Becoming A Fantasy Football Commissioner

Introduction

So you’ve decided you want to run your own fantasy football league, or maybe everyone just got tired of Jerry dropping the ball. Whichever the case we’re here to help get you on your feet and running towards a successful season.

One of the questions that is often asked by new commissioners is “what can I do to be a GOOD commissioner?”  Of course some organizational skills, dedication and a little perseverance are in order. However, the main thing you need to do is to prepare properly.

Since you’re here reading this article and there’s more than a day before the fantasy draft starts, I’m going to say you’re already on the right track. For starters hopefully you’ve been in a fantasy league before and know from a participant’s perspective what the basic elements of a fantasy league detail, like the draft, scoring system and waiver wires should look like. If not, or if its been a while, don’t be overwhelmed because it won’t keep you from becoming a great league commissioner anyway. I recommend you take a break and go read Fantasy Football 101 by Michael Fabiano NFL Senior Fantasy Analyst to get a great perspective on how the season should progress from start to finish.

Now speaking of websites, one of the first things you’re going to want to do is select a website to host your league. We’ll cover this later, but you should keep it in mind as we go through things so you’ll know what you’re looking for when you’re ready to pick one.

Another important factor that you’ll want to consider will be how serious of a league you intend to run. Is your league going to be a very competitive high-stakes buy-in league, or are you just going to have a friendly league with some friends and coworkers with no buy-in at all? These decisions will impact other things like rule-making and methods of dispute resolution. Let’s go ahead and start looking at some of the details you’ll need to work through to get your league off the ground. Though nearly everything needs to be planned out in advance, I’ve laid everything out in chronological order as you progress through your fantasy football season. Hopefully making it a little easier for you to manage.

Building a Fantasy Football League

Some of the major aspects you’ll need to figure out I just mentioned, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. As a fantasy football commissioner you’ll need several details sorted out even before you can register your league on a website. Let’s begin….

What Kind of League?

One of the first decisions as a commissioner is to decide what kind of league you are going to operate. Are you planning on running a prize league? If so, you’ll need to decide prizes, payouts and the buy-in amounts. This format may give you additional options to consider when you choose a site for hosting your league.

Personal Note: For my competitive high stakes leagues I use ESPN.com for my host site. I trust their network for reliability, easy interface, wonderful analyst, weekly articles and current player news. And as a commissioner they grant you so many options to create the perfect league for your needs.

Maybe you just want to have a friendly league with some friends and coworkers with no buy-in at all. Either way, you’ll still need to know these things before moving forward.

So have you decided on what kind of league? Are you playing Vegas style or Fisher Price style or somewhere in between? Doesn’t matter! What matters now is that you’re making the right decision by becoming your league’s next fantasy football commissioner and reading this article.

How Many People (Teams/Owners) in Your League?

Next you’ll also need to determine the size of your league. Most leagues range from 8-14 teams or so, so a target of 10 or 12 would put you right in the middle. Important fact to remember is that all of these numbers are even. You should ideally have an even number of teams in your league so everyone can be matched up evenly each week throughout the season. There may also be size requirements for your hosting site, like only allowing exactly 12 teams, so be sure you’re aware of that before you make any commitment to a hosting site.

Personal Note: I seen leagues with up to 28 teams! This is crazy talk and I’d love to be a commissioner of one league that size but I don’t have that many friends.

In order to register your league you’re also going to need a name for it, so when you’re ready to register, pick a good name that will be easy for you and your mates to remember.

Rulebook in Place?

If you’re commissioner of a competitive league, you’re going to want a personal written copy of all your league rules and policies. You want to make a record of all the work you are putting into creating your league as this will have several benefits for you.  You will need to have several of these details handy when it is time to register for one thing, and for another, you should give a copy of the rules and policies to each of the coaches in your league. This in itself may settle some issues before they even come to your attention.

Personal Note: This is more important then you might think. I’ve been commissioner for 27 years and I find every season someone in my league causes a stink about something. Without my trusted rulebook in place to rely on for resolving these problems, I’d probably quite being the commissioner long ago because of all the headaches.

Also, I recommend you keep a annual notebook of all your issues during the season. Issues that can be modified in the rulebook for the following season. Things like tiebreakers, point system, starting lineups, etc that you could have missed in your original rules and policies can always be revised as you progress over the years. At the end of the season I will present this new rules or revision to the league and get a vote to find out if I’m going to implement the changes for the following season. I know this based on experience, trust me, that’s why I’m the best commissioner for my league.

What Style Format of League?

