Title:
FANTASY GAME SYSTEM AND METHOD
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An on-line, multi-player internet based application that is adapted for playing fantasy sports, for example, football in which scoring is determined on a team functional unit basis rather than on an individual player basis, with a pre-determined set of actions associated with each fantasy team functional unit, pre-determined values associated with each such action, and corresponding actions from real-life football team functional units resulting from real-life football games used to determine fantasy football team unit values, fantasy football team scores and fantasy football league rankings.



Inventors:
Koivisto, Eric R. (Seattle, WA, US)
Magnone, Paolo F. (Norwalk, CT, US)
Application Number:
12/861751
Publication Date:
07/28/2011
Filing Date:
08/23/2010
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
463/42
International Classes:
A63F9/24
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
MCCLELLAN, JAMES S
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
LEWIS, BRISBOIS, BISGAARD & SMITH LLP (JON E HOKANSON 633 WEST 5TH STREET SUITE 4000 LOS ANGELES CA 90071)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A method for playing a fantasy football game on a multi-player, internet-based computer implemented application comprising: joining a fantasy football league having a plurality of fantasy teams, a plurality of fantasy units and a fantasy football team computer software scoring algorithm; said fantasy football league corresponding to a real-life football league; each of said fantasy teams having a plurality of fantasy units; selecting each of said fantasy units from the group consisting essentially of an offensive run unit, an offensive pass unit, a defensive line unit, a defensive secondary unit, a defensive special team unit, a punting team unit, a field goal unit and a kick-off unit; associating each of said selected fantasy units with a corresponding real-life football team unit of a real-life football team in said real-life football league; associating at least two of said selected fantasy units with corresponding units of two different real-life football teams; said scoring algorithm comprising a pre-determined plurality of events associated with each of said fantasy units and a pre-determined value for each of said plurality of events; collecting data for events from real-life football games for real-life football teams corresponding to said plurality of events associated with each of said fantasy units; and, applying said pre-determined value for each of said plurality of events to said data to determine a point value for each event for each selected fantasy unit based on said data from said real-life football game.

2. An on-line, multi-player internet based system for playing a fantasy football game in a fantasy football league and determining league standings in said fantasy league with fantasy football team scoring based on values associated with performance of team units instead of based on individual team player comprising: a presentation layer comprising a fantasy football internet website, a plurality of user-interface terminals and capability for access to said internet by said internet website and by said user-interface terminals; said fantasy football internet website adapted for communication with said internet, adapted for communication with a plurality of data feeds and comprising a fantasy football application logic layer; said application logic layer comprising a server, a database and computer-implemented software adapted for fantasy football team unit draft management, fantasy football league management, real-life football teams, real-life football games, a real-life football game line of scrimmage for each of said real-life football games, a goal line, yard lines for each of 1 to 50 yards from each of two goal lines, fantasy football teams, real-life football league and fantasy football league statistics processing, real-time fantasy football team scoring, communication between said server and said database, communication between said server and said fantasy football internet website, communication between said draft management and said internet access, and communication between said server and said data feeds; said plurality of data feeds comprising injury, news and real-life football game statistics feeds; said plurality of user-interface terminals including at least one commissioner interface and a plurality of team owner interfaces; said computer-implemented software adapted for said fantasy football team real-time scoring comprising an algorithm adapted to process: a plurality of user-selected fantasy football teams, each of said user-selected teams comprising a plurality of players and a plurality of user-selected player units; said user-selected fantasy player units selected from the group consisting essentially of an offensive run unit, an offensive pass unit, a defensive line unit, a defensive secondary unit, a defensive special team unit, a punting team unit, a field goal unit and a kick-off unit; an association of each of said user-selected selected fantasy player units with a corresponding real-life football team unit; said algorithm requiring said association to have at least two of said user-selected fantasy units associated with corresponding units of two different real-life football teams; a plurality of pre-determined events associated with each of said user-selected fantasy units and a pre-determined value for each of said plurality of events; a data collection obtained from said real-life football game statistics feeds for events from real-life football games for real-life football teams corresponding to said plurality of pre-determined events associated with each of said user-selected fantasy units; application of said pre-determined value for each of said plurality of events to said data collection to determine a fantasy point value for each event for each user-selected fantasy unit based on said data collection for each of said real-life football games; and, addition of each user-selected fantasy team unit point total for each user-selected fantasy team unit for each user-selected fantasy team to yield a user-selected fantasy team score for each of said user-selected fantasy teams corresponding to each real-life game for said real-life football league; and, said computer-implemented software adapted for statistics-processing including a statistics algorithm comprising a tabulation of each user-selected fantasy team score for each user-selected fantasy team to determine league standing statistics for said user-selected fantasy teams in said fantasy football league.

3. The system of claim 2 wherein said plurality of pre-determined events associated with said offensive pass unit is selected from the group consisting essentially of: a first down; a first down resulting from a pass on a fourth down; a pass completion rate greater than 60%; a zero-sack game; average yards per attempt greater than seven; a completed pass greater than twenty-yards and each ten-yard increment for each completed pass greater than twenty-yards; team receptions greater than twenty and for each reception by a single team player greater than five; team passing of two hundred twenty yards or more and for each twenty-five yard increment for team passing greater than two hundred twenty yards; a team drive including more than ten plays per drive; number of team punts; number of yards per attempted punt; number of sacks; number of three and out; number of turn-overs on downs; pass completion rate of less than 60%; and, each one % of pass completion rate less than 60%.

4. The system of claim 2 wherein said plurality of pre-determined events associated with said offensive run unit is selected from the group consisting essentially of: first downs; first downs made on a fourth-down run; greater than 120 yards of team rushing; every 5-yard rushing increment; every team rush of greater than 27 yards; every individual player rush of greater than 20 yards; average rushing yards per carry greater than 4 yards; every ½ yard average rushing yards per carry greater than 4 yards per carry; every 10+ play drive; number of punts greater than 4 in a game; number of zero-yard plays; number of loss of the ball after the 3rd down; number of negative yardage plays; team average yards per carry less than 4 yards per carry; every ½ yard average rushing yards per carry less than 4 yards per carry; and, number of turn overs on downs.

