Congratulations. Either as a rookie in over your head or as a seasoned veteran, you’ve decided to become the commissioner of a fantasy football league as we all await the upcoming football season. You may have played in leagues before, or maybe you’re taking one over, but running one can be a different monster altogether. The purpose of this piece is to help make your life a little bit easier and to give you an extra resource to use to make sure your league has the ultimate fantasy football experience. So regardless of how experienced you are, here are some general steps and tips to make being a commissioner a bit less of a living hell, and to make the league fun for everybody.
Decide the basics
How many teams are you going to have? A different number of teams would require you to manage a different number of schedules for future planning. Are you going to be an 8-team league of fierce competitors, a standard 12-team league, or take it a step further with limited roster sizes and a 16-team league? If you’re having an in-person fantasy draft, it may be much easier to have 12 or less, while keeping anything larger to a strictly online capacity. After you decide how many teams you’d like to have, you need to decide if you’re going to be a competitive league, a casual league, or a mix of both depending on the personnel you ultimately have. If you’re running a money league, when is the money due? Are you depositing it into a bank account, just holding onto it, or using an electronic vault as some modern leagues provide an option for? Based on how many people are in your league, and how competitive you are, maybe you’re going to be a keeper league? If you’re thinking about a keeper league, decide how many players are permitted to be kept from year to year, if draft picks are tradeable commodities, and just how dedicated you think your core group of team owners really is. If you’re replacing people year in and year out, a keeper league would put newer players at a potential disadvantage, which is something to keep in mind when choosing your league settings.
Figure out the scoring system
The NFL is in a constant state of flux when it comes to rule changes, player production, and scoring. Fantasy football has shifted to reflect the fact that we have a passing league, and many standard scoring options account for one half or one point per reception as a result. If you want to keep standard scoring, just be sure it’s what you really want, especially if you want to alter the roster sizes. If you plan on adding a flex starter to your league, will you use running backs and wide receivers, or will you include tight ends as an option? For my main league, we use a one point per reception system when it comes to offensive player scoring, but have adjusted Yahoo’s receiving touchdown point spread to award five points instead of six, in order to keep scoring levels a little more balanced between offensive positions. Fractional points may not be the base setting depending on which avenue you host your league, but they will save you headaches with tiebreakers, and can potentially lead to some exciting finishes between evenly matched teams.
If you are tweaking the roster beyond a flex position, consider adding individual defensive players, subtracting kickers, and basing the number of bench spots on the number of starters and team owners you have. An IR spot may make more sense for a keeper league than a standard 12-person league, while not having the statistical variance of kickers may make sense for a 14-team competitive league. If you are using individual defensive players, will you lock owners into specific position groups, and will you use the standard scoring system that favors big play defensive players, or adjust the scoring to favor tackling machines? Strive for balance in your scoring system if you tweak it beyond the basics, and strive for a roster size that actually fits the league you have. A more casual 10-team group of owners playing for free might simply not know enough players to handle five extra bench spots.
When deciding the waiver rules, you’ll want to account for how active your league is, what actually interests everybody, and what is the most fair. If waivers are too complex for some owners to keep track of, consider going without a waiver system so that players are available on a first-come first-serve basis for add/drops. If you have owners that work on weekends or have limited availability, a standard waiver system might be perfectly fine. If you’re taking over a league that has some history, consider not using the typical rolling list of waiver priority to give the worse owners in the standings a better chance to keep things interesting. If you’re a fan of game theory and potential mayhem, FAAB can be the most fun thing you’ve ever tried, or a nightmare when an owner uses all of their free agency funds during the first week because they forgot to draft some obscure sleeper and decided to overpay. Auction bidding tips the scales towards a competitive league, while not using a waiver system at all may be a more friendly approach for casual players.
Use the internet
Once you have most of these main things sorted out, you largely need to figure out the draft, the schedule, and league-specific rules. The internet is your best friend as a commissioner. Between platforms such as Reddit, fantasy sections on Yahoo, NFL.com, and ESPN, and fantasy-specific sites like FFToolbox and Rotoworld, there are plenty of places to still retain your competitive edge, but to simultaneously find things to do for your league to make it unique. Maybe you have a balanced set of schedules and your playoff format sorted out, but you need help figuring out how to make the league more inclusive towards the end of the year. Maybe you’ll have a side bet going on the League Pick ‘Em bets or maybe you just want to find fun ways to decide the draft order outside of a random number generator? The internet and your league’s creativity can lead to a lot of fun things to truly make things unique.
