Free Fantasy Football League Roundup

Time for another roundup, and god knows I’m simply twitching with excitement. Ah, July, the sun is shining, I’m unemployed and the football season is a mere 57 or so days away, not that I’m counting. Even more exciting than the beginning of the professional football season is the beginning of the fantasy football season, also coincidentally a mere 57 or so days away. Of course, this number is misleading. It merely marks the first game of the season and not the true beginning of fantasy football for that occurred as soon as they allowed me to sign up to play. I first played fantasy sports about eight or nine years ago (with some intervening breaks). I can’t remember which website hosted the league, possibly Sportsline or AOL, and the various websites have changed and matured as have my own wants and needs in a fantasy sports league website. I’ve been playing on Yahoo! for the past few years in a year round cycle of statistics and roster adjustments. It’s been pretty good to my friends and I, at least those who don’t turn their noses up at the very idea of fantasy sports (a quick note to greaney if he’s reading: every season that i play fantasy sports and you don’t, i count as a victory of my sporting knowledge over your own. i will rename my team in honor of the rams, if you play just one season). However, some members of the league, including myself, are now itching for certain options that are beyond the current setup of Yahoo fantasy sports.

list

Good friend of the blog and rabid fantasy football player, X3D, recently emailed me the following list of qualities that he looks for in a fantasy football league. I’ve summarized his points about each category.

1. Interface – ease of use, clarity

2. Statistics – split stats for both players and competing owners

3. History – stats from previous seasons, split stats for owners over multiple seasons

4. Flexibility – full customization for scoring settings, draft order, trades (allowing draft pick trading, three-way trades), position eligibility

5. Post board – trash talking capabilities

6. Real-time stats

This is a pretty good list. X3D contributions will probably continue as long as my cohort and I write about fantasy football. All I will add are some intangibles that could go in a few different categories, such as website load time and aesthetics, obvious injury updates, links to fantasy analysis and a large, relatively intelligent community.

I collected a list of free fantasy football sites from a not very exhaustive search. If anyone has any further suggestions, please write a quick comment and I’ll check it out. I realize that you can’t really evaluate a site without playing in a league, but that sort of negates the idea of this whole post, so I’m going to ignore it. These evaluations are mostly based on pre-season impressions, so any pros or cons that come out during the season will be missed obviously. While I haven’t spent a lot of time with each site, anything that I missed I’m going to chalk up to faulty site design rather than my own idiocy. Also, CNNSI.com may well have free fantasy football but it doesn’t offer signups yet for next season. Their website is a piece of crap, though, so it’s not a huge loss. Now, let’s jump right to the individual reviews.

yahoo

Yahoo
I’ve been using Yahoo for awhile, so this review will probably be a bit different than the others. I like Yahoo. I read their news sometimes, largely out of habit, and their sports section is user friendly even if it lacks the breadth of ESPN. However, I’ve never been the commissioner, so testing out the league creation tool was a novel experience for me. Yahoo gets its highest marks for its interface and ease of use. The site is nice looking and all of your basic commands are simple to understand and use. The new fancy roster setting is appreciated but kind of a pain in the ass if you ever want to highlight text on your roster. I don’t know why I like doing that, some sort of impulse to doodle probably. Stat collection is only average. Baseball, notably, suffers from a lack of interesting statistical analysis. Football is a little bit simpler but it could still benefit from richer analytical tools. Of course, these tools seem to be offered on the pay side, Fantasy Football Plus, and the free side does get some trickle down every once in awhile, the voting-based keys to success and other tools seem to be a bit better than what’s offered at competing sites. I have no idea if it’s true but Yahoo seems to have more players than other leagues and the tool features are largely supported by this population, through a wisdom of crowds sort of thing. Your Yahoo ID saves your league results and offers some nice trophies and such for past victories. Unfortunately, the comparisons between other player profiles are somewhat strange and it only saves your old league’s schedules without any accompanying stats. Also, there doesn’t seem to be a way to look at cumulative records. The league rules are somewhat flexible. They come in a close fourth, and as much as I enjoy excessive rule tinkering, it tends to turn off more casual players and it sucks to have people leave a league over petty shit like rules. I can rant on either side of this issue but will save it for the future. The message board works and the smack talk is a fun feature, although it really should be a bit more public as in a sidebar that the league always sees. Finally, real time stat updates, via Stattracker, are a pay feature after the first week teaser. Having bought Stattracker, I can attest that it could be better. If I pay for something on the internet, it damn well better work right and Stattracker gets buggy at times. That said, it’s pretty cheap compared to paying for a league. I particularly like the analysis written for the Yahoo fantasy community, although there could be more of it. It’s written to be accessible to the casual user and with the Yahoo scoring system in mind. All in all, Yahoo offers a pretty good fantasy football league with a large community and good analysis that they write themselves. I like Yahoo and think it’s particularly good for the casual user, however there are better things out there.