5. The system of claim 2 wherein said plurality of pre-determined events associated with said defensive line unit is selected from the group consisting essentially of: each stuff at or behind a line of scrimmage, except for any incomplete pass; number of forced punts; number of forced punts greater than 4; number of sacks; number of takeaways each 10-yard increment per takeaway; each touchdown scored by said defensive unit; number of recoveries of the ball from opponent after 3rd down; opponent average yards per carry less than 4 yards; every yard less than 4 for opponent average yards per carry less than 4 yards per carry; number of instances of holding opponent yards to less than 7 yards per attempt; number of yards less than 7 for each instance of holding opponent yards to less than 7 yards per attempt; holding opponent to less than 22 total offensive points; each point less than 22 for holding opponent total offensive points to less than 22; shutout of opponent; holding opponent to less than 110 yards rushing; every 5 yard increment less than 110 for holding opponent to less than 110 yards rushing; 4th down stop; give up a 4th down conversion; number of solo runs by an offensive player greater than 20 yards per carry; each 10-yard increment of yards greater than 20 yards per carry for each solo run by an offensive player greater than 20 yards per carry; allowing more than 120 yards rushing; each 5-yard increment for yards more than 120 yards rushing by opponent; allowing average yards per carry greater than 4 yards; each yard increment more than 4 for allowing average yards per carry to be greater than 4; allowing more than 7 yards per attempt average; each yard increment greater than 7 for allowing more than 7 yards per attempt average; each individual opponent rusher with more than 20 carries; giving up more than 300 passing yards; each 10-yard increment more than 300 for giving up more than 300 passing yards; allowing more than 28 offensive points to opponent; each point more than 28 for allowing more than 28 offensive points to opponent; and, each opponent drive of 10 or more plays.

6. The system of claim 2 wherein said plurality of pre-determined events associated with said punting unit is selected from the group consisting essentially of: each instance of a punt of 37 or more yards, net; each yard over 37 yards for each instance of a punt of 37 or more yards, net; each instance of a no return on a punt or a called fair catch on a punt; each instance of a punt to a point between the 15-yard line and the goal line on the opposing side of the field; each yard closer to the goal line on the opposing side of the field than the 15-yard line on the opposing side of the field for each instance of a punt to a point between the 15-yard line and the goal line on the opposing side of the field; average opponent punt return of less than 9 yards; each yard less than 9 for average opponent punt return of less than 9 yards; each instance a touchdown is scored by the punting unit; opposing team punt return average is more than 9 yards; each 5-yard increment over 9 yards for opposing team punt return average of more than 9 yards; each instance of a punt of less than 30 yards net; each 1-yard increment less than 30 yards for each instance of a punt of less than 30 yards net; each blocked punt; each blocked punt that is returned for a touchdown; each instance of an individual return of a punt greater than 30 yards; and, each 10-yard increment over 30-yards for each instance of an individual punt return of greater than 30 yards;

7. The system of claim 2 wherein said plurality of pre-determined events associated with said defensive secondary unit is selected from the group consisting essentially of: opponent pass completion average is less than 60%; each percentage point below 60% for opponent pass completion average less than 60%; each instance of an interception; each increment of 5 yards net return for each said instance of an interception; each touchdown on an interception; allowing a maximum of 2 touchdowns on passes; allowing a maximum of 1 touchdown on a pass; allowing no touchdown on a pass; each instance of a fumble recovery; each 5-yard increment for a return of a fumble recovery each touchdown for a return of a fumble recovery; opponent passing yards total are less than 210 yards; each 10-yard increment of less than 210 yards for opponent passing yards total less than 210 yards; average yards per completion less than 11 yards; each 1-yard increment for average yards per completion of less than 11 yards; no solo reception greater than 20 yards; total opponent receptions is less than 19 catches; each opponent reception less than 19 catches for total opponent receptions less than 19 catches; each 20-yard or greater opponent pass completion; each 10-yard increment over 20-yards for each 20 yard or greater opponent pass completion; average yards per completion greater than 12 yards; allowing more than 220 yards passing by opponent; each increment of 25-yards for allowing more than 220 yards passing by opponent; each instance of giving up a touchdown on an opponent play of 30 yards or greater; each 5-yard increment greater than 30 yards for each instance of giving up a touchdown on an opponent play of 30 yards or greater; opponent pass completion rate greater than 60%; each percentage point greater than 60% for opponent pass completion rate greater than; giving up 3 pass touchdowns; and, each opponent pass touchdown more than 3 touchdowns.

8. The system of claim 2 wherein said plurality of pre-determined events associated with said defensive special teams unit is selected from the group consisting essentially of: each instance of a blocked point after touchdown; average punt return of more than 9 yards; each 5-yard increment of average punt return of more than 9 yards; average kickoff return of more than 22 yards; each 10-yard increment of average kickoff return of more than 22 yards; each instance of a blocked field goal; each instance of a blocked punt; each instance of a return kick off for a touchdown; each instance of a return punt for a touchdown; each instance of a return field goal for a touchdown; each instance of an individual return of more than 30 yards; each 10-yard increment of for each instance of an individual return of more than 30 yards; average punt return of less than 9 yards; average kickoff return of less than 22 yards; and, giving up an onside kick.

9. The system of claim 2 wherein said plurality of pre-determined events associated with said kicking unit is selected from the group consisting essentially of: opponent average return is less than 22 yards; each 1-yard increment of opponent average return that is less than 22 yards; each instance of an onside kick attempt; each instance of a made point after touchdown; each instance of a made field goal that is less than 39 yards; each instance of a made field goal of 40-49 yards; each instance of a made field goal of 50-59 yards; each instance of a made field goal of 60 or more yards; each touchdown; a game winning field goal with less than 2:00 minutes remaining in the football game and the goal is made from less than 35 yards from the goal line; a game winning field goal with less than 2:00 minutes remaining in the football game and the goal is made from 35 or more yards from the goal line; each 1-yard increment greater than 35 for a game winning field goal with less than 2:00 minutes remaining in the game and the goal is made from 35 or more yards from the goal line; opponent return average is greater than 22 yards; each instance of a kick off returned for a touchdown; each instance of a missed field goal from a distance of less than 40 yards from the goal line; each 5-yard increment of less than 40 yards from the goal line for each instance of a missed field goal from a distance of less than 40 yards from the goal line; each instance of a blocked field goal; each instance of a blocked point after touchdown; each instance of a missed point after touchdown; each instance of a blocked field goal attempt returned for a touchdown; a missed game winning field goal with under 2:00 minutes remaining and less than 35 Yards from the goal line; and, each 1-yard increment of less than 35 yards for a missed game winning field goal with under 2:00 minutes remaining and less than 35 yards from the goal line.

