A commissioner can make or break a fantasy football league. With money at stake, pride on the line, and heated opinions thrown into the ring, it doesn’t take much to toss a wrench into a fun and promising group of fantasy players. That’s where the commissioner comes in. The task may seem daunting at first, and not every decision you make is going to sit well with every team owner, but as long as you keep your main objectives in mind, you should be fine. Those objectives are:
- Keep the league fair.
- Keep the league fun.
- Keep everyone engaged.
Let’s go over some tips and strategies to accomplish these goals.
Establish an accepted method of communication amongst league members and stick to it. My preferred method is a private Facebook group. Email threads get long and confusing, mass texts are the bane of human existence, group Facebook chats aren’t much better, and many league owners don’t check the league message board on a regular basis.
Facebook groups give you the ability to post announcements, polls, and other information, and they send your owners a notification when you do it. You can also start a group chat from the group itself if you absolutely have to. There always seems to be that one guy in your league that is too cool for Facebook, but I just shoot him a text if I need his input on something. Regardless of what form of communication you choose, keep it consistent and try to keep everyone in the loop.
A league should be run like a democracy: Let everyone have a say wherever possible. Facebook polls are great for this (most hosting sites also have a poll feature). If you want to change a rule or setting, present it to the league, put it to a vote and go with the majority. It will be difficult to maintain a sustainable league if you’re making big decisions that the majority of owners are not fans of. Encourage your league mates to propose their own changes, and if they’re worthwhile, put those to a vote as well. There are a few issues that are better handled by yourself and not vote however, and I’ll cover that later on.
Settings and Rules
Before even forming a league, decide on the basic settings concerning the league type – is it dynasty or keepers? How many teams will there be? Make sure your group of fantasy players are on board with those decisions.
Once the group is aligned on the major guidelines, a million other little aspects will come into play. My suggestion is to make an executive decision to set the scoring and roster settings, and let any resulting issues be put to a group vote.
If you’re completely new to fantasy football and have no idea what settings to choose, use your hosting site’s defaults and let your league mates voice their opinion if they feel aspects should be changed.
Here are a few of the most debated settings you should know about:
- Points Per Reception (PPR): PPR refers to the amount of points awarded per reception. Standard is 0, although 0.5 and 1 are also popular. PPR was popularized when running backs were dominating scoring categories and it helped bring wide receivers and tight ends closer to their level. Now that there are less dominant running backs and more dominant wide receivers, it’s less necessary but still popular. It also gives some added value to players that are heavily involved in the offense, but may not score a lot of touchdowns.
- Points Per Passing Touchdown: Most leagues use 4 points as a standard, although a select few still use 6 (CBS). Quarterbacks score the most points by far, so using 4 points for a passing TD brings them down to earth a bit, although 6 does make a bit more football sense.
- Bench Spots: The amount of bench spots affects free agency strategy throughout the year. The standard is 5 or 6. Some leagues also have an injured reserve (IR) bench spot where you can only put players who are injured.
- Starting Roster Positions: The standard is 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 FLEX (RB/WR/TE), 1 DST, and 1 K. Adding another WR position would make sense in the context of the current pass-happy NFL. Adding another QB slot also makes things interesting and ups the worth of QBs tremendously. Another interesting wrinkle would be to allow owners to start a QB in their flex position. This is called a superflex league, and it makes QBs incredibly valuable. If you want to get really crazy, you can introduce individual defensive players (IDPs), but that’s for an advanced league.
- Waivers and Free Agency: A player goes on waivers after their team plays a game or they have been dropped. The waiver period is usually 1-2 days. Waivers is a setting that should always be voted on and understood by the whole league. Not having waivers will result in people waking up at 3:34 AM trying to time their hosting site’s player unlock time, and is biased toward the owners that can get to their computer the fastest when news breaks. It’s really not a viable option for a serious league. Actual waiver options include:
- Standard Waivers – To begin the season, the waiver order goes in the reverse order of the draft. During a waiver period, everyone can put a claim on a player. The owner with the highest waiver order will get the player, and their waiver order will be moved to the back of the line. This is a simple and fair system.
- Resetting Waivers – The waiver order resets every week based on the reverse of the current standings (the worst team gets the first pick of players on waivers.) This is a good way to keep your league competitive until the end of the season, but if you’re doing your job and your league is already competitive, it is unfair to the teams that do well early.
