So you have never been in an Auction League, and you have lots of questions. That's okay - that is why this section exists. Everyone has been there before, so do not feel bad at all. In fact, you should feel good about it as you are joining the club of auction league players, and believe me it will be an enjoyable experience and you will want to do auctions over and over again.
Let's start with the differences between an auction league and a standard draft. With draft leagues, you only get to pick once a round and twice every 20-24 picks (depending on your league size). There's no surprise as to when you are about to get a player and you know that you will have two of your Top 24 players without question.
Auction turns all of that on its head. Everything you thought you knew is now up for grabs. Every player is possibly the next one to join your team - and the only thing that stands in the way is the price you are willing to pay to get him on your squad.
Now it is time to talk about the monopoly money. Every team gets a budget to buy their players. This can be done in one of several ways - fake dollars (like monopoly money), real dollars (as in your league dues) or virtual money that is kept track of during the auction, either on paper, on a draft board or electronically. When you bid for a player and win them, you have to pay for him out of your budget and that amount is deducted from your money, leaving you with a remainder to fill out the rest of your team. That continues until either you have a full team or you are left with just $1 per roster spot you have left to fill - and then your nominations become the players you are adding to your team, so long as no one else bids them up.
So you can see one of the big differences in auction vs. redraft leagues - money is the only thing that dictates who winds up on which team. Whoever wants to bid the most gets that particular player but pays the price - literally. Money management and valuations of market value for all players matters a great deal and can be the difference between having a poor team and a great team.
Now that you get the idea of how money will be used to pick players instead of taking turns and drafting, you need to know what is required to set up an auction. There's no question that a live auction is much more preferable than one conducted online or on a conference call, but all three can be done. Some consider that a drawback to auction leagues, but you can manage that issue most of the time - and it is definitely worth it to have a live auction.
The next thing you have to have is a location. A big room is a good start, as you will need a large area for all the owners to be able to get together, nominate and bid on players. Room for an auction board (much like a draft board, but it is only used to track who owns who, what they paid and how much money they have left) is a big need as well. Sometimes this can be done with a whiteboard or a computer with a projector - what is really required is something for everyone to look at the auction results.
The last requirement is probably the most important one, and that is the need for an auctioneer. While it might seem like an owner (or an owner who is commissioner of the league) might be able to be the auctioneer too, this is usually a very bad idea for two main reasons. The first one is that it is far too much to keep track of for one owner and to make an owner also keep track of the budgets and team compositions for everyone is asking for trouble, and it usually leads to that owner struggling at some point in the auction. That's not fair to him (or her) or the rest of the league. The second reason is that you also need an impartial (or at least less biased) person to decide who got the bid in when and if it was in on time. Some bidders try to sneak in at the last second in a certain player's auction, while some other player auctions will have tons of bids almost at the same time, so someone has to be the judge and referee. If you are fortunate enough to have invested in an electronic tool to assist it will certainly help but you really do need to have one person whose sole job is to be the auctioneer. Buy him food and drink for the night or offer to be the auctioneer for his league (which can also use the tool you bought for the league and split the costs even more).
Another big difference is that you are almost always involved in the auction - there are no breaks (unless the league takes a collective pause - which is another good idea). Any player who is nominated could be yours, so you have to pay attention all the time. Even if you don't like the players currently up for bids, you do have to keep track of all the team budgets and also notice who winds up with that player in case that might influence the next player you nominate.
So how does the actual auction work? Good question. Most leagues draw for nomination order (much like you would draw for draft order). Nomination order can be back and forth (“serpentine”) as in a redraft league or it could be straight order (as in the owner who nominates third in Round 1 nominates third every round). Those are the two typical options, but there is a third, which is usually not preferred because it gets very tricky at the end of the auction. The third option is that the owner who just won a player gets to nominate the next one. That sounds reasonable, but sometimes it is not and it gets messy when you have teams start to fill their rosters. Who gets to nominate then? It is much simpler to pick one of the first two options and then just skip over any teams that have full rosters.
Once a player is nominated, it is open season and all owners can bid on that player to try and win him for their team. Most auctions allow for free-market bidding, meaning that there is no order to who can bid when. Some auctions have an antiquated method where you get to take turns in bidding, almost as if you are passing a money hat for collections around the room. That can be a long process and hurts the true dynamics usually associated with an auction, so few auctions are run that way any longer. An auctioneer or the correct tool can allow for the much more entertaining free market to take over.
The one rule that all owners must never break is to overspend. That messes up not only their team but also the rest of the league, and it really hurts the spirit of the auction. Teams must keep track of both how much money they have left and also how many players they need to fill out their team (some auction leagues may allow for incomplete rosters to be purchased as long as you have a legal lineup by Week 1 - but again, that is not typical). Simple math can tell you what a given team's maximum bid is by subtracting the number of players the team still needs from the amount of money that owner remaining for the auction and then adding one dollar. As an example, if an owner has $30 left but needs 10 players, his maximum bid is $21 because he would then still need nine more $1 players.
Those are the basics of a fantasy auction. Next up, we'll cover how to better understand your auction league and to build competitive teams.