Description:

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

This application is a continuation-in-part of application Ser. No. 12/693,430, filed Jan. 25, 2010, and claims the benefit of application Ser. No. 12/693,430, (“the '430 application”) filed Jan. 25, 2010, application 61/206,381 (“the '381 application”) filed Jan. 30, 2009, and application 61/286,931 (“the '931 application”), filed Dec. 16, 2009, and all three of which are incorporated by reference herein.

FIELD OF INVENTION

The invention relates generally to a computer implemented, on-line, multi-player internet-based fantasy sport system, method for forming fantasy teams in which each team is associated with units from an actual sport that is played over a multiple-game schedule, and method of playing fantasy sports, with preferred applications for simulated football games of the type commonly referred to as “fantasy football”.

BACKGROUND OF INVENTION

Numerous versions of on-line fantasy football systems and methods are known. Most, if not all known games and systems are directed to scoring touchdowns and to players with big names, agents and high dollar value contracts. Such games, methods and systems are not directed to other aspects of the game of football that are critical in real-live football games, such as the offensive team units and players that keep drives alive, move the ball down the field and put their teams in a position to score and win, and corresponding defensive team units. These aspects of the game of football are often referred to as the “trenches” due to the hard fought, but unglamorous nature of the fighting. For football applications the units and players that are engaged in the trenches are the offensive lines, defensive lines, punting squads, kickoff teams, placekicking units, defensive secondary and returns specialists. As described in the '381 application, the '931 application and the '430 application methods are provided for game play that takes into account these units, players and aspects of the game. Described below are preferred embodiments and designs for an on-line fantasy football system further adapted for the methods provided in the aforementioned applications, and for other team sports. For example, described herein is a preferred system in which specific pre-designated events or actions taken by the team units are assigned values and by these values and actual, real-life play of related real-life team units, the overall fantasy gaming experience is enhanced in comparison to conventional fantasy football applications. Preferred system architecture and related descriptions are provided herein.

SUMMARY OF INVENTION

Fantasy sports and fantasy football in particular allow a person to act as a virtual “general manager” or “team owner” of a respective fantasy sport team. For trench fantasy, also sometimes referred to simply as “trench” each trench fantasy team is populated with fantasy units where each fantasy unit corresponds to a real-life functional unit participating in a real-life game. The statistics generated by the real-life units are transformed into trench fantasy points whereby the trench points reflect the game event impact on the actual game outcome. Trench fantasy points are assigned to each fantasy team according to an algorithm that includes pre-determined values for specific unit events or actions, and application of those values to corresponding events or actions as they occur in real-life games. These fantasy points may then be used to calculate fantasy team scores for each fantasy football team.

In real-life football as well as its conventional fantasy counterpart, the typical focus is on the individual players who are the offensive stars. However, unit play across all available positions has a tremendous influence on the outcome of a real-life football games and drives the success or failure of the individual offensive stars. Therefore, it is desirable to have a fantasy football game with a focus on units in the trenches that account for or contribute very significantly to actual success or failure on the field.

The systems and methods described herein relate generally to all fantasy sports games, i.e., to team sports wherein the teams include specific functional units. More specifically, several preferred applications described herein relate to fantasy football systems and methods whereby units and unit play are valued instead of individual play. As a consequence the score for a trench fantasy team is derived from most aspects of the real-life game on offense, defense and special teams which contribute to the real-life game result. For the purposes of the present description, the term “unit” refers to a particular part or functional unit of an overall team, such as a particular position, for example a place kicker, or a special team, such as the kick-off receiving team, or a particular part of a team, such as the offensive line, the defensive line, the defensive backfield, etc. It will be appreciated that analogous units may be formed from teams in other team sports.

In one aspect disclosed herein is an on-line, multi-player internet based application that is adapted for playing fantasy football in the trenches, i.e., for playing fantasy football in a way that accounts for the values associated with the contributions to the overall game made by the special units and players who fight in the trenches, that is, the linemen and special teams, and in some instances also accounts for values which individual players who perform specific actions such as scoring a touchdown, catching a pass resulting in a forward gains of a pre-determined amount contribute to their respective unit.

In further detailed summary, preferred embodiments are fantasy sports game systems comprising:

    • one or more participant terminals on a network and operable for a user to act as a league manager, commissioner or client such as a team owner or team manager;
    • one or more computers operable to act as one or more servers on the network and to communicate with each of the participant terminals over the network, the computer(s) comprising:
      • memory configured to store a set of computer-implemented instructions; and,
      • a processor and database configured to execute the set of instructions, wherein the set of instructions adapted to cause the processor to:
        • receive a set of trench fantasy football team starting line-ups for the population of trench fantasy teams in a trench fantasy football league, with valid line-ups corresponds to one of the registered trench fantasy teams, wherein each one of the valid trench fantasy line-ups comprise a valid set of selected team units;
        • receive statistical information from corresponding team units of real-life football teams for real-life football games relating to each one of the units and perform a trench fantasy transformation on the data thereby creating a set of trench football statistics, a trench ratings system and corresponding trench fantasy football team unit point values;
        • calculate trench fantasy football team unit point totals for each fantasy team unit based on the received statistical information; and,
        • calculate a trench fantasy team score for each trench fantasy team by adding together the team unit point total for each of the team units associated with each trench fantasy team.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The foregoing aspects and the attendant advantages of the present invention will become more readily appreciated by reference to the following detailed description, when taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings that are embedded in the text of the specification, and each of which is briefly described with an appropriate legend, wherein:

FIG. 1 is a schematic diagram of basic architecture of a first preferred embodiment of the present system;