sportsline

CBS Sportsline/NFL.com
I probably shouldn’t write about this site next, but it left me with the most vivid impression. Let me preface this review by stating that I have heard that CBS Sportsline has a very fine paid section with all sorts of amenities and customization. Unfortunately, these amenities and customization are not available on the free side and the website fails in nearly every category. I believe that Sportsline Fantasy Football is relatively popular. I’ve read people commenting on it. It’s on every list of fantasy football sites that I found. They must have one hell of a paid side because the free side is shit. The interface is mildly intimidating, no friendly team page greets you with nice little tabs as is the standard. The “options” link only goes to the option of changing your team name and personal id. The player stat page is ugly and as basic as possible. I have no idea if there is any league tracking over multiple seasons. I can’t really imagine playing multiple seasons there. There is absolutely no flexibility in rules, which is the part that I find most appalling. You’re stuck with a single rule set. I thought that this couldn’t possibly be the case, as every other website offers some degree of customization, but I confirmed the forced rule set when I looked back at Sportsline Fantasy Football enticement to upgrade. Honestly, I feel like I’m missing something about the website. I couldn’t even find a simple league message board, although there is supposed to be one even on the free side. I assume that they don’t offer real-time stats for free. Unless I’m very mistaken about things, I would consider Sportsline as essentially a pay only site. The general crappiness of the website is surprising as it powers NFL.com’s fantasy football section as well. (Oddly enough, while the Sportsline and NFL.com have identical fantasy football sections and cross-promotions on each site, the actual leagues aren’t linked. I couldn’t find the test league that I created in one when I was using the other. Very odd.) The only positive comment that I can make about Sportsline is that they seem to have some good in-house fantasy analysis, I guess.

aol

AOL
AOL’s offering (and most of the other sites) was a stark contrast from the good reputation/bad reality findings on Sportsline. I went to AOL with very low expectations. The very act of accessing an AOL website gave me fears of software installing itself on my computer and dreams of the ubiquitous cd coasters I once collected for no apparent reason. Much to my surprise, AOL offers a very nice free fantasy football experience and actually has the most original setup. Their website is simple yet useful and isn’t bogged down in the bullshit web 2.0 stuff that is beginning to take over Yahoo and ESPN. The interface is very clear and well laid out. It’s easy to find all of the league tools and player information through a simple expanding sidebar that is actually not flash- or ajax- or whatever-based. The stats page is similarly clear and useful. There isn’t any flashy analysis, but it’s easily readable and lists every player for each position on a single page. Also, you can view all of the teams rosters on one page for easy comparison, which was unique among the websites. Amazingly, the site seems to offer easily viewable league histories back through your previous seasons. I’m not sure how much they record for you, but it seems nice. Unfortunately, their FAQ says that there is no way to import league histories, but at least the topic is addressed and they might actually work on it. Interestingly, you can give out custom awards based on whatever you want. There’s also a section for league finances to allow easy tracking of who’s put money in the pool and who hasn’t. I imagine you can also use this function for pay trade systems. There’s a weekly pick ’em section, which is always fun. Communication is simple with a message board and owner notes. The site also allows for the creation of custom league polls. Apparently, live scoring is free, as well, but I have no idea what it looks like. AOL completely surprised me, and I would be more than happy to bring my league over to their site. Some might dock them points for the spartan design, but I find it highly appealing along with the many other unique, if somewhat small, touches.