The style of league you start may also make a difference in some factors down the road.  A dynasty league, for example, where the teams are retained from year to year will naturally have a slightly different course of action and rule set than a traditional (also known as a standard league) or keeper leagues. What are the differences?

  • Traditional Leagues; Well in a traditional (or standard) league everything will progress as usual, everybody will draft players and play the season. After the season your roster is emptied and you play again fresh next season.
  • Keeper Leagues; In a keeper league you get to reserve a set number of players for the following season from the previous seasons roster. The number of players that may be kept should be specified in the rules you are writing.
  • Dynasty Leagues; A dynasty league is similar to a keeper league in that there is carry over into the next season, except now the default is your whole team carries over. If you are particularly interested in a dynasty league you may want to look into more detailed explanations of some of the nuances at https://dynastyleaguefootball.com/what-is-a-dynasty-league/ after you have gotten through creating the foundation of your league here.

Beyond selecting your format, there are three vital things you need to address in your League Rules: scoring, trades, waiver wire/free agency and playoffs structure.  We’ll take a more thorough look at each of these components shortly, but first let’s consider first where everything starts for the coaches in your league – the draft!

The Draft

The draft can be considered as one of the most important aspect of your fantasy football league and is truly one of my favorite days of the year. This will set the stage for everything that happens for the entire season, and we’re not just talking about player selection.

Live Draft or Online Draft?

One major factor to decide on is whether you will have a live (in person) draft or if it will take place online.  If your league is going to include people from different areas so that meeting up would be difficult, you’re probably going to want to do an online draft where everyone selects their players through the hosting site.

Where it is possible to meet up though, it is highly advisable to do a live draft as many people enjoy draft parties, some even say it is the most fun part of the league for them.

Personal Note: I started fantasy when I was 15 years old and 27 years later we still have our original 12 owners. Over time, my friends have all moved around the country (and world) and if it weren’t for our fantasy league I know I wouldn’t be in touch with half of them after all these years. Our live draft is usually at a set location (Las Vegas this past season, New Orleans the year before, etc) where we all reunite and make a long weekend of craziness, banter, fun and fantasy football drafting! Some of my fondest memories were at our destination drafts.

In either case you will have to set a specific date and time for your draft(live or online). If you are getting other coaches input for this you may consider getting a couple of different dates and times for people to select. Put it out to your league and find out what date works best for everyone. For me this has become the hardest part of organizing a league. The logistic of getting 10-14 people on the same page can be daunting to say the least

What Style of Draft for Your League? Snake? Modified? Auction?

Whether it is live or online, you also need to choose whether you will do a standard (snake) draft, modified draft, or an auction style draft.

  • Standard Draft; For a standard draft you should get an independent person to draw names out of a hat, or something similar to this, to determine the draft order. You will want to make sure to send this draft order to everyone prior to the draft so they can plan accordingly.
  • Auction Style Draft; Auction drafts, which several people say is a lot of fun and seems to make things more fair in some aspects, and my personal favorite as well. With auction drafts each owner starts with the same amount of fantasy dollars and you battle for each player nominated on the auction block. This allows everyone to get a shot at top tier players independent of any draft order. If you are doing an online auction draft make sure you choose a site that supports that feature which all major hosting sites do these days. One drawback to the live draft is that it may make more work for you as the commissioner as you are going to be responsible for entering everyone’s team information into the hosting site.
  • Modified Draft; The modified draft is only for keeper leagues and resembles the actual NFL draft as you’ll be slotted into a draft position based on your results from the year before. Since you’ll be keeping a certain amount of players from the previous season obviously the fantasy champ from the year prior will have really good keeper options, while on the flip-side, the worse team from the previous season will not. So a modified draft in a 10 team league goes 1-10 each round allowing the worse team to get the first pick of each round and giving them a slight advantage to help improve their squad.

Selecting a Roster Size and Starting Lineup Size

One other thing that you need to decide, or that may be specified by the hosting site you choose, is the roster size and size of each coaches starting lineup.  Usually the starting lineup has 9 slots consisting of a QB/RB/RB/WR/WR/TE/FLEX/K/DST and the remainder of the roster is filled with either 5 or 7 other players for a total of 14 or 16 players for each team.

If you are doing a live draft, make sure that you or a designee keeps track of everyone’s picks. You should probably also use a timer to restrict the time for each pick to one or two minutes or you could very well wind up spending much longer for the draft than anticipated. Now that we’ve made it through the draft process we need to see what needs to be set up for the actual season itself.