FIG. 2 is a schematic diagram of a preferred high level architecture for the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 3 is a schematic diagram of a new user sign up process for the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 4 is a schematic diagram of an existing user log on process for the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 5 is a schematic diagram of a user message posting process for the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 6 is a schematic diagram of a process for a user to join a public league in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 7 is a schematic diagram of a process for a user to search for a specific league in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 8 is a schematic diagram of a process for a user to create a team within a league in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 9 is a schematic diagram of a process for a user to edit information about a previously created team within a league in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 10 is a schematic diagram of a process for a user to view the user's team roster in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 11 is a schematic diagram of a process for a user to add or drop a unit from the user's team roster in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 12 is a schematic diagram of a process for a user to view the schedules for head to head and playoff matches within the user's league in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 13 is a schematic diagram of a process for a user to view news, notes, transactions and injury sections of the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 14 is a schematic diagram of a process for a user to create and/or edit the starting line-up for the user's team in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 15 is a schematic diagram of a process for a user to view the leader boards for the user's league in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 16 is a schematic diagram of a process for a user to view league statistics in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 17 is a schematic diagram of a process for a user to view real time scoring in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 18 is a schematic diagram of a process for a user to create a league in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 19 is a schematic diagram of a process for a user to edit league rules in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 20 is a schematic diagram of a process for a commissioner to add a user to a league in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 21 is a schematic diagram of a process for a commissioner to remove a user from a league in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 22 is a schematic diagram of a process for a commissioner to edit and customize the way points are allocated within a league in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 23 is a schematic diagram of a process for a commissioner to define head to head schedules and playoff schedules in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 24 is a schematic diagram of a process for a commissioner to define cut-off dates for various deadlines in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 25 is a schematic diagram of a process for a commissioner to send e-mails messages to team owners in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 26 is a schematic diagram of a process for a commissioner to view rosters of all teams in a league in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIGS. 27A and 27B are schematic diagrams for preferred database design and functionality for the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 28 is a listing of examples of types of various offensive line statistics that may be used in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 29 is a listing of examples of types of various defensive line statistics that may be used in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 30 is a listing of examples of types of various field goal and point after touchdown statistics that may be used in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 31 is a listing of examples of types of various punting statistics that may be used in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 32 is a listing of examples of types of various miscellaneous defensive statistics that may be used in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 33 is a listing of examples of types of various kick-off related statistics that may be used in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 34 is a listing of examples of types of various scoring statistics that may be used in the FIG. 1 embodiment;

FIG. 35 is a schematic diagram of a preferred architecture for an alternate preferred embodiment;

FIG. 36 is an example of a preferred value assignment for various events related to passing offensive line unit play for use in a preferred scoring algorithm for the FIG. 35 embodiment;

FIG. 37 is an example of a preferred value assignment for various events related to running offensive line unit play for use in a preferred scoring algorithm for the FIG. 35 embodiment;

FIG. 38 is an example of a preferred value assignment for various events related to the defensive line unit play for use in a preferred scoring algorithm for the FIG. 35 embodiment;

FIG. 39 is an example of a preferred value assignment for various events related to the punting unit play for use in a preferred scoring algorithm for the FIG. 35 embodiment;

FIG. 40 is an example of a preferred value assignment for various events related to the defensive secondary unit play for use in a preferred scoring algorithm for the FIG. 35 embodiment;

FIG. 41 is an example of a preferred value assignment for various events related to defensive special team units play for use in a preferred scoring algorithm for the FIG. 35 embodiment; and,

FIG. 42 is an example of a preferred value assignment for various events related to the kicking units play for use in a preferred scoring algorithm for the FIG. 35 embodiment.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

First Set of Preferred Embodiments

A first set of preferred embodiments of the present fantasy football system and methods are described herein with respect to FIGS. 1-34. These embodiments are preferably deployed as a web application for use in modern day internet browsers, such as Internet Explorer 7 or newer, Firefox 3 or newer. The user interface and front end preferably will be an ‘Adobe Flash’ movie embedded in html, thus allowing for a high quality user interface, rich user interaction and experience, and because it is compatible with all known modern browsers. Preferably backend communication and processing tasks for the system and method will be handled using ‘PHP’ to communicate between the server and client sides of the system. Also, all modern web hosting providers provide PHP capabilities to their clients so their benefits are available to end users by using a site hosted by the providers. The present fantasy football system preferably includes persistent data storage capability, which is believed to be achieved using one or more MySQL databases on the server side. Flash, PHP and MySQL applications are preferably employed due to their readily availability and popularity. The system preferably will also subscribe to a TSN SportsML feed to obtain statistics and data needed for meet the functional requirements of the system.

System Overview

The larger sites like espn, cbs and yahoo, do not use flash for their fantasy games. Flash is preferred for the GUI element of the present system because flash offers a richer user experience and is believed to provide additional differentiation of the present system from conventional fantasy football systems.

Shown in FIG. 1 is an example of the preferred basic architecture for the present system. The preferred system includes various preferred functional capabilities

Preferred Functional Capabilities

Preferred functionality of the system includes:

Support for a user to sign up/register to be able to play fantasy football using the preferred methods, herein after referred to as “Trench Fantasy”, as further described in the '381 application and the '931 application.

Support for an existing user to edit user information. Display a ‘Team’ UI to a user where a user can handle any team related functionality.

Support the ability for a user (team owner) to create, edit, and update ‘Teams’ and ‘Starting line-ups’ by providing functionality for a user to:

Create and edit a ‘Team Name’.

Create and edit ‘Team Motto’.

Create, customize and upload a ‘Team Logo’.

Create and upload a ‘Team Photo’.

Create, view, and manage a ‘Team Roster’.

Select and view Statistics/Results for a roster on a weekly or whole season basis.

Links to roster with opponents for all weeks of the season.

Create and edit a ‘Starting Line-up’ comprising 6 starters/team units

Compare ‘Starting Line-up’ with projected opponent (view Match-Up).

Propose, complete or cancel a ‘Trade’.

Add/Drop/Substitute players.

Establish, confirm password, security question, with this functionality included under sign/up register support.

View Upcoming Weekly Match Ups with projected scoring.

View League-wide Player Performance info overall, by position, by team. Ability to view standout performers from previous week (team unit/individual player/team owner).

