Bye bye to normal Dream Team with 17th/18th teams?

One of the less well understood aspects of the move to 17th and 18th teams in the AFL – with Gold Coast scheduled to debut in 2011 and Western Sydney possibly the year after – is how it is going to affect fantasy competitions.

The last time the AFL had an odd number of teams was in 1994 just before Fremantle’s introduction, and the league ran a 24-week season with two byes for each of the 15 teams. Andrew Demetriou made waves in March when he presented club presidents with plans for a permanent 24-round season when the 18th team is introduced, so put those two facts together and we might be looking at 24 rounds for the foreseeable future, starting in 2011.

How would these 24-round seasons be structured? One proposal, first set out by Dan26 on BigFooty, is to take a leaf from the NFL schedule, where the 32 teams each have one bye in the 17-week season during weeks 3-10 inclusive.

17 teams
Rounds 1-10: 8 games per week, one team on bye
Rounds 11-15: 7 games per week, three teams on bye
Rounds 16-24: 8 games per week, one team on bye
Byes: 10 + 5*3 + 9 = 34.

18 teams
Rounds 1-3: 9 games per week, no byes
Rounds 4-21: 8 games per week, two teams on bye
Rounds 22-24: 9 games per week, no byes
Byes: 18*2 = 36.

The argument for the 18-team schedule with byes built in, as opposed to a traditional 22-round season with every team playing each week outside a split round in the middle as we have now, is that there are too many problems with fitting in that ninth game in the TV scheduling. Weekly games on Monday or Thursday are too upsetting to players’ biorhythms, and Saturday twilight games would be relegated to Fox which would limit the extra money the AFL could get from broadcast rights. Restricting the nine-game rounds to just the first three and last three weeks would maximise revenue, crowds, rating figures and player fitness without unbalancing the finals.

This is all very well for the league, but what would permanent byes do for competitions like Dream Team or Super Coach? It was hard enough this year getting 22 fit blokes on the park for your fantasy teams, imagine the carnage that multiple teams on bye every week would have done! A bye system like the above would require a rethink on how to structure the teams in these comps. In the Fox Sports comp and FanFooty’s own Lethal League these problems are not so pressing, due to the looser trading restrictions: Fox coaches get 4 free trades per week, whereas Lethal League coaches get unlimited trades. The way I see it, there are only a few options available to operators of limited-trade comps.

1. Do nothing
This is the favoured option of the hardcore fantasy nuts out there I have spoken to. Their take is that the game should be hard, and this just adds to the strategic nature of planning your team from the start of the year. The experienced coaches are confident that they can buy their squad with bye weeks in mind and still manage to name a full 22 each week. My feeling is that this would turn the game into much more of a defensive struggle, with cash cows being upgraded less often, and “sideways” trades becoming the norm rather than the exception. Scores would drop, teams would look less and less like dreams by the end of the year. Zeroes would be a regular feature of fantasy scoresheets. This is supposed to be a game, after all, it should be fun! Maybe it’s just me though.

2. Increase the number of trades
This is how VirtualSports currently handles byes in the NRL fantasy comp. Instead of 20 trades in AFL, the NRL coaches get 30 for their squads. The NRL fantasy system has many other problems (although that is for another post) but I personally don’t prefer this option either. It does allow for a more offensive style of coaching because you can accommodate more sideways trades, but in some ways it would allow too much attacking. Everyone would have the confidence to get on the same gun rookies after round 2, everyone would be able to upgrade their cash cows. Teams would start to look increasingly similar towards the end of the year, even more than they have been doing recently. Nevertheless, this is the most likely option to get up.

3. Increase the squad size
This would be an interesting option. A squad of 34, with a bench of three in each of the four positions, would probably be enough to cover it. Coaches have been finding the fourth ruck position to be functionally useless this year and I’m seeing that slot being filled with base price rookies a lot in 2009 Fanplanner planteams, so a fifth ruck would be even less important. I could see a third midfielder, back and forward being very handy without changing the game too much, as long as the trades stayed the same. Heck, they could even do that for ’09 and make the game more fun!

4. Move to an unlimited trade model
This would be a radical step, I know. I am completely biased on this point since I devised the Lethal League system, which is the only one in Australia to enable unlimited trades. Suffice it to say that it is a superior system in my opinion, but using it for Dream Team and other established competitions would possibly be going too far.

So, what’s your opinion? Which option would you choose if you were VirtualSports? Which would you choose from your own selfish perspective as a fantasy coach… and is it different to your previous answer? Is there another option? Tell me in the comments.

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