Supercoach is for Suckers and Fox Sports Fantasy for Fools

Filed in Other by on December 11, 2010

The Fantasy Football League, the unimaginatively titled home-run fantasy league I have participated in since it was formed on that brilliant Tuesday evening back in 2006, just witnessed its most thrilling match with this year’s Grand Final determined by 2.1 points. The League is winner-take-all in every sense and while the margin of 2.1 points was inscrutably close statistically, it was a gulf the size of Nate Myles’s head in actuality.

The victors were, sadly, the Yenda Yuans, owned and operated by associate and former Buffalo Club resident Rohan Kendall. Consistently a top team throughout the history of the FFL, Yenda have been beset by two cruel Grand Final defeats and were constantly taunted year in and year out for their abilities to choke when it mattered. Yenda were the Cronulla Sharks of the FFL. The losers, sadly, were the Rylstone Ridgies, 2008 premiers and another big dog in the League owned by a Ranga with an eating disorder commonly known as Flash. The final score was 731.2-729.1. The match went right down to the very last play of the Monday night game with the final score not confirmed until revisions came through sometime after midnight. Tensions were at Cuban Missile Crisis levels for much of the evening.

The decider seemed all but over on Friday evening. Yenda posted some big scores through Broncos triumvirate Corey Parker, Matt Gillett and Israel Folau, who put up 250-odd as Peter Wallace failed miserably for the Ridgies. The lead was only extended on Saturday night when Robbie Farah and Chris Heighington benefited markedly from the extra ten-minutes though solid performances from Paul Gallen and Shane Rodney kept the Ridgies breathing. Sunday was a nothing-affair for both sides with the seventh-minute injury to Kane Linnett the most interesting note from the Sunday slate, an injury that would cost the Ridgies the title.

Come Monday night and Yenda were locked in at 731.2 with Rylstone 197 behind with Michael Gordon, Jarrod “Baby Toots” Croker and Kevin Kingston (bench) to play. The Ridgies came oh so close but it all meant nothing for a devastated Flash, who has gone into a period of mourning following the defeat.

There were so many critical moments that cost Flash everything: the trophy, the cash, the glory, the status. There was the no show of Colin Best, the early injury to Kane Linnett, the obscene penalty against Michael Gordon as he challenged for a bomb, one of Issac Luke’s 13 missed tackles, the decision of Matthew Elliott to replace Kevin Kingston with 9 minutes remaining, the controversial recruitment of Matt Gillett to Yenda some five months earlier. Any of these singular events cost him victory. He fell 3 tackles, 15 running metres, a conversion or 2 missed tackles short of a win. Brutal does not begin to describe the defeat.

Dear reader, I have no doubt that you are probably bored to the point of homicidal rage right now. Most people would rather watch every episode of Gossip Girl than hear a long and drawn out story about somebody else’s fantasy team. There is a point, however, and that point is this: the kind of depth of knowledge, realism and excitement found in the FFL is not found by most fantasy NRL players in Australia because as a country we have accepted rubbish like Supercoach and Fox Sports Fantasy ahead of proper, more detailed, more realistic, better run, better organised, better developed fantasy options.

We have sold our ass for a cigarette, a gold coin and a half-eaten donut.

Fantasy sports in the North America has reached such a level that it is estimated by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association that 29.9 million people above the age of twelve play fantasy sports with the industry having an economic impact of between $3-$4 billion a year. Fantasy sports are a big deal whether it be football or baseball or bass fishing or surfing. The reason that fantasy sports have become so popular is very simple: people like to compile and manage their own sporting teams, putting to use their sporting knowledge in a world that has winners and losers and clearly tangible measures of success and failure. Fantasy sports are about competition but they are about realism. If it was all about competition then everybody would just gamble or play sports. An important element of fantasy sports is realism. It is that element that is missing in Australia.

Dan Okrent, founder of Rottisserie Baseball, the league that popularised fantasy sports in the eighties, went to great pains to make the machinations of the game entrenched in reality. He went through the record books and found the stats that most often led to on-field baseball success. He did so for no other reason than that he wanted the league to be as realistic as possible, a microcosm of the real game. The scoring, the rules, the concept of the game were designed to make fantasy baseball as close to baseball ownership as the real thing. The statistical categories that led to real baseball success would receive corresponding weight in fantasy baseball. Owners would be able to draft players, trade players, drop players, pick up players. Titles would be won and lost based not only on the successes or failings of the stars each team had but on the successes and failings of fringe players, roster fillers, low round draft picks, unwanted free agent pickups and, generally, the unheralded majority of the sporting universe.