Support the concept of a ‘Draft’ by providing functionality for a user to:

    • Draft a team unit/player to their team, with the user being a Team Owner).
    • Create/Set up a draft by defining a draft date and draft type, with the user being a Commissioner.
    • Choose between a live draft and an automated draft, with the user being a Commissioner.
    • View pre-draft rankings for players/team units.
    • Create Draft Board with desired team by position (team owner).
    • Maintain real-time ‘needs’ for live draft (team owner).
    • Track draft summaries overall, by position, by team (team owner).
    • Create and edit draft rosters for all teams (commissioner non-live draft).

Display a ‘League’ UI to a user where a user can handle any league related functionality.

Support for the creation and storage of an unlimited number of ‘Leagues’.

Support for a user to be able to join a ‘public league’ through a sign up process pre-season to ‘join’ a group and individually during the season to draft/compete weekly with ‘public’ of unlimited number of teams.

Support the ability for a user (commissioner) to create and edit a ‘League’ by providing functionality for a user to:

    • Create and edit a ‘League Name’.
    • Create and define a Commissioner for a league.
    • Define sharing of commissioner of duties (1×, few times, always).
    • Define the number of teams in a league to be either 6, 8, 10, or teams. (User is a Commissioner).
    • Record, store and edit information about teams in a league, with the user being a Commissioner, who is able to add/remove after creating.
    • Edit the rules of a league with the user being a Commissioner.
    • Edit the trade rules of a league with the user being a Commissioner.
    • Set schedules and playoffs for a league with the user being a Commissioner.
    • Either select default scoring or customize scoring for the league.
    • Run scoring models based on league roster settings.
    • Edit player position eligibility with the user being a Commissioner.
    • Control the roster for any team in the league for any week of season with the user being a Commissioner.
    • Track transaction fees if applicable.
    • Able to select Hands off (default) or Custom league settings.
    • Able to invite team owners to join league.

Ability to process online monetary payments via pre-existing vendor.

Support the generation and dispatching of email notifications to system users, such as:

    • Send email notification to a user (team owner) when a public league is filled.
    • Send email notification to a user (team owner) to include key dates, top-line rules and draft logistics.
    • Send email notification to a user (team owner) as a reminder that they have not updated that week.
    • Send email notification to a user (team owner) which concerns off season updates, such as relevant news, transactions, trends and so forth.
    • Send email notification to a user which confirms signup to the system.
    • Send email notification to a user to invite that user to a particular league.
    • Send email notification to a user which contains weekly result information.
    • Send email notification to a user which contains trade notices.
    • Send weekly league news ‘League Performance’ email, for example, who's up, down, questionable.
    • Ability to create a structured email via help forms.

Ability to subscribe to, and access information from a real time data provider for NFL sports statistics, news and schedules (SportsML) on a weekly basis.

Ability to track and report on real time information and/or statistics relating to performance, news, transactions, and updates of players/team units.

Ability to use internal scoring system along with real time data to determine, track, and report on rankings of teams within a league.

Ability to use internal scoring system along with real time data to determine and display live-scoring information to a user with regard to users' weekly opponent and progress of all other league games.

Support for comparing different line-ups and simulating ‘what if’ scenarios.

Support for message boards where a user can read or post messages.

Functionality to include video league content, such as from YouTube or other sources.

Ability to store and display information related to a FAQ section, rules and scoring.

Ability to allow a user to access customer service channels.

Support for the generation and display of a ‘Leader Board’ using team rankings, such as:

Leader board has ability to track overall leader.

Leader board has ability to track weekly leader.

Leader board has ability to track leader over some specified period.

Ability to accommodate multiple users concurrently.

Ability to post league news such as weekly summaries on a main league page.

Ability to run hypothetical matchups to see results, if for example playoffs started on a given day.

Ability to display user defined ‘hot or not’ statistics as well and user defined power rankings.

Ability to display league game schedules with results for played games (by week, by team).

Ability to view NFL game schedules.

Ability to receive and display NFL transaction and injury logs.

Preferred Non-Functional Capabilities

Listed below or preferred non-functional features of the preferred system fantasy football system:

A high quality user interface as well as look and feel.

User interface should not be overwhelming in terms of information, so that a user will not feel lost in the page.

Web hosting provider to provide functionality to view reports on site traffic.

User interface to reserve placements for standard IAB advertising delivery system, such as 3-4 ads per page.

Secure server-side storage of the scoring system.

System scalable to 30000 users initially, then to a much higher number, such as 500,000 and the up to 1M users.

System to have bandwidth for multiple concurrent users.

System is fully functional in Internet Explorer 7 and higher, as well as Firefox 3 and higher.

System incorporates search engine optimization, such as Google Optimization.

Preferred Design Features

The preferred system is an online game to be played using a standard desktop computers connected to the internet. Supported browsers are IE7 or newer and Firefox 3 or newer. It is envisioned that versions of the system will be adapted for mobile devices, and versions will also be adapted for linking into to social networking sites such as Facebook.

The web hosting provider will provide adequate bandwidth to support multiple concurrent user connections without slowdown in service to any users.

Preferably databases are provided by web hosting provider, and if so provided the preferred databases will be MySQL databases. Functionality for regular database backups will be provided by the web hosting provider so as to ensure no loss of data essential to the operation of the system.

Preferred Development Methods:

The preferred Trench Fantasy game method and system employs an iterative methodology, as describe below.

High Level System Architecture:

The preferred high level architecture diagram for the Trench Fantasy system is shown in FIG. 2, and includes components and capabilities as further described below.

Flash GUI:

This is the preferred graphical user interface that the end user will interact with to play the Trench Fantasy game as further described in the '381 and '931 applications. It preferably is implemented using Flash and Actionscript 3. This module encapsulates all visual elements of the game and is not intended to have any game logic included in its functionality. This module communicates via messaging back and forth to the ‘Messaging Module’, to request and receive all necessary information for the playing of the game, as shown at 1. To communicate a message to the ‘Messaging Module’ this module makes use of the _POST variable. Messages are received by parsing return HTML or XML from the ‘Messaging Module’.

Messaging Module:

The preferred Messaging module handles the transfer of data between the GUI Module and the Database Server, as shown at 2. The 2 main functions this module performs are:

    • 1. Translate requests for data from the GUI to SQL queries, execute those queries and return a result in XML format to the GUI.
    • 2. Update the database server inserting any user inputted data that should be stored persistently.

Database:

The database handles persistent storage of all game data. For more information see section ‘Database Design’.

