consider rules that do not allow you to simply drop a player.  If you were to drop a player,  you are required to keep 25% of his contract. You’ve heard of “dead money” in the NFL, well, this is the fantasy equivalent.  This keeps owners from dropping high prices busts, or other bad pickups.  The one exception to this rule is if the player is injured.  Then they can either be placed on the fantasy IR and that team will be relieved or the salary cap burden, or then can drop them and get the money back.  The advantage to putting them on IR is that if they are a highly skilled player and they do come back, you can move them onto your active roster, if you have salary cap space, and have a good player ready to go.  If they are out for the year, you would then drop the injured player and use that money toward making a trade or picking up another player.


The auction is a highly competitive style of fantasy football, and can be overwhelming if you are new to it.  But with a little preparation and guidance, the auction style system will be better then the old way of drafting.  It creates more excitement then just waiting to pick every 10 or 12 selections.  This gets people hyped up, this keeps them involved throughout the entire auction, and this lets each owner fill his roster with his favorite players.

Auctions are becoming more and more common, and for the simple reason that they require more strategy then the usual draft and are becoming much more fun.