Introducing TDO, the 27-Year-Old Fantasy Football League Format Everyone Should Be Playing

Every Sunday during football season fantasy players have an abundance of information and statistics at their fingertips whenever they want it. We keep our eyes glued to NFL Redzone throughout the day for instant highlights, we drain our phone batteries as we spend five straight hours on Twitter, we constantly check our lineups for anxiety-causing updates. Many fantasy players can relate to these addictions, but back in 1988, things were much different.

In 1988 a football fan got his hands on one of the first fantasy football magazines ever published, Fantasy Football Index. The magazine would spark the inspiration for this football fan to round up four of his friends and create their very own fantasy league, even though they had no idea what they were doing. There were no standard leagues to mimic, no fantasy football experts or message boards to learn the game from, it was all built from scratch. These five guys from Washington State created a fantasy league, and FLOW (Fantasy League of Washington) was born.

1988 issue of Fantasy Football Index

Creating the rules and drafting the teams were the easy parts of birthing FLOW, but tracking the scores and regularly updating the league in 1988 proved to be a little more difficult. My dad, one of the founding 5, did not have Redzone or apps to track scoring updates for him. Each Sunday during one of the two nationally televised games, Flame (each owner got their own league mate-given nickname) stared at the TV waiting for the score update ticker to scroll along the bottom of the screen. Today this ticker runs throughout the duration of our Sundays, we don’t know any different. Back in 1988 this ticker only appeared twice an hour accompanied by an unmistakable notification sound, a sound that would cause Flame to sprint to the TV (note, Flame was not a fast guy, hence the sarcastically given Flame nickname). This ticker would provide a few updates on the action, but not even close to the entire Sunday story. NFL Primetime with Chris Berman and Tom Jackson was as close to Redzone as you could get in 1988. Flame would anxiously await for the evening program to begin and have his pencil and paper ready to jot down each and every stat and score the ESPN boys shared. Still, this was not enough. Going to bed thinking his team had a great day, Flame would wake up, grab the newspaper from the driveway, and learn that his team actually got crushed once the full stats were revealed.

With all of the information finally available Tuesday morning after Monday Night Football, the commissioner’s job was to calculate all of the scoring by hand, update the standings, write a lengthy newsletter filled with trash talk, scan and copy all information, and mail out letters to each of his league mates. No accounting or book-balancing was taking place at his real 9–5 job until the commissioner’s duties were complete. These commissioner responsibilities shifted among league mates over the years until a website with fantasy football league management capabilities finally appeared in the early 90s, and the handwritten letters were no longer needed.

The handwritten letters were no more, but the league traditions and camaraderie remained strong. 28 years later the league’s annual draft is approaching and is now filled with a mixture of founding fathers (including legends Rat and Buf), and second generation FLOW degenerates. Draft prep is underway, and when it comes to FLOW, the league that saw Rueben Randle finish as the 5th highest scoring WR in 2015 (that is not a typo), no amount of Rotoworld blurb checking, Matt Berry reading, or Fantasy Football Index magazine buying can help you prepare to draft the ultimate FLOW lineup.

Buf, Flame, and Rat

How does Rueben Randle end up as a top 5 receiver? Well, FLOW’s scoring setup is very unique and unconventional. Each week, your team will only receive points if your players score Touchdowns. A two carry, 6 total yards, 1 touchdown game from Mike Asiata will net you more points than a 120 yard, 0 touchdown game from Adrian Peterson. A 1 catch, 4 yards, 1 touchdown day from Larry Donnell will earn you more points than a 11 catch, 175 yard game from Odell Beckham. Sound frustrating? It is. But it’s also a ton of fun. Not only do you exclusively get points for touchdowns, but you also get more points depending on how long the touchdown score is. Point totals for TD lengths were arbitrarily set and determined in year 1 of Flow, and haven’t been changed since. Going back to the Asiata TD example, while yes, TDs are great, long TDs are even better. A 50 yard TD explosion run from AD will be worth 3x as much as an Asiata 1 yard vulture score. A 67 yard TD bomb from Sam Bradford to Randle could be the most exciting moment of of your weekend. Does this mean you need to stress over weekly lineup decisions and whether or not you should actually consider starting Asiata over Peterson? Thankfully, no such anxiety is necessary.

Much like the now popular and addicting MFL10 leagues, FLOW lineups also use a ‘best ball’ format. This means no start-or-sit decisions are needed. For example, a FLOW roster has 2 required (and maximum) QB slots. If you own both Aaron Rodgers and Mark Sanchez, and Sanchez happens to accumulate more points that week, you will use all of the Sanchize’s points, and none from Rodgers. Same goes for your running backs, receivers, tight ends, and kickers (more on the latter later).

Each week teams hope to score as many points as possible. There are no head to head matchups, no records, and standings are based on total points. If the Week 1 leader scores 1200 points and you only score 400, don’t sweat it, you have all season to make up the difference. There are no playoffs either. From the kickoff of the first game of Week 1, all the way until the final whistle of Week 17, your goal is to score as many points as your hopefully Asiata-less roster can.

While the previously mentioned MFL leagues have some similarities to FLOW, one of the biggest differences is the ability to make in season roster moves. MFL10s use a ‘set it and forget it’ format. You draft the best team that you can and you hope for success. No waivers or trades are allowed. FLOW allows trades up until the Thanksgiving trade deadline, and has waiver rules that give the always-connected, Twitter power using owners a huge advantage: there are no limits on the number of waivers you can make, how often you can make them, and are first-come, first-serve.

FLOW is crazy fun, and obviously a strong enough format to survive and thrive the last 27 years. Flame and the founding fathers have done a marvelous job keeping the league alive and while only a handful of people know it, they were truly fantasy football pioneers. Aside from sharing the history and details of FLOW with the rest of the world, it’s time to also let others experience the greatness of a TD only league. But of course, with a few tweaks.

The first ever TDO (TD-Only) leagues will incorporate almost all of the rules and settings of FLOW. While FLOW does roster kickers who score points on their own arbitrary length-point scale, TDO leagues will be kicker-free. Additionally, free-for-all waivers just won’t cut it in today’s digital age. Back when FLOW owners needed to call in their waiver picks to the commissioner after learning about injury news 3 days after the fact, a wild west of free agent transactions was acceptable. TDO leagues will incorporate a traditional waiver structure found in regular standard leagues.

A touchdown-only, distance-bonus league is something that every fantasy football fan should experience, and the TDO format has stood the test of time. Whether you’re a standard league purist, a die-hard dynasty owner, or a DFS addict, there’s always room to try something new when it comes to the game of fantasy football. So put on your Rueben Randle jersey, get out your stat-tracking pencils and paper, and give TDO a try.

*If you’re interested in playing in a FLOW-inspired TDO league, please contact @brotoworld on Twitter.

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