- Free Agent Auction Bidding (FAAB) – FAAB is the most advanced form of waivers, but also the most fair. Each owner will have a specific yearly budget that they can secretly bid on players that are on waivers. The owner that bids the most gets the player, and the amount will be subtracted from that team’s budget.
- Playoffs: Most leagues play head to head games throughout the fantasy regular season, and have a 2-3 week playoff culminating in a week 16 championship. Although Week 17 is the last week of the NFL regular season, it is a terrible week to hold a fantasy championship. NFL teams will rest star players in anticipation of the playoffs, start promising young players over entrenched veterans, and generally bench anyone with any kind of minor injury if there is nothing to play for. The major question here is how many teams in your league should make the playoffs.In the NFL, only 38% of teams make the playoffs, so I try to keep it around 40% of the size of the league if possible. This works out to 4 playoff teams in a 10 team league (Week 15 and 16 playoff), and even though it’s all the way up to 50% of the league, 6 teams in the playoffs in a 12 team league seems to the sweet spot. In a 6 team playoff, the 1 and 2 seeds would get a bye in Week 14, while the no. 3 spot plays the 6 and the 4 plays the 5. The 1 seed would play the lowest remaining seed in week 15, and the 2 seed would play the highest. These are the simplest and most common options, but not the only ones. I’ve played in leagues that don’t even have a playoff, and the league winner is just whoever has the most points or wins at the end of the year. It’s a little anticlimactic, but at least the best team wins every year.
- Seeding: Seeding for the playoffs obviously starts with record (if you’re playing head to head), but you’ve got to make sure you know what your tiebreaker is because it will undoubtedly factor into who makes the playoffs and what seed they get. The most popular (and best) tiebreaker option is points scored, followed by head to head record.
- Conferences: Some leagues split themselves into conferences or divisions and take the top 2 or 3 teams from each of them as the playoff teams. I don’t really see a reason for doing this if your league is 12 teams or less. You’ll occasionally end up with good teams missing the playoffs because they were placed in a tougher conference. Just look at the discrepancy between the Eastern and Western Conference in the NBA, and ask yourself if you want that in your league. Regardless, this is something that needs to be decided before the year starts.
The absolute most important rule to follow as a commissioner is: DO NOT CHANGE LEAGUE SETTINGS AFTER THE DRAFT! A league’s settings can drastically change how owners approach the draft, and changing them afterward is unfair to everyone involved. Unless you messed up big time, and accidentally set points per reception to 100 instead of 1 or something, all suggested changes should be tabled until next year. Even then, you should make sure everyone is on board before you change it.
Another thing to keep in mind is that while other league members might be trying to get a leg up on the competition by keeping unique league settings to themselves, the commissioner’s job is to make sure everyone knows the rules and settings. Printing them out at a live draft or posting a screenshot is always helpful.Once the season starts, ignorance should not be an excuse for violating league rules.
Buy In: Let me first attempt to persuade any readers away from playing in a league with no stakes. No matter how people feel at the beginning of the season, interest will wane if your team is struggling and you have no reason to keep it afloat. When multiple owners stop caring, the league can fall apart.
I’ve found that even a small buy-in of $20 can drastically improve the effort of everyone in the league. $50 a person seems to be the sweet spot for leagues I’ve been in. If you HAVE to go free (maybe you’re in a work league that doesn’t allow gambling), at least have a punishment for the last place finisher. The buy-in amount is definitely something that needs to be agreed upon by everyone involved.
Payout: Make sure to vote on what the buy-in AND the payout should be. Payout percentages vary wildly from league to league, but a good frame of reference to start from would be paying out for the top three spots, giving the winner 60% of the pot, the second place finisher 30%, and the third place finisher 10%. You could also give prizes for regular season accomplishments such as most points or most wins.
Collecting: Collecting dues are the worst part of being the commissioner, but possibly the most important. Do whatever you can to get everyone to pay before the draft, especially the first year. Make it known that in order to draft, you have to pay.
You want to set a precedent early that you’re serious about getting the money on time. The longer you give people, the more difficult it gets to collect, especially if the delinquent owners have a bad season. Try to make it as easy as possible for people to pay you (whether it be check, cash, PayPal, Venmo, etc.) If you’re willing to pay a little more, there are resources like LeagueSafe.com that collect and distribute the fees for you.