Fantasy sports in Australia provides very little of this, at least in the mainstream arena where most fantasy-nerds operate. Instead we are stuck with this garbage known as Supercoach or Dream Team or Fox Sports Fantasy. All are rubbish and it makes no sense as to why they would be widely embraced by the Australian sporting public. We have been screwed by lazy, cheap and unimaginative sporting organisations and media companies who think we are all fools. The sad reality, however, is that we are all fools because we have made Supercoach and its dull band of brothers profitable for the pushers of such a cheap and incomplete product.

I have long been a fantasy sports lover, first attempting to come up with a little-something back in early high school before getting the FFL up-and-running. I have rolled in fantasy cricket leagues, I am a regular owner of fantasy NFL and NBA teams, I have talked fantasy golf and I have punched above my weight in a home-run fantasy AFL league. Fantasy sports add a different level to watching sports. It provides interest in meaningless games and forces you to develop a deep knowledge of the sport you are involved in and the participants who partake. Few people would have the emotional investment in a round 22 match between Canberra and Penrith as Flash and Kendall did on Monday night.

I have also tried my hand at NRL Supercoach and Fox Sports Fantasy as well as AFL Dream Team over the last two years. I have been grossly disappointed. They are unengaging, simple and generally unchallenging. They are exercises not only in futility but mediocrity. I have made the semi-finals in two Supercoach leagues this year and I couldn’t give a damn how deep I run, that is how uninspiring these competitions are. Punters should avoid them like the plague, all the while demanding a proper fantasy outlet for Australian sports.

This is not a rally cry against fantasy sports but against how mainstream fantasy sports are conducted in Australia. There is a hole in the market and I pray to each and every deity that it is filled soon.

The faults with Supercoach and its brethren are plentiful but the main failing is that each team in each league can have the same player. In my fantasy league, I have Jamie Soward and Kendall has Corey Parker and Flash has Paul Gallen and Sting has Greg Inglis and Boss has Anthony Laffranchi and Bomm has Cameron Smith and so on and so forth. There is no doubling up of players in the FFL, just as there is no doubling up of players in any ESPN or NFL or NBA or MLB league because there is no doubling up of players on teams in real life.

Yet in Supercoach most teams are remarkably similar in makeup. 57% of Supercoach teams own Todd Carney, who came cheap after a year out and who has put up numbers in his return season. The only surprising thing about the 64% ownership rate of Sam Burgess is that nearly 36% of Supercoach owners are complete morons. Over 30% of teams own big scoring players Nathan Hindmarsh, Robbie Farah, Corey Parker, Jarryd Hayne, Sam Thaiday, Brett Morris, Johnathan Thurston and Lote Tuqiri. Boom youngsters like Matt Gillett, Liam Fulton and Trent Hodkinson have found their way onto between 13% and 17% of teams while other hot rookies like Shaun Fensom and Justin O’Neil were both hot property at certain points throughout the season. In the usual 16-team league, 10 teams own Sam Burgess and 9 teams own Todd Carney and 5 teams own Robbie Farah and 3 teams own Matt Gillett.

No teams have an identity, every team knows who the value players are and there is very little delving into the world of fringe players and backup props and NSW Cup fullbacks and hot prospects. There is no need because every Supercoach team pretty much consists of the same players. Nearly every week half of the players will be cancelled out.

This weekend in the Punting Ace league I take on the Sportz All Starz. In our 25 man squads, we have the same 10 players: Todd Carney, Mitch Aubusson, Nathan Gardner, Trent Hodkinson, Issac Luke, Sam Burgess, Robbie Farah, Jason Ryles, Corey Parker and David Stagg. If we both play them all, a very real possibility, then we are essentially playing a game of seven-on-seven as most of the match is rendered pointless. In the FFL, each player belongs to one team and you need to know every player from Cameron Smith and Corey Parker through to Sandor Earl and Evarn Tumivave and you need to actually be on top of free agents and promising prospects and injuries and player playing time. When Matt Gillett made a name in the first week, he went on waivers to Yenda. In Supercoach, everyone with any sense picked him up. I scooped up Trent Hodkinson in week two as a backup to Cooper Cronk in the Geurie Greens. In Supercoach, 1 in 6 teams has the Manly seven as a backup halfback.

