Vox Media, SB Nation's parent company, has a D.C. office with the laid-back atmosphere you'd expect of a web start-up. Concrete pillars give it an unfinished, industrial feel, but everything else is covered with glass: open offices to encourage the free exchange of new ideas -- ideas that will disrupt the new media landscape, innovate the way users consume content, and create new jargon for the next generation of internet douchebags.
Not all of these ideas are good. When SB Nation's NFL team met there in August, the long offseason had left our brains desperate for football things. The creeping humidity of the Beltway's bog made us feverish. One writer, delirious from heat and gridiron withdrawal or possibly drunk on craft beer, said, "What if we made a bizarro fantasy football league where we awarded points for interceptions and fumbles and subtracted for yardage and touchdowns?" This idea was NOT laughed off, because this sports website is managed by a man with a penchant for commissioning longform articles about mountains and robot-fighting.
(Which is to say: the bus you've boarded has no particular destination, and the driver is a Golden Retriever, and the Golden Retriever has been drinking. It's a SUPER charming dog, though.)
It was not enough to have a regular fantasy league and award victory to whomever scored the fewest points. The experiment would fail if people collected zero points from athletes who didn't see playing time; we had to actively reward on-field awfulness. And so Celebrity Hot Tub and I set to work creating a terrible fantasy football league where Blaine Gabbert is a god and Adrian Peterson went undrafted.
We went to dark places. We plugged Mark Sanchez's worst games into vile equations. We tried to quantify bad running backs. We argued about the ideal terrible performance of a wide receiver. And when the toxic dust cleared, we were left with the foundations of the National Failball League:
Start one. 0.5 points per incomplete pass, 4 per interception, 2 per sack taken, -1 per 25 passing yards, -2 per TD pass, -0.5 per 2-point conversion passing. Rushing stats also apply.
An inaccurate, oft-sacked, pick-throwing QB is the centerpiece of any failball team. Because the position offers more measurable ways to fail, failball quarterbacks will inherently score more points than any other position. (Under these metrics, the highest scoring players in 2012 were Mark Sanchez and Philip Rivers. THE SYSTEM WORKS!)
Start two. 0.5 points per carry, 2 per fumble, 2 for fumble lost, -1 per 10 yards rushing, -2 per touchdown, -0.5 per 2-point conversion.
Unfortunately, NFL running backs fumble far too infrequently for our needs, so we must reward the boring, ineffective back who gets touches but goes nowhere, hence the half-point per carry. As long as the ball carrier stays out of the end zone and keeps his YPC below 5, he'll get positive points.
WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END
Start one each. -1 point per 10 yards receiving, -2 per receiving TD, same points as above for fumbles.
The ideal way to measure wideouts in failball would be to award points for drops and targets while subtracting points for catches. Alas, no fantasy client we could find offers the opportunity to score points for drops or targets. We considered using the same metric we used for running backs and carries -- i.e., half a point per catch but negative points for yardage -- but it takes real skill to get open and catch a ball, and we have no interest in rewarding ability.
The problem, then, is that pass catchers will realistically only score negative points. In order to mitigate that, we limited each team to one starting wideout, but the problem remains: a savvy failball manager will merely start players at the bottom of a team's depth chart. NOT SO FAST, SMART GUY.
1. Only the following players can be in your starting lineup: starting QBs, starting TEs, starting Ks, WRs listed in the top three of their team's depth chart, and RBs listed in the top two of their team's depth chart. You can't start someone on a bye week, sitting out due to injury or suspension, or not signed with a team.
2. Every player you start who doesn't fit within this rule is a 10-point penalty for that week.
3. Money owed as the result of Chance or Community Chest cards goes to the center of the board, where it stays until someone lands on the Free Parking square. It doesn't matter if that's not in the official rules; that's just how civilized people play the game.
Start one D/ST and one K. If you care deeply about the many settings that we spent entirely too much time of our lives fine-tuning, please review our league settings here. If you're in a rush: by our metrics, the Chiefs and Raiders were the worst fantasy defenses in 2012, and David Akers was the worst kicker. The math checks out.
BUT SERIOUSLY: WHY?
The culture of fantasy football celebrates greatness on the field and cherishes those who extend that greatness across a career. But ANYONE can draft good players and let them be good all season. Bad players constantly lose their jobs (unless they're Mark Sanchez); it takes continuous work to ensure a fantasy failball roster is stocked. We created fantasy failball for the same reason people created underwater hockey: because reversing gravity adds to the challenge, and all those extra snorkels were just going to waste, man.
But we didn't make a needlessly complicated bizarro fantasy league SOLELY for a new twist to an online stat-tracking competition. There's a bigger purpose here, because fantasy football -- while tons of fun and highly addictive -- also skews how we consume the NFL. Chris Johnson, who by most fantasy metrics is the 13th- or maybe 16th-best professional running back in the world, is an exceptional athlete who recorded one historic season four years ago. In the three seasons since, he's become universally reviled in fantasy circles, all because he'll never again reach the statistical anomaly of his first season as the featured back in Tennessee.
This self-serving hatred is the norm in fantasy, and that's fine with me: my blood curdled long before I started writing online full-time. But part of me longs to celebrate those who are mediocre at the highest level -- the players who were brilliant standouts in high school and college and have hit their ceiling as a stand-in until their shoddy pro team can draft or trade for someone better. The 20th-best CEO in the world manages a multi-billion-dollar company. The 20th-best lawyer has his own firm and wealth that will set up his great-grandchildren for success. The 20th-best pro quarterback is Matt Schaub (or maybe Carson Palmer or Josh Freeman), and fans of their teams can only hope that the next guy who has their job is better.
Fantasy failball takes these world-class athletes ill-suited for the spotlight at the highest level and appreciates them for what they are: shameful failures destined to be fired or shipped off somewhere worse. We will quantify their shittiness and celebrate it, briefly elevating them to hero status before time and the cruel economics of "trying to win" strip them of their jobs.
Put another way: in five years, Blaine Gabbert will either be a trivia question or holding a clipboard somewhere. But when our draft begins on Tuesday night, he'll be the top-ranked player on my board.
The National Failball League is a 10-team league featuring SB Nation contributors Celebrity Hot Tub, Matt Ufford, Jon Bois, Bill Hanstock, Ryan Van Bibber, Dan Rubenstein, Alfie Crow, Steven Godfrey, Peter Berkes, and Ty Hildenbrandt. They will write about it periodically throughout the season.