by Douglas T Scott

Ok, so you're ready to join a FBPro Online League. But which one of the vast multitudes of leagues do you join? After all, all online leagues are NOT created equal. There are many different types of leagues to choose from, each with their own unique set of rules and characteristics. This article is not meant to persuade you to choose any certain type or style of league, but to give you an overview of many of the different features leagues can have. Hopefully, you can use it to help you choose the league that's right for you.

BRAND NEW vs. ESTABLISHED LEAGUE: There are certainly a few advantages to joining a brand new league. First of all, since most of them do a common draft pool to start, you will get to be the sole builder of your team of (hopefully) future champions. Additionally, you will likely have a part in how the league is shaped and be a part of it's "history". However, with those advantages comes disadvantages as well. Many new leagues do not even complete their first season before going under. I have heard it said that more than half of all new leagues fold before finishing two seasons. The main reasons for this are: lack of owners, lack of owner participation, and a commissioner who maybe didn't realize what he was getting himself into. Make no mistake about it, commissioning an online league the right way is a serious commitment. On the other side of the equation is the established league. True, you most likely would have to take over an existing team (unless expansion is an option), and usually that team is one of the less talented in the league. But on the other hand, think of the satisfaction when you build that team into a winner in just a few short seasons! The major advantage of established leagues are just that--they are ESTABLISHED. The chances of a league with at least two seasons under it's belt staying around are MUCH greater than that of a new league. You also will most likely be competing against more experienced opponents and have a commissioner who has more experience as well.

GAMEPLAY: There are three main ways in which online leagues actually play the games. First off, home-play (sometimes visitor-play) leagues. This means that the owner of the home team plays the games on his computer (almost always in coaching-mode only) using the PPPs (plays, plans, profiles) submitted by the visiting team. This is good for league interaction, but often times leads to a huge advantage for the home team, sometimes resulting in extreme scores or statistics and leagues where the home team wins a disproportionate amount of the time. In contrast to this, you have the commissioner-simmed leagues. These leagues have both teams submitt PPPs, which the commissioner uses to simulate the games on his computer. This generally results in much more balanced games with more realistic results. The main drawback of commissioner-simmed leagues is owner interaction. With no one playing any games, it is much easier for owners (especially the ones who aren't winning) to become inactive and just kind of disappear. These types of leagues must try to do many things to keep the owners involved if they want to be successful. The final type of play is internet play. This is where the two opposing owners each coach there team in head-to-head play over the internet. The advantage to this type of league is obvious, but the difficulties come in scheduling games. With all kinds of different schedules, it is sometimes near impossible for two owners to find three hours to play the game online. If you plan to join a league like this, find out what the contigency plan for playing the game is if the two owners cannot hook up online. One more drawback to this type of league are the constant technical difficulties and the games often going "out-of-sync" (at least with the current versions of FBPro). There are usually work-arounds to these problems, but they do become bothersome.

ALLOWABLE PLAYS: What type of plays are allowed in your prospective league? Many leagues allow only "stock" plays (the plays that come installed in the game). Other leagues allow custom-made plays. Most of these leagues do have some rules regarding the custom plays that limit owners from creating "AI-busters" that take advantage of some of the game's weaknesses. If you are looking into joining a custom-play league, find out what the play design rules are (if any). Additionally, while some custom-play leagues allow the plays to remain hidden to everyone but their owner, other leagues have "open" play design--which basically means that after the week's game, the plays are posted to the website for other owners to access for scouting purposes.

OTHER STUFF: Many leagues out there have player salaries, contracts, salary caps, and free agency. This can be a neat added feature which really helps you get the total feeling of ownership. Free agency can be a must-have thing if you are trying to build a perrenial loser into a contender. If your prospective league has any of these things, find out what the rules governing these features are. Some leagues also have "incentive" programs for owners who participate on a regular basis. These can be useful in promoting active ownership. Often these are systems in which you build up points which you can later use to heal players, increase player ratings, or earn extra free agent bids--there are other possibilities as well. Does the league use real NFL teams or fictional teams? Can you move your team? If so, are you limited to the cities included with the game? Does the league use real NFL players or fictional ones. If real, does it continue to add all the real NFL draftees into the rookie pool every year? These are all questions which you should find out the answer too.

I hope you find this short guide to be helpful when you go out to find your next online league. Keep in mind the bottom line is for you to have fun playing this game with other people, so find the league that fits you and has the features you want. And never be afraid to make suggestions--it may be something the commissioner hasn't thought of before. Good Luck!