Scoring Module:

The preferred scoring module handles game logic as it relates to the accessing and updating of scores in the game. This module communicates consistently with the ‘Real Time Feed Module’, as shown at 4, to receive updated statistics. It processes these statistics, and resolves updated scores using internal scoring logic. The module stores the most up to date scores by inserting them into the database, as shown at 3. This ensures that any database will contain near real time information, which in turn can be communicated to end users playing the game. This module is preferably placed on the server side and only allowed to communicate with other server side components to minimize exposure of the scoring system logic.

Real Time Feed Module:

This module interfaces with the external Real Time Feed Provider to continuously receive updated statistics. These statistics are communicated to the Scoring Module where game scores can be updated accordingly.

Use Case Descriptions:

This section contains brief descriptions along with diagrams or figures used to illustrate the functional capabilities of the system to takes specific actions in various scenarios that end users, such as team owners or commissioners will encounter while interacting with the preferred Trench Fantasy game system.

General Use Cases:

Sign Up:

Referring to FIG. 3, this use case describes a typical scenario and processing steps for a new user to sign up to use a preferred Trench Fantasy (Team Owners and Commissioners) system.

Login:

Referring to FIG. 4, the Login case describes a typical scenario and processing steps for an existing user to log in to use Trench Fantasy (Team Owners and Commissioners) system.

Post Message:

Referring to FIG. 5, the Post Message case describes a typical scenario and processing steps for a user posting a message to the League Message board.

Team Owner Based Use Cases:

Join a League:

Referring to FIG. 6, the Join a League case covers a typical scenario and processing steps for a user to join a public league.

Search for League:

Referring to FIG. 6, the Search for League case covers a typical scenario and processing steps for a user to search for a specific league in the Trench Fantasy system. Search criteria include option of entering team owner email, commissioner email, or league name.

Create a Team:

Referring to FIG. 8, the Create a Team case covers a typical scenario and processing steps for a user to create a team within a league in the preferred Trench Fantasy system.

Edit a Team:

Referring to FIG. 9, the Edit a Team case covers a typical scenario and processing steps for a user to edit information about a team previously created by them.

Participate in Draft:

The system and method, not shown in the figures, includes a Participate in Draft case in which users can participate in player or unit drafts. To participate in a draft with the system:

    • 1. The user selects “Draft Central” text on the League home page.
    • 2. The “Draft Central” window is displayed, with team units ordered by position.
    • 3. (a) The user selects team units they wish to draft for their team (live draft), or (b) the user selects multiple team units by position they wish to draft for their team (automated draft).
    • 4. The Draft Picks screen is displayed and displayed information is updated each time a team unit selection has occurred.
    • 5. The Completed Line-Up is displayed on screen with dropdown windows for viewing all other Line-ups in the league resulting from the draft.

View Team Roster:

Referring to FIG. 10, the View Team Roster case covers a typical scenario and processing steps for a user to view his/her team Roster.

Add/Drop Team Units:

Referring to FIG. 11, the Add/Drop Team Units case covers a typical scenario and processing steps for a user to add or drop a unite from his/her team Roster.

View Schedules:

Referring to FIG. 12, the View Schedule case covers a typical scenario and processing steps for a user to view the schedules for head to head, and playoff matches within the users' league.

View Fantasy News and Notes/View Transaction and Injury Log:

Referring to FIG. 13, the View Fantasy News and Notes, Transactions and Injury Log case covers a typical scenario and processing steps for a user to view the news and notes section as well as the transaction and injury section of Trench Fantasy.

Create Starting Line-Up/Edit Starting Line-Up:

Referring to FIG. 14, the Create/Edit Starting Line-up case covers a typical scenario and processing steps for a user to create and/or edit the starting line-up for their team.

View Leader Boards:

Referring to FIG. 15, the View Leader Boards case covers a typical scenario and processing steps for a user to view the leader boards for their league in the Trench Fantasy system.

View Statistics:

Referring to FIG. 16, the View Statistics case covers a typical scenario and processing steps for a user to view league statistics within their league.

View Live Scoring:

Referring to FIG. 17, the View Live Scoring case covers the typical scenario and processing steps for a user to view real time scoring within the Trench Fantasy system during a period when the real time feed is actively relaying NFL game time statistics to the Trench Fantasy system.

Commissioner Use Cases:

Create a League:

Referring to FIG. 18, the Create a League case describes a typical scenario and processing steps for a user to create a league within the Trench Fantasy system.

Edit League Rules:

Referring to FIG. 19, the Edit League Rules case covers a typical scenario and processing steps for a user to edit the rules of the league for which they are commissioner.

Add User to League:

Referring to FIG. 20, the Add User to League case covers the typical scenario and processing steps for a commissioner to add a user their league.

Remove User from League:

Referring to FIG. 21, the Remove User from League case covers a typical scenario and processing steps for a commissioner to remove a user from their league.

Edit League Scoring:

Referring to FIG. 22, the Edit League Scoring case covers a typical scenario and processing steps for a commissioner to edit and customize the way points are allocated within their league.

Set Head to Head/Playoff Schedules:

Referring to FIG. 23, the Set Schedules case describes a typical scenario and processing steps for a commissioner to define head to head schedules as well as playoff schedules for the teams within the league.

Set Trade/Waiver/Free Agent deadlines:

Referring to FIG. 24, the Set Deadlines case describes a typical scenario and processing steps for a commissioner to define cut off dates for the various deadlines in their Trench Fantasy League.

Email League Members:

Referring to FIG. 25, the Generate/Send Email case describes a typical scenario and processing steps for a commissioner to send emails to team owners within their league.

View League Rosters:

Referring to FIG. 26, the View League Rosters case describes a typical scenario and processing steps for a commissioner to view the rosters of all the teams in their league.

Database Design:

Referring to FIGS. 27A and 27B, a preferred database design diagram and functionality for the Trench Fantasy system is shown and described.

Referring to FIGS. 28-34, examples of various statistics are provided. FIG. 28 presents preferred offensive line statistics; FIG. 29 presents preferred defensive line statistics; FIG. 30 presents preferred field goal and point after touchdown statistics; FIG. 31 presents preferred punting statistics; FIG. 32 presents various miscellaneous defensive statistics; FIG. 33 presents various kick-off related statistics; and FIG. 34 presents various preferred scoring statistics.

