UI professor uses mathematics to helps design fantasy football app for draft picks

Erica Pennington
Published: August 17 2011 | 4:18 pm - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 5:45 pm in
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When the NFL lock out ended on July 25, serious football fans turned their attention from wondering whether the season would occur to keeping their eyes on training camps and feverishly developing their personal lists of  "most wanted" players for upcoming fantasy football drafts in the next few weeks.

In an effort to make the draft process more simple for these fanatics, University of Iowa Associate Professor in the Tippie College of Business Jeff Ohlmann helped to co-create a tool called DraftOpt, an application that uses a complex mathematical equation to give fans recommendations about who to choose, pick-by-pick, during the draft process.

"Using the math you can develop a set of rules to try to optimize your selections for the draft," Ohlmann, 35, said. "With the application we take composite rankings of experts and then using set mathematical rules to help users have improved decision making when selecting their picks."

A life-long sports fan and fantasy football fan for more than a decade, Ohlmann first discussed the concept of developing a tool that would use help fans make informed choices about their prospective fantasy football draft picks with DraftOpt co-creator and University of Cincinnati Associate Professor Michael Fry, 37, while in graduate school the University of Michigan.

"We [Fry and I] thought to ourselves that if we were really as smart as we thought we were, we should have been able to use our knowledge to help improve our own decision making in fantasy sports,"  Ohlmann said. "Now, a decade later, the idea has finally developed into this app."

Ohlmann and Fry sketched out various ways that they could use their mathematical tool to improve their draft decisions over the years, but the DraftOpt truly began to take shape after a former UI student, Matthew Gibson, took interest in beginning to code the program.

"We formed an LLC, Optilytics, andcreated a baseball app that came out in March," Ohlmann said. "Matt [Gibson] coded the football app over the summer."

According to Ohlmann, the DraftOpt app uses mathematical probability to constantly sift through remaining players and simulate the thousands of possible paths that the rest of the draft could take, all to help determine the user determine what decisions about specific players are the best to make at certain times.

"The best decisions in the draft depend on what's going to happen in the future," Ohlmann said. "Unfortunately you don't know how the players are going to perform or what players the other people in the draft are going to choose, so the application uses the math to help you decide."

While the process of applying the mathematical equations to each player in the draft as a way to calculate their probability of being "better" than the next are extremely complex, Fry says that the DraftOpt application almost always in the process of having player information updated and  is easy to navigate for people of all ages.

"You watch the draft, put in the name of the player that was picked before your turn, and the application will give you recommendations about who we think you should pick right at that moment," Fry said.

Fry says that although he and Ohlmann are not expecting the application to explode in popularity this year, they hope to continue growing their fantasy baseball and football services to other sports including basketball and possibly NASCAR, golf or hockey.

In the future, Ohlmann hopes that they can develop an application that can help analyze fantasy sport trading practices.

"We [Mike, Matt and I] have ambitious business plans and would like to become the go-to source for fantasy sports applications in the future," Ohlmann said.

DraftOpt is currently available for purchase on iTunes for $4.99. According to Ohlmann, the team updates the information that influences the app's projections around once a week.

Fantasy sports fans -- have you used DraftOpt or similar apps to help develop your list of fantasy sport draft pics? Why or why not? I'd like to hear back from you! Please send me an email at  erica.pennington@kcrg.com

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