2017: Farside Football Pool, Gory Details
Football season is almost upon us and it's time for a football pool! Linked from this memo are the relevant materials to solicit interest in your participation. Here are the key facts:
- It's a weekly pool where you pick the winners of each game and then rank your picks depending how certain you are of them.
- It's $22 for the whole season for the Family Pool. The $22 is $1 a week for 17 weeks of the regular NFL season and $5 for the end-of-season pot. You pay up front. Winnings are paid out every Tuesday morning. All the monies are paid out; I retain nothing and have only the same, or, given my history, a somewhat worse chance of winning as you do.
- You can opt for the High Stakes version, which is identical in every respect except that it's inflation adjusted from the 1982 origins of this pool to $2 a week and $10 for the end-of-season pot, or $44 for the whole season, and the prize is $2 times the number of participants instead of $1 times the number of participants.
- There is a winner every week. The weekly prize is $1 times the number of participants in the Family Pool, $2 times the number of participants in the High Stakes Pool. There are likely to be around 50 people in each pool, so the weekly prize will be on the order of $50 (Family) or $100 (High Stakes). Each pool is limited to around 51 participants so that the chances of winning remain decent for everyone in the pool plus then the results print out nicely on a sheet of legal paper.
- In each pool there are 3 winners at the end of the season for those who played all season. This is the $5/$10 per player pot split 50/30/20 among the top three seasonal scorers at the end of the regular season. It is possible to win a piece of this pot, first place even, without ever winning a single week.
- You enter using an on-line entry form where you put your name, a password of your choosing and your picks. You Submit this and it comes to me in a handy little email. When I enter it into Excel, you get back a confirming email. Note that with this method, all you need to participate is a web browser running on any hardware platform and Abode Acrobat Reader.
- You need to enter by gametime for the first game of the week. This used to be Sunday morning nearly all season, but nowadays the NFL has a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday game every week but the last one. This narrows down the window for entering a bit. To accomodate this, in 2012 I started offering an Early Entry form where you just pick the single early game (or games, on Thanksgiving) and do the rest later.
- In 2014 I introduced the Thursday Pick Six! One aspect of the Thursday games that I dislike is how much they make the Farside Pool feel like work. Yet another mid-week obligation is something none of us need. Now, if you don't get your pick in for the Thursday game, I'll do it for you. I'll put a 6 on the team with the better record, or, if both teams have the same record, on the home team. You can still enter your Thursday pick or your full set of picks prior to the Thursday game, but if you don't, you get a middling, pretty safe pick. You will have to use it when you do your full set of picks on the weekend, but you won't get stuck having to take the worst outcome anyone got on Thursday. The Farside can once again become a leisurely weekend undertaking done with coffee, a chocolate croissant and the paper.
- Reporting is all web- and email-based. The selections people made are generally posted starting late Friday (on regular weeks, earlier if there are Thursday, Friday or Saturday games). Final selections are generally posted early Sunday afternoon after I get back from church unless we are off doing something. These are available from The Farside Football Page as PDF files. I send out interim (after Sunday's games) and final (after Monday's) emails with the results so you don't have to go and look at the website unless you want to.
- During the life of this pool email has gone from kind of cutting edge to being a bit old-fashioned. I do offer text reminders as an option to remind you to enter for the week. You have some choices you can make for this, but I recommend Gameday texts, which you will only get if there is a game that day and you haven't entered.
If you've not done a pool like this before, there are three things you need to do each week:
- Select a winner for each game.
- Weight your picks. When there are 16 games in a week, you'll rank your picks from 16 (for the game about which you are most certain) down to 1 (for the game about which you are least certain). You can use each number only once. During the Bye weeks, you'll be ranking from 15, 14 or 13 down to 1.
- Choose a tie-breaker, the total combined number of points scored in the final game listed on the Entry Sheet. This is usually the Monday Night Game, but sometimes there are two of these and sometimes (late in the season) none, but it will be clear which is the tiebreaker game.