Additional Options in Regard to the Preferred System:

The login function optionally could have the ability to save a password, and include a “forgot password” prompt.

The post message function could also include a “hover” or “click” on the My League Tab/Message Board. The Message Board could also be displayed in page layout and could be entered directly.

The “Join a League” function is set for the typical scenario for a user to join a public league, but could be set up for an approval based system in which the potential user would send a request to join a league on a request form that was provided by the system.

The “Search for League” function could include an option for entering team owner e-mail, commissioner e-mail or league name to find a league. The system could also provide for a user to get to the league page from an invite e-mail from the commissioner.

The “Create a Team” function could also include hovers or clicks, and a “Final Team Created” message could include a summary of team information that was input and could then list the next steps for the owner to perform.

The “Team Edit” function could also be a button on the “My Team” page and not part of the drop down structure.

The “Add/Drop Team Units” function could have a “pick from list”, or check boxes for selecting within the Roster Page as an alternative to highlighting the team unit and then hitting the button. Also, the capability to view available replacement positions could be provided as an alternate. For trading, an option could include a listing of who is available, or to enable a user to propose a specific trade. Also, options could be provided for availabilities for “This Week”, “By Team”, or “Overall”.

The “Create Starting Line-up/Edit Starting Line-up” functions could also include not only the team's starters and bench players, but also show the opponent's players at each position, as well as performance data, such as last week points, average points, hi/low points. The line-up could be set multiple times, up until a deadline set by the league. Roster deadline could also be provided on this screen.

The “View Leader boards” function could be named “Standings” or some other descriptive term, and there could be multiple variations of standings and rankings in this area.

The “View Live Scoring” function could be set up so that it automatically appears on the screen after login during game day. The page would show not only live scoring for the owner's game, but could be set up for viewing other games too, either on the same page or on another page(s) by clicking an appropriate button.

In the Commissioner's section, the “Create a League” functionality could be set up so that after login, a “start/create leagues” button is presented, to avoid a need to hover or use a tab. The commissioners could also be provided with an option to get information on games, rosters, scoring and FAQ's. There could also be an option “to share commissioner duties” and then to designate by e-mail others who will share the duties. Also, the League-created messages could be adapted to contain a summary of decisions and information of concern/use to the owners.

The “Edit League Rules” function could also include an edit function on the rules page for commissioners rather than to include only in a drop down function. Also, schedules and playoffs could be in a dropdown, and an edit function provided, and an option to send e-mails to owners that would include any new information.

The “Set Trade/Waiver/Free Agent Deadlines” function could also be in a drop down, with an edit function and the capability to e-mail any new information to the owners.

The “Email League Members” function could also have an option check box to send a global message to the entire league, and the capability to save all e-mails sent during a season could be provided so that commissioners could track and have an audit trail.

Alternate Set of Preferred Embodiments

With reference to FIGS. 35-42 a second set of preferred embodiments will be described. In these embodiments a variety of trench fantasy league, team and team unit values, scoring statistics, and ratings are created via a statistical transformation algorithm performed by programming functions in the system application and using actual scoring statistics associated with corresponding real-live sport action. The resulting trench fantasy football statistics and ratings provide aggregate value across, and corresponding to a wide set of actual game performance events or actions which are highly indicative of actual game results. The newly created trench fantasy statistics and ratings may be used to measure the performance of the fantasy team one a unit by unit, or team by team basis over a pre-determined period, such as weekly games, pre-season games, regular season games, play-off games, etc.

In these preferred embodiments the focus on a team unit structure and performance drives the trench fantasy values and trench fantasy team ratings to provide a ratings system that corresponds to an aggregate measure of true real-life football game activity and fantasy team performance that reflects actual team performance on the field rather than individual player performance.

Units, as defined above, reflect the combination and teamwork of player sub-groups who compete in the trenches. For example in a football application, linemen units refer to the offensive line and to the defensive line. Discrete, special team units, preferably include the defensive secondary, defensive special teams, punting team, field-goal unit and kickoff squads. In one preferred method, selected trench statistics or values are accrued by the fantasy team against a predetermined series of actual scheduled contests of the real-life sport over the course of the selected season. The series would preferably include a number of games that is fewer than the total games in the schedule of the actual sport over a season. This allows for a trench fantasy regular season and playoff schedule based upon full availability of the corresponding real-life professional team schedule.

In a preferred method the fantasy team owner selects a combination of fantasy units for placement in the starting lineup for the fantasy owner's team and within the individual scoring period. During operation of the system in fantasy league play, the preferred computer-implemented software algorithm will trigger an indicator alarm if an owner selects all units from one real-life team for an individual scoring period because this would violate the spirit of fantasy play. Once the trench fantasy team is set, the computer-implemented system calculates, tracks and displays each fantasy team's points accrued in the scoring period as well as tracks and displays the competitive rankings within the league over the season.

Each fantasy team's points can be considered for weekly public play, head-to-head, or private league competitions based upon initial league set-up and are displayed electronically. Trench fantasy points can be accrued from past scoring periods to track competitive rankings for either head-to-head or private league competitions.

One preferred complete system embodiment provides the following capabilities, all of which may be incorporated into the system using conventional programming or coding techniques:

    • a website portal for consumer or user access;
    • a subscriber database with customer or user care;
    • real-live data feeds with pre-determined trench fantasy performance values that combine to produce trench fantasy ratings and fantasy game statistics;
    • information and news feeds along with blog functions;
    • draft and league management for playing trench fantasy football including:
      • commissioner or other league management for league set-up and operation;
      • pre-season league draft;
      • team management; and,
      • play-off setup and operation.

The preferred trench fantasy statistics method and rating system herein can be applied to multiple fantasy sports including but not limited to football, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, soccer, volleyball, golf, tennis, motor racing, cricket or rugby.

Referring to FIG. 35, a fantasy sports game system is depicted. This preferred system includes a presentation layer, and application logic layer and data feeds layer, all of which are mutually interconnected. The presentation layer includes a trench fantasy website connected to an internet access that is in turn connected to a plurality of end user terminals. End users such as league commissioners and team owners connect and interact with each other and the system via conventional web browsers to an HTML, ASP, Javascript and/or Flash driven trench fantasy website. The data feeds communicate with the application layer logic server and database via conventional FTP, XML or other conventional access applications.