At this point, your playoff settings, division settings, scoring settings, and general league settings should be taken care of. You know your fellow owners and want to decide the draft order in a way that’s a bit less boring than using a random number generator or the previous year’s standings. While a standard tournament of Madden seems to be a norm for many leagues, why restrict yourself to just football? If you want to go the extra mile, use fighting video games, or an event that has enough competitors that you can use fantasy of some kind to dictate your own order. If you want to incorporate other sports, try doing things like having everyone pick a NASCAR driver or golfer competing in a tournament and the final standings decide the order. One year, my league picked Olympic teams, with the final medal count dictating the draft order to follow this line of thought. March Madness brackets are easy to set up and provide another option, as well as actually competing yourselves in a race or other event.
If you want to take the video game route, but don’t want to use the typical Madden tournament, arcade-style sports games or fighting games are your best option. An NES Ice Hockey or Blades of Steel tournament could be one way of going about things. Using something like the SNES’ Royal Rumble game with assigned wrestlers could be another way to decide picks (as my league did this year). If you want to use fighters, most variants of the Super Smash Brothers series have customization options to make it go relatively quickly. You can additionally stream and archive fights on games in the Street Fighter series, Mortal Kombat series, or Injustice series if you want to go that route. Why pull a name out of the hat when you can have Sub-Zero rip out your friend’s spine for a fatality in addition to getting the right to draft Antonio Brown?
Once you have a fun way to decide the draft order, you’ll need to pick a place and draft type. If you want to meet up, several restaurant chains offer deals for leagues that want to draft, you can rent a low-cost board room somewhere, or simply have it at someone’s house to save time and money. If you aren’t doing an online draft, you need to decide if you’re having a standard draft, a serpentine draft where the order flips each round, or an auction draft where all hell breaks loose over everyone wanting the same few players. Each draft type has their positives and negatives, but this is once again a thing to base off of how competitive your league is. If you’re a casual league or somewhere that’s not quite a full-scale competitive league, serpentine is probably perfectly fine. Auction drafts can get out of hand with the wrong group of owners (just watch The League), but could be great fun if the league wants to make the draft itself into more of a competition.
Find more ways to be unique
Rules, scoring bonuses, and the draft itself don’t have to be the only ways you stand out. If you’re hosting a league, consider going all out and making it into a real party with music and good food. Maybe the last-place finisher from the year before gets some sort of punishment? You can also get a fancy trophy to share, or in my league’s case, a championship title belt. Instead of a draft clock as a timer, throw a penalty flag at the one guy stalling everyone else and force them to draft a kicker. Nothing is stopping you from adding crazy things to your league besides a lack of originality. Consider making it a policy to implement at least one new change per season to keep things interesting.
Listen to your league and re-evaluate
Criticism is okay. Not everything is going to go smoothly each week. The draft process itself may be a nightmare just because of your team owners’ varying schedules. You might have collusion claims, or if you picked the wrong person as an assistant/associate commissioner, there’s a risk they’re gaming the system for themselves. It’s good to have one or two emergency backups waiting in case you need to make a drastic change such as replacing an owner mid-season or during the night of the draft. Develop a system for in-person drafts to account for someone who has an emergency or who otherwise can’t physically be there at the last minute if you can’t reschedule the draft or use an online option. If the league wants to change the way trades are accepted (to allow league-wide votes, or just let anyone make any trade they’d like) consider the circumstances. If you want to make a large-scale change like adding or dropping a position player, see how the league feels about it, even if it makes logical sense for the scoring system. Someone might have a better draft order idea than you, or might have a better way to deal with an owner than needs some type of punishment for breaking the rules if you’re stuck on what to do.
Fantasy football is one of the most fun and hectic things a group of friends can do when they love the sport. If you’re taking over as a commissioner, it can be a living hell if you aren’t prepared depending on the other owners, so use as many resources as you can to make it the most fun experience possible. Ideally your league will find the perfect balance of fairness, competitiveness, and fun, but for each league, those qualifiers might mean different things. Figure out who is in your league, and then decide which direction makes sense for you to take.