In both of my main fantasy leagues, with Monday night action still pending, there's a very real chance that all six of the available playoff spots will be locked up well before the turkey is put into the oven later this week. Because these particular leagues have been around -- and with the same fantasy managers -- for many seasons, I'm not concerned about any of the eliminated teams checking out and not continuing to field their best lineups down the stretch.
This is important, as there's still plenty to play for in terms of seeding and potential byes for the teams that have postseason play waiting for them, come Week 14. However, I have also played in a ton of "one-and-done" leagues over the years where once teams realized their chances of winning a title had flown the coop, they never bothered to visit the website again.
From a fantasy standpoint, there's very little more frustrating than this selfish attitude of "if I'm not going to win, I'm taking my ball and going home." The most common result of this fantasy philosophy of disdain is that you're sitting there needing Team X to lose its game in order for you to make the playoffs, and Team X is facing a lineup with six starters who have already been ruled out for the week. We all know how this is going to end.
So, our "veteran move" this week is directed at league managers who either find themselves with this very situation at present, or who fear that things would go south rather quickly if it were to come to pass. How do you keep your league interested late in a season when there's no real incentive for bad teams to continue trying?
The easiest thing to do is to make sure your league has some kind of keeper element to it. If fantasy managers know that the roster they finish this season with is going to be a huge chunk of the roster they start next season with, then they're bound to pay more attention to its welfare right through Week 17. It's certainly not a "cure-all" fix, and it doesn't by itself prevent tanking for better draft picks, but it's a huge step in the right direction.
Here at ESPN HQ, we've created two "related" redraft leagues, where the two worst teams each season in League A have their managers relegated to League B. The top pair of managers in League B get promoted to League A. You can extend this even further in your circle of friends, perhaps to having the last place team in League B having to sit out for one season, with a new fantasy manager getting invited to step in to try to do better. Few people will tank if they know there's a chance of being booted from the league if they're too successful at it.
I've also had "side tournaments" running concurrently with the regular season. For example, "Fantasy Survivor" is a format where each division acts like a tribe for the week. The highest combined tribe score gets "immunity" and the lowest combined tribe score sends their two lowest-scoring teams to face off the following week in an elimination game. You can map out a schedule for this to end up with two teams remaining in the same week as your championship game -- and it's not unheard of for non-playoff teams to make deep runs in this format.
There are tons of creative ways to make it so that a fantasy team's record is not the only thing that matters. Yes, it may be -- and should be -- the most important thing in terms of awarding your league trophy and whatever other honors go along with that achievement. But most leagues end up needing a few more carrots in order to last longer than a single season. Start thinking about it now so that you can get your league mates (especially the winless ones) excited about returning for next season, so that they don't quit this one early.