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UI Professor Designs App to Help Fantasy Football Players Draft Their Teams

Jeff OhlmannWith the NFL lockout finally ended and training camps under way, serious football fans have turned their attention to fantasy football, and a University of Iowa business professor has a new tool to help team managers draft the right players.

The app was co-developed by Jeffrey Ohlmann, an associate professor of management sciences in the Tippie College of Business, and utilizes an algorithm he developed as part of his research on using quantitative analysis to improve decision making. He said fantasy football provides a "natural laboratory" to study how people make decisions when faced with multiple options.

As part of their research, Ohlmann and his research partners utilize analytical methods to develop a draft-day decision support tool for a fantasy football league. The app works by analyzing previous draft picks to project how the draft will unfold. By simulating thousands of scenarios, their app identifies the players to select to increase a fantasy team owner's chances of winning their league.

The app was also developed with Michael Fry of the University of Cincinnati and UI graduate research assistant Matthew Gibson. Their company, Optilytics, LLC, sells the DraftOpt app through Apple's iTunes store for $4.99.

While it's impossible to know exactly how opposing teams will draft, he said the app can help a fantasy owner "play the odds." Ohlmann said the unique feature of the app is that its usefulness does not rely on the accuracy of the player projections that are offered by various experts and publications.

"In fact, it banks on the fact that it's generally impossible to accurately project how every player will perform in the upcoming season," he said. "In this manner, fantasy football is like playing the stock market. While there are thousands of prognosticators predicting stock—or player—performance, none of these experts are perfect, and all forecasts are wrong much of the time."

However, taking into account the projections of average performance as well as the variability in performance, DraftOpt assists fantasy owners as they select their roster—or portfolio—of players.

Ohlmann developed and refined the algorithm DraftOpt app with Fry, while Gibson programmed it. They released a version of the app for fantasy baseball last March and sold about 175 copies, even though they did no marketing and it wasn't available for use until about two weeks before the baseball season started.

The football version of DraftOpt is available now and is designed for users ranging from first-time fantasy footballers to hardcore fantasy players.

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