The application logic layer of the system may include a database, including a server 100, sub-processes for draft management 100a, league management 100b, trench statistics processing 100c, real time scoring 100d, collectively shown at 100; a statistical information source 110, a news feed 120, a private communications network 130, public internet access 131, a web site user interface 140, one or more participant terminals 150a-150n, collectively shown at 150. The application logic layer includes a draft manager that provides a Flash application with Action Scripts that manage a live draft and updates the database. The application logic layer also includes league management processes that perform conventional league management functions such as auctions and waiver wire transactions. Also included in the application layer logic are the real-time scoring functions that determine fantasy team unit points and team scores, and statistics processing functions that produce league statistics such as team rankings in the league, based on the individual fantasy team scores.

The communications network 130 and internet access 131 may include any number of networks capable of providing communications between the server 100, statistical information source 110, injury and news feeds 120, trench website 140 and terminals 150. For example, the communications network may be one or more, or any combination of wire line, broadband or wireless networks, data or packet networks, publicly switched telephone networks (PSTN), etc. Further, the trench website 140 may be actively used or accessed through direct interaction with the end users 150 or may function as a gateway or agent to provide information to an alternate system such as an analytics engine, blog, content management system or on-line publishing system.

The participant or user terminals 150 may include any of various suitable devices operable to act as a client on a network which may include, but are not limited to, personal computers, desktop computers, laptop computers, servers, or any suitable telecommunications device, including but not limited to smart phones or wireless devices, such as personal digital assistants (PDA) and tablets. The end users at the participant terminals 150, e.g., commissioners and team owners, preferably connect and interact with the trench system at the presentation layer via web browsers interfacing to an HTML, ASP, Javascript and/or Flash driven Trench Website 140.

The statistical information source 110 may be any suitable source of statistical information relevant to the fantasy game played. The statistical information source 110 may be a statistical repository maintained by a sports league, for example, the National Football League or National Collegiate Athletic Association, etc. Alternatively, the statistical information source 110 may be a third-party source, such as a news web site or dedicated commercial provider of accurate and relevant statistical information. The news feed 120 may also be a third-party source of factual or editorial content related to the real live sport league and game activities including player, unit or team content and weather information.

The server and database 100 may be any computing system, referred to typically as a server, computer or device that is configured to process commands from the participant or user terminals 150. For example, the sever 100 may receive a starting lineup for one or more fantasy teams from one or more terminals 150. Each lineup may correspond to a particular fantasy team whereby each fantasy team competes with one or more other fantasy teams in a fantasy competition. The fantasy competition may be a fantasy league, a single fantasy game, a weekly fantasy contest, a fantasy tournament, or any other suitable fantasy sports competition. Each fantasy lineup may include one or more fantasy units associated with a real-life unit as previously defined and participating in a real-life athletic event, such as a football game. The server 100 may also be configured to receive statistical information from the statistical information source 110, calculate unit point totals and calculate the fantasy score for each fantasy team. The received statistical information may include, without limitation, the information on unit actions or events as exemplified in FIGS. 36-43. The server 100 may then compute a trench fantasy, unit score for the trench fantasy game using the received statistical information and applying the pre-determined values for each team unit action or event. The server 100 may then total the team unit scores to determine a team score, and compare the fantasy team score for each fantasy team to determine the winner of a fantasy contest.

The server 100 preferably includes a database and a processor to perform the tasks previously described. However, the above-described activities and processes may be implemented in a combination of hardware and software, as well as through one or more software systems operating on a general purpose server platform. The software systems can include one or more objects, agents, threads, lines of code, subroutines, separate software applications, user-readable, i.e., source code, machine-readable, i.e., object code, two or more lines of code in two or more corresponding software applications, databases, or other suitable software architectures including a general purpose software application, such as an operating system, and one or more lines of code in a specific purpose software application such as a customized or commercial available fantasy league manager. Alternatively, the functions of the server may be performed or directed by a human user acting as a fantasy commissioner for a fantasy contest or fantasy league.

With reference to FIGS. 35-42 a preferred trench fantasy football system process begins with creation of a fantasy lineup for a fantasy team corresponding to one or more trench fantasy football positions previously drafted through the trench draft manager function 100a and league management processes 100b. The trench draft manager 100a preferably provides a flash application with action scripts than manage the live draft and update the trench database in a conventional fashion. The league management processes 100b are conducted to address league management including league auctions and waiver wire as those functions are conventionally managed in conventional fantasy football systems. As described previously, a trench fantasy football team includes one or more offensive squad units, one or more defensive squad units and one or more special team units as defined by the league commissioner during league set up. Units for the starting lineup may be selected from a predetermined list of units, obtained in a fantasy draft, fantasy auction, or other suitable means for providing a list of units from which to create a trench fantasy lineup.

Once the trench fantasy football team lineup has been created, statistical information relating to each one of the fantasy units is received or collected from a statistical repository of an athletic league or a third-party source of statistical information 110. Once the statistical information has been received or collected, the trench fantasy statistics processing and real time scoring function or algorithm is invoked to calculate unit point totals for each unit of the fantasy lineup for each fantasy team. This calculation is the trench fantasy transformation that yields trench fantasy statistics and trench fantasy ratings. The calculations, applications of the scoring logic and pre-determined unit event values to each unit, and presentation of the calculated score and statistics are preferably performed in stored procedures resident in the database. Statistics processing 100c is executed, for example, against trench-rated NFL statistics to produce trench league results. Real-time scoring 100d applies the trench algorithms, including the pre-determined unit action or event values to source data and then stores trench fantasy statistics and ratings for each team in the trench server and database 100 for subsequent use.

Although specific embodiments of the invention have been described with what are considered to be the most practical and preferred embodiments, it is understood that various modifications, alterations, alternative constructions, variations and equivalents are also encompassed within the spirit and scope of their broadest interpretation, as set forth in the claims. The written description and drawings are, accordingly, to be regarded in an illustrative rather than a restrictive sense. It will, however, be evident that additions, subtractions, deletions, and other modifications and changes may be made thereunto without departing from the broader spirit and scope of the invention as set forth in the claims.