The whole concept of Supercoach, Dream Team and Fox Sports Fantasy is busted. The salary cap basis of each of these concepts significantly undermines one of the key tenets of fantasy sports: realism. A salary cap means that there is no draft or auction, traditionally the most important and enjoyable day in every fantasy league of every fantasy sport. A salary cap also means there are no trade negotiations as trading does not exist. These leagues claim to have trades but what they have is a free-for-all, all inclusive free agency list with a cap on the amount of free agency pick-ups made both per week and per season. Trading is arguably the most enjoyable part of being in a fantasy league yet Supercoach and the like have scrapped it. There are no 4am agreements to send Blake Green to Yenda and pick up Jeff Robson from Ardlethan while Corey Norman moves from the Yuans to the Aardvarks with Geurie and Ardlethan 2011 sixth round draft picks being swapped. There is no late night worrying about who you will use at halfback now Johnathan Thurston is hurt and Grant Rovelli is already signed to another team. There is no sneaking off for a cigarette at a wedding reception to check on an injury status so a deal can be finalised including Alan Tongue, Brad Meyers and Aaron Heremeia. The salary cap basis of Supercoach also ensures there are no keepers meaning there is no cohesion for a team from year-to-year and no affinity with one’s players.

This week Bill Simmons wrote a piece calling on all fantasy football leagues to distribute players via auction rather than draft. In Australia we haven’t even reached the level of the draft. It is utterly depressing yet it will only continue if we remain agreeable to such tripe as Supercoach and Dream Team. Fantasy footy, of any code, will never be particularly enjoyable if everybody has the same best players. Until News or the NRL or the AFL offer a league with a draft, we are simply being treated like suckers and fools.

Supercoach has plenty of other faults not seen in a more realistic, better organised and far more enjoyed league such as the FFL.

The draw, for starters, is incredibly annoying. Most fantasy owners enjoy the head-to-head aspect of the game yet in Supercoach this element goes missing for a half-dozen weeks in the middle of the season as the head-to-head format shuts down during bye weeks. The FFL has managed to overcome byes through including rep matches and increasing squad size. It certainly would be easier to do the same in Supercoach.

Supercoach scoring is a little simple and could be improved upon. The biggest flaw is the “double-points” allotted to a captain. In fantasy NFL or MLB or NBA such a stupid rule doesn’t exist and it shouldn’t in fantasy NRL or AFL. All it does is make the game even more top heavy while infuriatingly increasing the quotient of luck at the expense of skill. Captains aren’t worth twice as much as any other player in the NRL and they shouldn’t be in fantasy NRL.

I have a number of other gripes with scoring. At the top of the list is the focus on the quantity not the quality of runs. A 1-metre burst from dummy-half is given the same number of points as a 100-metre bust. Hit-up/run points should be based on the amount of metres gained, not the number of times a player carries the ball. In the FFL the equation is Run Metres/5 or 0.2 points per run metre. Not a complicated formula and it more accurately reflects a player’s impact on a match. Fantasy NFL provides points for passing certain levels-1 point for a running back running or catching 10 yards and 1 point for a quarterback passing for 25 yards. A system such as this would make fantasy NRL much more enjoyable and realistic.

There are other issues including penalties not being harsh enough for handling errors and penalties conceded, the stupid inclusion of missed points for failed field goal attempts, allowing multiple goal-kickers to accumulate points and offloads being way overvalued.

There are also issues of scoring being skewed far too heavily towards backrowers and hookers and positional issues that allows coaches to play players out of position. Ben Lowe is not a centre and hasn’t ever been but is eligible to play in the three-quarters this year. It is absurd.

Let’s be clear. This isn’t about me. I am in a brilliant fantasy league that has stood the test of time, captures the attention of the ten owners for at least eight months a year, leads to a weekly email trail usually exceeding fifty responses, makes rugby league all the more enjoyable and has taken over the lives of everyone involved. There is a queue as long as Brian Waldron’s nose waiting to get in. No, this is about the average punter being screwed out of a proper fantasy competition by media and sporting organisations who take support for granted and give punters the bum steer. The technology is available and so is the outline. The likes of News, the NRL and the AFL just refuse to indulge in it. We accept an inferior product so that is what we get. It is about time we all did something about it.

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.