1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 & 2002
How to Start an Auction League
by Todd Kleinheinz
June 22, 2003

The days of the standard fantasy football draft may not be over, but they are definitely dwindling. More and more leagues are going to the auction style format, and I can't blame them. Most fantasy football players believe they have the draft system down to a science, and for those who don't have it down, the amount of information out there via magazines, websites, radio and even TV shows, is staggering.

Any yahoo can swing by the bookstore on his (or her) way to the draft, find the cheat sheet page and come away with a half way decent team. How do I know this? Because I've been victimized by such fantasy players. Weeks, and sometime months, of pouring over stats, projections, schedules, and depth charts were all thrown out the window because it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how the first two rounds of the draft were going to go. Auctions eliminate that problem. They allow the true fantasy football fan to rise to the top and reward owners for those late night list revisions, and hours spent on the internet.

But how do you get started? Just like any other fantasy league, with a quality road map on setting one up and running it, it's as simple as ready, set, hike. Consider this your road map.

Assemble the Crew

If you already have a league in place, all it takes is convincing the owners that are already in place to convert from a standard draft to an auction style one. If you are starting from scratch, start spreading the word. Tell your coworkers, your friends, members down at the gym, and get them to spread the word as well. All you need is between 8-12 football fans looking to enhance their football season.

Draft vs Auction

So what is the main differences between these two styles. The standard draft simply distributes players by everyone taking their turn in selecting a player. With this system everyone is guaranteed at getting one of the top 12 players (assuming there are 12 teams in the league, which we will for the purpose of this article), however you will only be able to get one of the top 12 players.

With an auction if you have your heart set on LaDainian Tomlinson, bid for him. If you want Terrell Owens, bid for him. If you want both, bid for them. Just realize, like most NFL teams have to do, that the salary cap is out there looking to push you back down if you try to over spend. Fantasy actions are pure Americana, it is capitalism at its best. At the center of an auction is the idea that only one owner believes that each player is worth a certain amount, if they didn't, they would have the option to raise the bid.

So right off the bat you can put a favorable tally in the column of the action, because no player is off the board without you having some say in it. That's what every fantasy owner really wants, that's the basis of fantasy football, to build and control a team of NFL players that simulates the actions of the NFL. If the members of your league still need some convincing, have them simply look over the rules, that will be the hook.

Auction Rules

Once you have convinced everyone that auction style is the way to go, you need to establish some league rules. First you will need the standard rules, such as how many players will be on a roster, what kind of playoff format will be used, what kind of free agent system will be used during the season? These can all be hashed out by the commissioner and other members of the league.

Now, auction rules must be put into place. What is the salary cap (usually a nice round number like $100)? What is the minimum bid ($1)? What increments do the bids have to advance by (at least $1)? How many players, and what positions need to be filled by the roster (2 QB, 4 RB, 6 WR, 2 K, 2 Def.)? Once you know this, as well as your point system, you should be ready to get started.

Nominating Players

Just prior to the start of the auction, a list should be established for nomination purposes. This can be as easy as drawing cards or going by the previous years final standings. Owners will then begin to nominate players. The owner slotted with the #1 nomination will call out a player and a bid amount. This player is now "on the floor", and open to all owners, and the bidding will now commence.

If no bids are made, the owner who nominated the player gets him for the nominated price. Otherwise, the rest of the owners can bid on this player, and he will go to the team with the highest bid.

Whatever the final price is for that player, that amount will be deducted from that owners salary cap.

A few minor rules to take into consideration. A nominating owner can not nominate a player that would put him over the required number of players at a certain position. For example, if two quarterbacks are required, an owner can not nominate a QB when it is his turn because in the event that no one else bids, that owner would take him, and in this situation would have no where to put him because there are already 2 QBs on their roster.

Also, once an owner has a full roster he is no longer involved in the nominating process.


Any owner with salary cap room can bid on a player. Bids must be raised by the appropriate amount and will continue to move up until no one is willing to bid higher. The person conducting the auction, usually the commissioner or owner who nominated the player, will keep track of that player, calling out high bids and pointing to the owner who currently holds the high bid. Once bidding stalls, the conductor will call out, "Going Once, Going Twice, Sold to (owners name) for (final price)".

This is by far the highlight of the auction. Just when you think you have the guy you've targeted for a nice low price, someone calls out from the back "Bump it up a buck." And so the process goes.

Salary Cap

With a predetermined salary cap that can not be broken, each owner knows, or better know, how much they can spend on each player. It may become difficult for one person to keep track of everyone's salary cap, that is why each owner should keep a running tally of their salary cap and confirm it with the commissioner each time they add a player. This will allow all owners to see just how much money their competitors have, as well as keep owners from breaking the salary cap.

A penalty, such as losing the player that pushed that team over the salary cap, should be discussed prior to the auction. This way everyone knows the penalty for breaking the cap.

End of the Auction

At the end of the auction, once every team has filled out their entire roster, the salary caps should once again be confirmed.

If your league allows you to pick up and drop players, you will have to establish how much free agents picked up during the season will cost. You will also have to determine if you can redeem a dropped player for his full auction value. But once again, these rules are individual to each league and be hashed out and modified by discussion and votes by the league members.

During the Season

Trades become tricky, and just like the NFL, need to fit within the salary cap, so a package of lower priced players for that one high priced player may need to be done. That is why you want the best players, for the least amount of money. Remember, at no time can you break that salary cap.


The auction is a highly competitive style of fantasy football, and can be overwhelming if you are new to it. But with a little preparation and guidance, the auction style system will be better then the old way of drafting. It creates more excitement then just waiting to pick every 10 or 12 selections. This gets people hyped up, this keeps them involved throughout the entire auction, and this lets each owner fill his roster with his favorite players.

Auctions are becoming more and more common, and for the simple reason that they require more strategy then the usual draft and becoming much more fun.

Todd Kleinheinz is the founder /commissioner of the auction-based SGFL (Sports Geeks Fantasy League). The SGFL is an intricate league with a salary cap, auction style draft, keepers and restricted free agents. If you have any questions, comments or ideas, he can be reached at Previously, Todd worked as a sports reporter for an NBC affiliate in Texas covering Texas A&M and Baylor University Sports, and in Sports Radio for KNBR and The Ticket 1050 in San Francisco.