During the Season

One of the most important things to include in your rules is the scoring system for the league.  You will need to decide how points are awarded for passing, rushing, and receiving among other things.  A good reference for standard scoring and common customizations can be found at ESPN fantasy for you to reference. Generally speaking, unless you have a reason to do otherwise, it is usually a good idea to go with standard scoring options and modify as the years go by. If you have experienced owners in your league and there is a great desire for a different scoring system over the traditional setup then it might be a good idea to put together a rules committee. This would probably be headed by you and consist of 3-5 other coaches. This potentially lightens the burden on you a bit but also takes away from your specific ideas of what you want in your league.

Regular Season Schedule

A schedule for the season should be included in your rules as well. One factor in determining this will be the length of your playoffs. We’ll look at playoff structure in more detail in a little bit, but most leagues reserve 3 weeks for playoffs and only go through week 16 of the fantasy season leaving only 13 weeks to schedule for the regular season. Scheduling will vary depending on the exact number of teams in your league, but generally speaking each team should play every other team in the league at least once. With the common setup of 12 teams split into 2 or 3 divisions, the remaining games are played within the divisions. This should help to fill out the schedule quickly and easily. However, generally the schedule will be taken care of by your host site once your draft is complete making your life a whole lot easier.

Tiebreakers

You will also need to have something in place for a tiebreaker rule for weekly matchups. While these don’t occur very often, they do indeed happen and need to be accounted for. The two most common methods are to use bench points(not recommended) or take the quarterback points to determine the tiebreaker. However, other leagues just allow ties and only worry about tie-breaking when it comes to playoff seeding. I personally hate ties, so please implement a tiebreaker rule. Ultimately the choice is yours here and will only rarely if ever be used, so you probably shouldn’t expend a great deal of effort here.

Personal Note: As I just said, I really hate ties, nothing worse in my opinion. I know bench points as a tiebreaker is popular but I find it doesn’t represent your team best for a tiebreaker. If you have injured players, rookies not playing yet, or situation where you’re stashing a player or two for the future and you need bench points to determine a tiebreaker then you’re in trouble. This is a horrible tiebreaker in my opinion and should be avoided.

One other thing to consider if you have decided to go with a custom league is whether to include Individual Defensive Players (IDP) or simply a Defense Special Team (DST) on your roster. DST is common in almost all leagues but for the crazy ones IDP is quickly becoming popular amogst the diehards. IDP rosters are often considered a fun addition to fantasy leagues and seem to make the season much more interesting. If this is an option you want to include be sure to take a look at http://www.nfl.com/fantasyfootball/help/custom-IDP for some scoring guidelines.

Trading Policies

The trading policies you put in place are another one of those really important aspects as they affect every team throughout the season. You need to write in the rulebook that you have the right to nullify suspicious trades between teams, trades that seem rather uneven or if you suspect collusion should be nullified as they are unsporting and can wreck the league for everyone. Hopefully it’s never an issue but it helps to have that written in the rules and policies. You may, if you wish, also add a restriction on the number of players allowed to be traded between two teams, but this is probably unnecessary in general.

Personal Note: In my league, and as our commissioner, if I suspect a dodgy trade I’ll put the trade out to vote and give my league owners the chance to vote YES or NO. I’m a diplomatic leader, where I know other commissioners that rule with an iron fist and don’t take the input of fellow league owners for decision making. I found these commissioners don’t have an ongoing  league for over 27 years now too. Something to think about. Do you want to be hard nosed dictator or allow freedom of speech to your league?

The rest of the trading policies will hinge on whether your league will have waivers or not.  Most leagues do have waivers as they give the opportunity for the whole league to see that a player has been dropped from another team without having to monitor the whole league for months.  When a player is on the waiver line and two or more teams want to claim the player the player goes to the team with the highest waiver priority. The waiver priority is usually just initially set to be the opposite of the draft order and when a team uses their priority they drop to the bottom of the priority list. You will need to set the time requirement for waivers. These can range from a day to a week, but around two days is the most common timeframe. This is usually ample enough time for everyone in your league to have a fair opportunity.

The Playoffs and Ending the Season

At the end of the regular season you will have your playoffs and hopefully you’ll be apart of it as well. Again, this may vary depending on on the number of teams and divisions in your league, but the playoffs usually consist of the top number of teams, by division, overall or a combination of the two, needed to fill out the time you specify for playoffs, which as we mentioned previously was normally set for 3 weeks, though 2 weeks is not uncommon either.

Once the playoffs have ended it will be your responsibility to award the prizes and awards, if any. You should also be sure to send out a list of the overall standings once the season is completed and be sure to congratulate the winners, thank everyone who participated, and start setting the stage to get people on board for the next season.