Weekly Payouts: To keep things interesting and get more money in the pot, many leagues offer small prizes for weekly achievements. This also keeps owners trying their hardest, even if they’ve been eliminated from playoff contention. You can even switch up the criteria every week to keep things exciting. Some ideas for weekly payouts include:
- Highest score
- Highest scoring RB group (or WR group, or any other position)
- Biggest blowout
- Highest scoring losing team
- Team closest to their projected point total
- Team with the most points over their projection
Transaction Fees: To get more money in the pot, some leagues charge a dollar or two per transaction (or pick-up). I’m not really in favor of anything that penalizes effort, but it is a way of injecting money into the prize pool mid-season.
There are a myriad of hosting options, most of which are free. I personally prefer ESPN. They have a great mobile app, enough flexibility, and are always up and running. Other options include NFL.com, Yahoo, CBSSports, MyFantasyLeague, and Fleaflicker. I’m not a fan of NFL.com’s interface. There are too many videos and other unnecessary things going on. Their projections are also very strange. Yahoo! has been very popular over the years, and although I haven’t used it, I do know they screwed up a bunch of live drafts in 2014 that caused all sorts of havoc. I’m not sure if I could trust them. While Fleaflicker doesn’t have the prettiest interface (or a mobile app), it does have enough flexibility to run pretty much any style of league. Check back soon for a pros and cons post of all fantasy football hosting sites.
Choosing a Date: The draft is like Christmas for fantasy players. It’s the best day of the year, and it’s the commissioner’s job to get it planned. Try to pick a draft day as close to the regular season as possible, and pick it early. Give the owners a chance to make sure they can get off work and don’t have prior obligations.
Live or Online: In my opinion, a live, in-person draft is the best way to do it. There’s nothing better than getting together with your buds, drinking some beer, eating some unhealthy food, and talking football for a few hours. You can have everybody pitch in and buy a nice draft board, make your own board, or even put your online draft on a TV and draft off of that. Just make sure you have an easy way for all owners to check the past picks easily, and make sure you have a reasonable time limit on each pick.
You should offer printouts of the league settings, but it’s up to the owners to bring player rankings to draft off of. If your entire league is spread out and a live draft isn’t possible, your hosting site will have an online draft option.
Snake or Auction: A snake draft is a traditional draft style where the order is flipped every round. An auction is a more advanced style where each owner starts with the same amount of fake money and bids on players. I’ve heard that once you go to an auction format, you never go back, but I haven’t personally tried it. Gauge your league for what kind of draft they want to have.
Draft Order (Snake Draft Only): For redraft leagues, draft order is always a hotly contested topic as the season nears. I like to get the order set early so owners can practice mock drafts from their draft position. Some interesting ways of choosing draft order include:
- Completely random (pull out of a hat, Internet randomizer, etc.)
- March Madness bracket
- Video game tournament
- H.O.R.S.E., lightning, or some other basketball related competition
- Inverse of last year’s standings
As a commissioner, your league mates have entrusted you with a certain amount of responsibility. Trades are a good time to use that responsibility. Most hosting sites will give you the option to put accepted trades up to league review or commissioner review before they go through. Following my philosophy of implementing democratic principles wherever possible, it would seem obvious that league review would be the better choice, but it actually presents numerous unnecessary issues.
The first issue is that other league owners not involved in the trade may actually have a vested interest if the trade goes through or not (maybe they don’t want to see a team they’re battling for a playoff spot improving), and will reject the trade for personal reasons. The second is that owners may reject an unbalanced trade just for being unbalanced. The ONLY reason to reject a trade is collusion.
Collusion occurs when one team makes a move to intentionally benefit another. Trades should not be rejected for being fairly lopsided or unfair; they should only get rejected if they are so lopsided that it is clear that one owner is not trying to improve their own team. Not every owner will get this, so I think that’s why it’s important to make the trade veto the one absolute power the commissioner does have. If enough people make a stink about a trade and you’re not sure if it’s collusion or not, it’s not a terrible idea to put it to a vote.
Make it known to your league that collusion won’t be tolerated and there will be penalties for participating. Dropping good players for another team to pick up, trading your good players to another team, and swapping players from one team to another and back to cover a bye week are all forms of collusion.
You can cut down or almost eliminate disputes by laying out the rules before the season starts, and proactively planning for situations that could happen. Leaving a gray area anywhere is asking for trouble and can drive an unnecessary wedge between friends. Type all these rules up in a league constitution or charter and make sure all league members have access to it. I have learned this lesson the hard way.
This all seems complicated, but once you get rules and communication established, being a good commissioner is not as big of a challenge as it seems. Take ownership of conflict, answer questions quickly, and keep everyone informed. And remember: keep the league fair, fun, and engaged. Good luck!