espn

ESPN
Clearly, ESPN.com offers the best real sports analysis of any major website. On top of that, ESPN is a very fine network and offers the best sports show on television (if not the best show), PTI. For that alone, I can understand why their fantasy football league is relatively popular. However, before going to their site, I had heard some negative things about fantasy football on ESPN.com. I loathe their website design, so full of flash elements and sliding buttons and bullshit everywhere, so I was prepared to believe the rumors. However, the fantasy football offering actually seems pretty solid. Much like the website, there’s too much web 2.0ish stuff but the content is good and actually the fantasy football site design is a bit more restrained than the general site. I would go so far as to the say that the league and team pages are the nicest looking of the bunch. The interface is easy to use and clear enough. Many of the features listed in the AOL review are also included on ESPN.com. I mostly dock the site because it feels a bit too close to Yahoo. I’m not saying one copied the other or anything, but I wanted something a bit different from what I was used to in a new website. Most of my problems with ESPN.com are faults of the general website and not of the fantasy football area. I just don’t like all of the Insider teasers and video everywhere. I know that ESPN.com has some nice analysis but I don’t want to watch a video of something that I could read in a small fraction of the time. Also, the website tends to do bad things to my browser, crashing and whatnot. The fantasy football area offers some form of league history, again not viewable and likely not importable. Player stats are nice and I appreciate the easy pop-up analysis for each player, but it’s all a bit much ultimately and I would prefer to just read analysis on a separate page. League flexibility is good, rules are customizable and such, but it doesn’t differentiate itself from other sites in this respect. One positive and unique note is the inclusion of league chat in addition to a message board. This function alone does a lot to win me over. When you play in a league where you either don’t know everyone, I can imagine use of hashing out trades and just generally talking shit on the league chat. The other websites should really rip this off. I can’t think of a good reason not to have integrated league chat. Live scoring is advertised as free. All in all, despite some misgivings and an uncertain league history area, I would be happy to move my league over to ESPN.com.

fox sports

FoxSports
Unlike ESPN.com, I’m not a fan of FoxSports.com’s big brother cable station. Sure, it’s fun to watch the occasional MMA bout or whatever, but their schedule seems built around the Best Damn network of shows and I actively dislike all of the hosts of that show, past and present. In addition, FoxSports.com is linked with MSN.com, which is as unholy of a media union as I can imagine. Unlike AOL, FoxSports.com Fantasy Football did not rise above the challenges of their parent company. While the fantasy football offering is nowhere near as bad as Sportsline, it does nothing to stand out from the pack and, in a comparative fantasy football review post, there’s no such thing as good enough. FoxSports is basically Yahoo or ESPN without any of the unique features offered on those sites. The interface is clear and well-designed enough. The player stats page tends to lag a second when you load it but doesn’t commit any grievous sins. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to look at the scoreboard or standings prior to the beginning of the season. The rules have an average level of flexibility. The message board is a message board. Oddly enough, there’s a “stories” board in addition to the message board that lets you post images but is otherwise identical to the message board except it actually restricts message length more. I’m mystified as to why they don’t combine these features. FoxSports does offer small league sizes than some of the other websites allowed, but that made me feel sad more than it shocked me with its utility. I couldn’t find the league history section if there is one. They do seem to offer live scoring. (It’s fairly petty of Yahoo to still charge for this service when most other sites don’t) The site design isn’t too heavy with flash, although where they do use it, it’s mostly just for aesthetics and is not appreciated. FoxSports seems to offer in-house fantasy analysis, but at this point, it’s safe to say that’s fairly standard among the websites. Ultimately, I wouldn’t recommend FoxSports.com Fantasy Football. I wouldn’t kick it if I saw it lying in the street, as I would with Sportsline, but I also wouldn’t support moving my league to it. It’s simply a bland offering and isn’t up to the competition.