Registering the League

We’ve finally made it through pretty much everything you’ll need to get your league running smoothly, including all the details you’ll need to get your league registered with a hosting site.  As we mentioned above, deciding on a hosting site may be influenced by your choice of rules, or your rules may be locked in place by your choice of hosting site. Be assured there are several good choices for hosting your league. Some of the most popular hosting sites are the ones by Yahoo, ESPN, NFL, CBS, Fox Sports, Fleaflicker, and FFToday. There are some links down below for you to get to each site for reviewing.

For most of the sites you will have to specify several things when you actually register. You may also need to provide payment when you register depending on which site you choose and whether or not you play with standard rules or if you decided to customize them. Some of the things you will need to be prepared with at registration are the league’s name, number of teams, prize amounts, whether you are doing a live draft or online, the time and date of the draft if it is online, trade policies, tiebreaker rules, and scoring for your league. If you’ve followed along pretty well then when you go to register your league you should be pretty much all set to go.

Once you have this done you’ll want to be sure to send out invitations to everyone who will be taking part in your league. Make sure you give them all important dates and fee information as well as any information they need to access the league online or to view standings in the league.

Some Final Advice

Now that you’re equipped to get your league going, you’ve totally got this thing ready to roll.  There are still some things you’re going to want to do throughout the season though. If you feel inclined, you can keep weekly stats or provide weekly play and trade summaries to the other owners. Keep notes on the league you’ve made and make sure to specify both the things that do or do not work really well or that you do or don’t like. If you have a lot of friends and coworkers you can always run two leagues, but be prepared for double the amount of work involved on your part or to hand one of them over to someone else to be a league commissioner. Make sure you have fun and enjoy doing this or there’s really not much of a point to it. If you’re not enjoying it yourself, how can you expect others to enjoy the league as well. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from other coaches in your league or others outside the confines of your precious fantasy league, or more experienced commissioners, these can be of tremendous value to you and may help you see things in ways that you hadn’t previously considered.

Now go and be the fantasy football league commissioner you envisioned yourself to be!

The Checklist

  • Preliminaries
    • League Name
    • League Style
    • Coaches/Teams
  •  Draft
    • Live or Online
    • Standard or auction
  • Season
    • Scoring
    • Schedule
    • Tiebreakers
    • IDP?
  • Trades
    • Waivers
    • Restrictions
  • Playoffs
    • Schedule
    • Prizes
  • Registration
    • Everything above
    • Site to use

Glossary

  • Auction Draft: Draft where rosters are filled by coaches through a bidding process with a given, equal starting amount of fantasy dollars.
  • Owner/Coach/Team: A person participating in the fantasy football league and organizing a team.
  • Commissioner: The person (and owner) with the special role of organizing the league.
  • Custom League: A league where the rules are modified from normal standards/defaults.
  • Draft: The process in which coaches select players for their teams.
  • Draft Order: The hierarchy determining the priority of coaches to choose players during the draft non-auction draft events.
  • Dynasty League: A fantasy football league where all or most players from each team are carried over from season to season.
  • Free Agent: A player who is not or is no longer subject to a waiver and is free to be recruited to teams.
  • Hosting Site: The site where you host your fantasy football league.
  • Individual Defensive Players(IDP): Using defensive players individual performance statistics in a similar manner to offensive players.
  • Keeper League: A fantasy football league where a predetermined number of players may be carried over to the next season.
  • League: A group of fantasy football coaches who are grouped to play against one another for a season.
  • Live Draft: An in-person drafting event for a fantasy football league.
  • Online Draft: An online drafting event managed by a hosting site for a fantasy football league.
  • Playoffs: The games over a period at the end of a season where the previously top ranked players are matched up to determine overall placement.
  • Regular Season: The games over the season leading up to the playoffs where play is reasonably equally distributed.
  • Roster: The list of players on a coach’s team consisting of a starting lineup and benched players.
  • Rules: The set of policies and procedures established by the league commissioner for the season.
  • Schedule: The pre-arranged matches between coaches in the league through the regular season.
  • Scoring: The specified manner in which points will be awarded for passing yards, receptions, interceptions, tackles, etc.
  • Season: The period of all games consisting of both scheduled regular season and playoff games.
  • Tiebreaker: A means by which standings can be sorted into a winner and loser from a tied position. May apply to weekly matches or to overall standings.
  • Trades: Two or more coaches agreeing to swap one or more players each.
  • Waiver: A specified waiting period in which coaches are notified of a dropped player’s availability and may attempt to claim the player, subject to waiver priority. Players not claimed during waiver become free agents.
  • Waiver Priority: The hierarchy determining priority in the event two or more coaches attempt to claim a player on waiver.

Hosting Site Links