August 13th, 2010

Fantasy Sports History: The GOPPPL Rules

Friday, August 13th, 2010

At this point, there are many a fantasy league that take themselves very seriously — tongue in cheek or completely unaware of what the mouth is saying. One can trace this fantasy-as-reality mentality all the way back to the beginning.

The original set of “rules and regulations” for the GOPPPL jumped right into official contract-style language: “The Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prediction League, hereinafter also known as the GOPPPL, is hereby created. It shall be composed of eight (8) clubs, each club to have an owner and one or two coaches.”

“Hereinafter” itself is a word befitting an endangered species list outside of contracts and government legislations. Hereinafter, however, we’ll give you a look at just what the first fantasy football league set forth (by virtue of the copy shared with us by original coach Andy Mousalimas).

First, in the founders’ own words, the league’s purpose:

The purpose of this league is to bring together some of Oakland’s finest Saturday morning gridiron forecasters to pit their respective brains (and cash) against each other. Inasmuch as this league is formed only with owners having a deep interest and affection for the Oakland Raiders Professional Football Team, it is felt that this tournament will automatically increase closer coverage of daily happenings in professional football.

Inasmuch as this test of skill and knowledge of the players in the AFL and NFL leagues will be backed with coin of the realm, it behooves each club owner to study carefully, prior to draft, all available statistics, schedules, weather conditions, player habits, and other factors, so as to preserve one’s prestige and finances.

Lack of skill or study will also afford the heaviest loser the yearly trophy, symbolic of the loser’s ineptness in this grueling contest. This award will be presented by the League Commissioner at the Annual GOPPPL Banquet, held in late January for club owners, coaches and wives.

The rules then went about creating the positions of commissioner and secretary, bestowing the former with powers to control league gatherings and disputes, as well as “appoint all committees.” (How many committees has your league formed?) The secretary, meanwhile, was officially in charge of the dirty work — scoring, league records, collecting and distributing money, etc.

(Tell the whiny owner in your league who complains about what injuries have done to his team that he should be glad he didn’t play here. He has the waiver wire, at least. A GOPPPL team had to “apply to Commissioner for approval to activate a temporary replacement from undrafted players” in the event that injury left its squad in a bind.)

The first set of GOPPPL rules also presented a draft structure with which most of us remain familiar. The league centered on a bunch of devoted football fans who liked to gather and chatter about the sport, thus each year started with a gathering — first at the home of creator Bill Winkenbach before moving to restaurant/pub banquet rooms. From the start, the draft followed the serpentine format that remains most common today, with the annual first pick (after year one) going to “the heaviest loser of the preceding year.”

Of course, much of the scoring and the position requirements would look unfamiliar to today’s players. Although the GOPPPL incorporated individual defensive players, the league relied completely on scoring plays for player points. The system, revolving around monetary values rather than points:

50 cents for a rushing touchdown by any player
25 cents for a touchdown reception by any player
25 cents for a touchdown pass by any player

(with each of those doubled for any score that came from more than 75 yards away)

10 cents for a successful extra-point try
25 cents for a field goal
$2.50 for a kick- or punt-return touchdown
$2.50 for any defensive touchdown by a defensive back or linebacker
$5 for any touchdown by a defensive lineman

As you can probably surmise, a defender could be impactful if he happened to score in a given game, but none would have been a particularly worthwhile player overall. The entire eight-team AFL tallied just 17 touchdowns in 1963 via fumble or interception return, so any GOPPPL owner had to consider himself fortunate to luck into one.

Similarly, although return specialists were broken out into their own position, value there was hard to come by, especially if a team looked to AFL options. The entire AFL managed just three touchdowns via kick or punt return in 1963, whereas the NFL produced 11 among its 14 teams.

It wasn’t until the later Kings X leagues (which we’ll get into next week) that fantasy scoring began incorporating yardage and other settings that remain at the center of today’s game.

As for the (very) specific position requirements in GOPPPL, teams had to draft to the following setup:

4 offensive ends
4 halfbacks
2 fullbacks
2 quarterbacks
2 kick/punt returners
2 kickers
2 defensive backs or linebackers
2 defensive linemen

From that, the weekly lineup called for:

2 ends
2 halfbacks
1 fullback
1 quarterback
1 returner
1 kicker
1 lineman

Because so many football players multitasked with positions in those days, players could be drafted more than once in the GOPPPL. George Blanda, for instance, was drafted first overall to play quarterback, and then again later as another team’s kicker. Those who look over the original draft will notice 11 players (in italics) who appeared on multiple teams.

Although the framework clearly laid the base for what we play today, it’s interesting to see some of the stark differences. Some were a product of the times (a de-emphasis on the passing game, even with the focus on the more pass-happy AFL) and many other changes have simply been a part of the game’s evolution.

We’ll pick up with that evolution at the Bay Area’s first sports bar, the Kings X.