fleaflicker

FleaFlicker
FleaFlicker is the only small website offering and is the most likely destination for my league. There are probably other good small websites out there. Particularly if you’re willing to pay, I hear very good things about some of the small, unaffiliated with a major media service websites. It might just be my Firefox setup but FleaFlicker seems entirely devoid of advertising or other revenue-generating means, leaving me a little nervous about its stability as a long term fantasy football platform. Those fears aside, the fantasy football experience has won me over, mostly. FleaFlicker imparts a satisfying sense of control through the website design and features. The interface is useful without being overbearing and simple without being spartan. The player stats section offers some fun graphs on each player’s profile, however I would like to see actual stats on the player index rather than just fantasy points and ratings. Of course, the stats are accessible on each player’s page. The website seems to offer the best league history analysis and I heard a rumor of importing histories, that would make at least one member of my league an instant devotee if we can figure it out. The site seems to be run by a small group of people, and the responsiveness of the site management is very good. Questions in the forums are quickly answered and the community is still small enough to be helpful to the confused. I would appreciate a full-fledged message board for the general site forum, but maybe, it’s too expensive or something. The scoring is the most flexible of the bunch and offers some fairly interesting default rule sets to choose from. You can set up bonuses for nearly any stat situation. This flexibility is probably what won me over, even though my stat rule ideas are generally shot down quickly. I dream of a day when my commisionership is absolute and all manner of excessive scoring rule is allowed. The post board is fine, but after seeing ESPN’s chat board, it seems a bit inadequate. Real-time stats are available. Part of me misses locally produced fantasy analysis but I know that I should branch out and stop suckling at the teat of Yahoo’s Big Board. Unlike the other websites, FleaFlicker gives you a sense that the developers will actually take suggestions and try to implement new features. My enjoyment of FleaFlicker probably has something to do with a natural preference for the small-time and independent. So, I’m probably overlooking some cons because FleaFlicker is the little fantasy football website that could, but if I can import my league’s history and see a cumulative breakdown of my matchups with each of my hated rivals, then I don’t really care.

trophy

I’m not going to rank the websites or give them hard and fast scores. Without seeing how each site operates during the season, it really wouldn’t be fair. My preseason impression is that FleaFlicker will probably be my recommendation, Yahoo, ESPN and AOL are on the same level (with a slight knock on Yahoo for feeling a bit stale after a few years), FoxSports is next and Sportsline is dead last. Good luck to everyone on the coming fantasy football season. I encourage comments, particularly if you know how these sites function during the regular season or use a different site altogether.

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Published in: on July 12, 2007 at 7:25 pm  Comments (2)  

I See You

private

Google recently introduced two new online products, Google Street View and Google Image Search with Facial Recognition. And I couldn’t be more excited.

I was going to write a post about stalking my friends with these new Google tools, but a more interesting issue has arisen. Just imagine me writing something creepy about watching a friend’s family home and using google faces to identify people in their neighborhood based on the names written on their mailboxes. I’m not really doing this. Google hasn’t photographed the right cities, yet. On to the issue. Google Street View has sparked a debate of sorts with some mainstream media outlets and a minority of internet commenters decrying the new service as an invasion of privacy.

Here’s the NY Times story. In short, some lady got upset because Street View had a shot of her apartment building in which her cat was dimly visible through a large window looking into her living room. The cat was lying on some sort of cat stand. I’m not sure of the names of cat-related paraphernalia, but it’s one of those shag carpet-lined, multi-platform things that look like an altar to catdom. The view into the apartment isn’t so great. There are some dim shapes, but pretty much you just see a cat sunning itself on its cat altar.

cat altar

I don’t know how much of the story has been emphasized by a little creative reporting. Whether we’re dealing with an alarmist, neo-luddite or just a shit disturbing journalist, this story and its tone has been echoed in a variety of publications at this point. The vast majority of these articles fail to mention that Street View isn’t just a fun toy to find blurry photographs of shadowy cats but an insanely useful tool that has far more positives than negatives.

Right now, people are only using Street View to find funny pictures and spend their workday recreating their commute in stop motion. Once the Street View car has photographed a greater portion of the country, the tool will come into its own with a variety of useful applications.

Street View is not those satellite picture overlays on Google and other maps. The satellite images are fun, but unless I’m looking for missile silos or checking how my roof was 10 years ago, it’s not terribly useful. Street View can actually solve problems. You could find nearby stores and restaurants simply by browsing around, a nice alternative or addition to sometimes spotty online yellow pages, quickly research buildings and neighborhoods while looking for a new apartment or house, or find pictures of poorly marked roads to help with navigation.

all seeing eye

I’m not suggesting that one can tell everything from the exterior of a building, but the ability to see where I’m going strikes me as a positive. I just can’t get excited about worries over big brother invasions of privacy when the thing is so damn useful and fun. I like my privacy quite a bit, but that’s why I keep my blinds down and wear elaborate makeup and facial prosthetics when I go out in public.

Anyway, if you want to see some of the fun stuff people have found thus far or check on who’s breaking into your house, here is a website listing their top ten Google Street View websites. LINK And if you fear Google’s new world order or simply don’t want your picture taken while procuring the finest in erotic literature, then here’s the camera van at which to throw your rocks. LINK

ladybugs

Published in: on June 12, 2007 at 9:27 pm  Leave a Comment