I highly recommend printing out a Printable Week 17 Schedule sheet
to work out your picks before doing them on-line. The Entry Sheets list the games in broadcast order (at least, anticipated broadcast order at the time I enter the schedule in early August), show team records, sparklines to show the winning/losing streaks, how many games there are this week, who is on a Bye, etc.
- Enter your selections. These selections are made in the Week 17 Entry Form.
. When you hit Submit, they are sent to me in a handy little email. When I enter them in the spreadsheet, you will be sent a confirming email listing your picks. Note that this confirming email is triggered when I enter your picks into the spreadsheet, not when you hit the Send button on the form!
For each game where you correctly pick the winning team, you get the number of points you assigned to the game. If you picked the loser, you don't get any points for that game. Your score for the week is the total of these points when the football week is done (after the Monday Night game). The participant with the highest point total wins the week.
If you pick a game correctly and give it 16 points, you get 16. If you only gave it 3 points, you only get 3, so, as you can see, the outcome of the week is a combination of selecting winners and assigning the points to the games. If you give a game 16 points but get the winner wrong, you get zero points for that game. If you get every game right, your weightings don't matter (but the tiebreaker might! My father once lost a perfect week on a tiebreaker to another participant who also had a perfect week) but if you miss even one game, the weights start to matter a lot. As a matter of record, perfect weeks occur something less than once a season in this pool, and usually on weeks with fewer than 16 games.
Reporting is pretty comprehensive, resaonably informative once you get used to it and brilliantly laid out if I don't say so myself. You get several reports posted to the web. I do not print out and disseminate these to anyone but they're all in Adobe PDF format and can be printed from your computer or just viewed on-screen. The weekly results are best printed on legal-sized paper on which they fit very nicely. This stuff also looks great on an iPad. Man, we've come a long way since this started!
The Scoresheet is the main document. This has all the week's games down the left and all the participants along the top. Under each participant's name are the weights assigned to each game. As the games are completed, you'll see that a box outlines the correct picks for the game, showing who scored points on that contest. Once the week is complete, all the game scores are shown. Also, the participants are ordered in scoring rank, with the highest score to the left, the lowest to the right, so the farther you have to read over to find yourself, the worse you did. Finally, the seasonal total score and rank is shown for each participant down at the bottom of each column. You can look at the Final Results for 2014 to see what this sheet looks like by the end of the season. It can look like a terrifying bunch of numbers at first glance, but you'll quickly get used to it. I've even done a Guide to Reading the Farside Scoresheet to show you how to read these results. It's pretty simple, really, despite the inundation of integers.
One notable thing for newcomers is the Market entry on the far right. This is my way of showing the composite choices and ranks made by the pool as a whole. This is harder than it first sounds, since we have different weights on both sides of most games and the obvious ways of calculating it often result in duplicate rankings. I instead came up with some dreadfully clever way of doing this the workings of which I've long since forgotten since it's all automated. This Market entry does not affect the scoring or winning in any way. My university training was as an economist, and the efficient markets hypothesis would argue that in the long run the Market would be smarter than all its participants. It's never won yet. It may be that 17 weeks isn't long-runny enough for the Market to assert its superiority or it may be tat the Efficient Markets theory is defective. It sure hasn't draped itself in glory the last few years in non-Farside realsm. Not to worry, though, because as John Maynard Keynes said, in the long run we are all dead.
- The Plot of Dots I just adore scatter plots, where you do two variables against each other rather than a single data series against a timeline. In this case, the Plot of Dots shows the weekly and seasonal scores for each participant. Each dot represents one full-season participant; the placement vertically represents the participant's seasonal total score; the placement of the dot horizontally represents the weekly score. The weekly score is also scaled so that the scale is as long as the possible score is high. Each dot has the participant's initials next to it, and the green dots represent people who have won a week. Now, the first week's a bit dull (it's a perfectly straight line with one green dot) but as the season progresses this flock spreads out. By late in the season last year, it looks like this.
- The Money shows who has won what and how, just in case you were wondering. In 2013, it looked like this for the Family Pool and like this for the High Stakes. Past year's results are available as well.
- Team Schedules are maintained for each team. They show each team's schedule, whether it's at home or away, keeps track of the scores of each game, the win-loss record (overall, home and away) and has cute little checkmarks that print next to each team's wins so you can see at a glance what sort of a streak they are on. Through the clever use of stoopid Excel tricks, this is all a by-product of the rest of the pool. These schedules are printable but you need legal-sized paper and two sheets of it, too. I sure hope they don't go beyond 32 teams or this is going to get ugly. You can see this year's schedules here and here.
- A History of Winning This incarnation of the pool, known as the Farside Pool, has been running since the 1996 season when I worked a year as a stinkin' temp at Norwest Document Custody. Of the current participants, only my sister, wife and Paul Meillier were in that year; then I moved to MSI Insurance (now COUNTRY Financial) and lots of people in Arden Hills joined in. I have kept records of who won which weeks since 1999 and they can be seen at A History of Winning and the High Stakes History so you can see how people have done. Wondering who all these people are? You can see that at Who Are These People?.
- The E Mails are where I note interesting odds n'ends about the week and the pool and my family and our cats and progress on our addition and struggles with our lawnmowers or whatever else strikes my fancy. I get a lot done in the fall listening to or watching football games (painting rooms, raking leaves, etc.) and so condense some of what I see and hear into my emails. Here also is where I mock people, though in a reasonably civil fashion, and bewail my own usually-winless fate. Some people really like these emails, others I'm sure immediately delete them.
Some fine print:
I actually used to run this in fine print, but it was too hard to read, so now it's full-sized.
- If you fail to submit an entry, you'll get credited with the same picks as the person who scored lowest for the week in your pool who actually got an entry in. In theory, this keeps you viable for the season-ending pot. In actuality, it probably spells doom to any serious chance at that prize.
- The NFL has gone to an early game (before Sunday, that is, nearly every week of the season. Given this, and the ongoing interest of some participants of selecting just that game early then the rest before gametime Sunday, I created an Early Entry Form allowing you to pick just the early game. You can see an example at Week 7 Early Entry Form (note that this is for Week 7, a midseason week, NOT Week 1!) Make your Thursday pick during the day Thursday, do your Sunday picks Saturday morning, all without having to email me. In that scenario, any reminders I send out between making your first pick and gametime Sunday will show the pick(s) you've already made, important because you will have to reenter it.
- You can nominally change your picks on as-yet unplayed games although this almost invariably results in a worse score. It's best to email me, as that gets time-stamped. I don't mind if you do this because the entry confirmation email shows that you inadvertently put a weight on the wrong team, but I'd prefer it if you don't make a habit of switching picks because some wide receiver hurt his knee in pregame warmups. Running the Pool isn't actually like a full time job for me or anything, and I don't want heaps of changes at 3:00 Sunday changing picks on the late games. Note that if you do change a pick, and your score suffers for it, you may be pointed out and held up to merciless ridicule.
- You might want to confirm that I have your picks in correctly. In the distant Farside past, the main error would be that I pasted your picks in the wrong spot. The online entry method, in service since the 2002 season, does away with this error (it automatically pastes it to the correct place, a wonder to behold, another macro and I've forgotten how that works too). However, it is still prone to entry errors by participants, like you. This isn't all bad; one year Randy Davis won a week after inadvertently placing 16 on the Bengals, who then won their first game despite having stunk all season. Still, on the whole, people like to have their picks be accurate, so I send a confirming email listing your choices. Check it over. I will take changes up until gametime but, again, I prefer not to field a bunch of last-minute phone calls and may well be off doing something else. If I correctly pasted your entry but you made an error, then it's your problem and I will not correct it after the game is over. If I make an error, and it has occasionally happened, it's my problem and I'll correct it even after gametime.
- If you enter twice, I'll use the later entry, if they're different. If they're identical picks, the macro will just ignore the second set. If you only entered once, yet get a second confirmation, somebody may have entered with your name by accident. This is when it's handy to have a recognizable password. Your name and last initial, or first initial and last name, or something like that, is simple extra confirmation for me, if you need a password suggestion.
- If the score comes up the same for 2 or more people, the tie-breaker comes into play. The person whose tie-breaker is closest to the combined score for the last game on the Entry Sheet wins. If the two or more contestants are potentially going to tie and both have the same tie-breaker (say, both took 36), I will ask both to choose a different tie-breaker.
- If two people have the same outcome on tie-breaker (e.g., they chose 35 and 37 and there are 36 points in the game), we declare a tie and split the prize between them. This has happened only once in more than ten years, by the way.
- If there is a tie score in a football game, nobody gets any points for it. We're picking winners, you see. It can happen. Since the onset of the Farside Pool for the 1996 season, there have been two ties in 1997 and one each in 2002, 2008 and 2012. In 2012, the game was San Francisco/Saint Louis, and San Francsico ended up going to the Super Bowl where they lost to Baltimore who had taken 2 overtimes to beat Denver in the playoffs (in the playoffs, someone has to win). During the 2013 season, the Vikings and Packers played to a tie in Week 12, the Vike's first tie since 1978 and the Packers first since 1987. They're not common, but they do happen.
- I will in an emergency take called-in (to 651 487-0273) entries, but I really really really hate typing in people's picks. I hate entering off phone messages; it's slow (even if the games are in the same order), error-prone and dull. If you make a habit of this you might find your email box strangely empty the following August with no invitation for the next season. The online entry is just as slick as can be so I ask that you use this as much as possible. If you have difficulties or need a bit of help figuring it out, I'm more than happy to work it through with you. Also, it's not unheard of for disastrous sweaty-palmed server errors to occur, and I'd like to hear about them if they do.
- Those server errors? They did crop up in the latter half of the 2009 season and culminated in the utter failure of my formmail script for the final week. It turns out (a week after the season was done) that my hosting service had redone the directory structure and broken my script. It worked for season after season with no issues, then coughed up blood all of a sudden. With luck, this won't happen again, but if something like it comes along, we'll accomodate with Google Docs or Excel or emails. I just hope it doesn't happen again.
- Going on vacation? You lucky dog! You can enter ahead of time or from Internet cafés anywhere on Earth. I have posted the Online Entry Forms for every week of the season on the Farside Pool 2015 Season page and they are regenerated every week so the team records on the prospective weeks are kept up to date! Enter early or dial in from anywhere; to my knowledge, we've had entries from England, France, Italy, Australia, Aruba, Canada and all around the U.S. Those online entry forms are very plain-vanilla html code and should work on web-capable mobile devices. We've certainly entered from iPhones and iPads with no trouble at all.
- An alternative vacation approach is to enter ahead of time. I will take early entries. You won't get confirmation on them until the days leading up to that weekend but it does mean that you can enter a week or more in advance and go trek the Himalayas in peace, unconcerned about how the Ravens are doing.
If you have suggestions about the pool, please let me know. It has evolved over many years, in part due to changes in technology, and I think we have it down pretty well. However, I am always open to suggestions. Continuous improvement, Quality is Job One, Six Sigma, Seven Habits, etc. The whole thing runs on Excel 2010 and Outlook 2010 running on Windows 10 under Parallels 11 on either an exquisite 27" iMac Retina 5K with top of the line processor and 32G of RAM or a late-2008 Aluminum Macbook. It's mostly nicely-implemented Excel, heavily based on lookups and date functions, with heaps of Visual Basic for Applications macros handling much of the routine work. Since the base spreadshet started out as a blank Excel page in 1996, some of the stuff is sub-optimal Excel, but it's been pretty robust. If you have questions about how it works, let me know.
Matthew "Hey maybe I can win before another 20 years go by!" Cole
Page last updated 9/9/2015
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