If you are considering starting your own fantasy football league
this year you really need to ask yourself a few questions. Probably
the most important of these is do I have the time to effectively
run this league? League management has come a long way since the
days of pouring over the box scores in the Monday paper. However,
despite the aid of league management software that automates scoring,
drafting, and even transactions, managing a league is going to eat
up a fair amount of your time. It requires a certain level of commitment
on a weekly basis so that your owners feel that the league is worth
This brings up the next question you should answer. Why are you
interested in running a league? It’s time consuming, there
can be conflicts with owners, and you always have to go the extra
mile when you are the commissioner to demonstrate that you have
no special advantages by being in this position. It actually can
make it more difficult to be a team owner in a league if you are
So why do it? Well for me, it’s rewarding. I enjoy the
simple statistics involved in trying to set up a scoring system
that I feel makes a good league. I also like being able to take
the best parts of the leagues I’ve been in over the years
and mold them into one league, one that I’d hope a lot of
other owners would enjoy. So if you think you want to invest the
time and effort and you’ll enjoy what it takes to run a
league, read on. I’ll walk you through some of the basics
to create your league and then a few tips I’ve learned in
how to manage one. Note that some of the basics will be well beneath
many diehard players, but I’ve attempted to summarize as
many options as I’ve been exposed to while playing. Also,
it’s worth pointing out that there are so many ways to play
now that I won’t even come close to expounding on all of
1) League Format
There are several options you have when formatting your league.
A few of the key parameters you’ll want to define upfront
are the competition type, roster turnover, fees, and number of
teams. These four items will form the basis of your league and
your rules will be generated with the idea of supporting these
Competition Type - By this,
I’m referring to how teams will compete against each other.
By far, the most common type is head-to-head competition.
Simply put, one owners’ team will play another owners’
team each week of the season. Teams accrue a won / loss record
just as NFL teams would. At then end of the season there is typically
a playoff for teams with the best won/loss records to determine
the league champion. The advantages of this are that it mimics
the NFL, and it provides incentive to play each week for a win.
One of the drawbacks of this system is that it introduces chance
into the outcome. Many owners can share their stories of having
the second-highest point total for the week only to lose their
game. Though it’s an imperfect system, it seems to provide
the most excitement for owners.
The other option you have here is a total points system. In this
system teams accrue points throughout the season each week. There
are no wins and losses used to crown a champion. At the end of
the season, the league champion is the team with the most total
points. The advantage of this system is that it rather clearly
identifies the best team over the course of the season. The drawback
is that as the weeks go on, many owners will find themselves with
nothing to play for, or the winner can get ahead by such a large
margin that the season is over weeks before its supposed to end.
Despite the popularity of head-to-head leagues many more serious
players have realized the flaw that is the luck-of-the-draw in
weekly scheduling. To combat this many leagues now use some hybridization
of the two systems. For example, both a playoff champion and total
points champion are crowned in some leagues. Others factor total
points in when determining playoff spots. My league reserves a
wildcard spot for the highest scoring team that doesn’t
otherwise qualify for the playoffs, regardless of record. Last
year the team that earned that spot was 5-8-1.
I’ve played under both formats and I certainly feel the
head-to-head format brings much more excitement to a league. I
think it’s the reason fantasy football is so much more popular
than other fantasy sports. The NFL lends itself to weekly contests
because each team plays one game a week as opposed to the other
major sports where there are multiple games in a weekly period.
For beginners I certainly recommend starting out with a purely
head-to-head system. As you become more familiar with the nuances
of running a league you’ll need to bring total points into
the equation somehow. It’s truly the measure of the best
Roster Turnover – There
are three main types of roster turnover in fantasy football. There
are re-draft leagues, where owners redraft their entire team each
season. Then there are keeper leagues where owners keep some portion
of their team from last season. Finally there are dynasty leagues.
In dynasty leagues, owners keep their entire roster from the past
season and only draft incoming rookies and players not currently
on any team rosters.
Complete re-drafts are pretty self-explanatory and are probably
the best option for beginning players. Keeper leagues are a little
more challenging, especially when the rules are set up so that
owners have to make sacrifices of draft picks in order to keep
the players they want to keep, or when restriction are placed
on how long a player can be kept. There are really no limits on
the rules that can be made to deal with keepers. I personally
like to limit or require compensation in the form of draft picks
if an owner keeps a player. For example, we have a rule in our
league that allows one of our keepers to be player selected in
the last 5 rounds of the prior years draft. However, if you keep
that player, you give up a 5th round pick in the current years
Dynasty leagues are a totally different animal and require experienced
and committed owners. In dynasty leagues, your roster never turns
over. You have to use the draft and trades to build a winning
team. A lot of owners like this added challenge, however it can
be difficult to find a full compliment of owners willing to commit
to a league long term, especially if they have a poor team. It
can actually take years to build a winner and there aren’t
a lot of owners that have that kind of patience.
To Fee or Not to Fee –
that is the question. There are a lot of both free leagues and
fee leagues available. In all honesty, I’ve never played
in a free league that didn’t have at least 25% of the owners
abandon their teams by the end of the season. In my opinion there
is only one option. You need to have an entry fee. My league fee
is set at $100. This was done to attract fairly serious players.
You don’t have to set it that high or you can go higher.
Just beware that the more owners pay to play, the more cutthroat
their tactics will be and the more time you’ll spend on
rules issues. The lower the fee, the more likely you are to get
the casual owners who may not care that half their team is on
a bye in a particular week.
Size Matters – Doesn’t
really seem like a big deal right. It’s a huge deal. It
will factor into nearly every other decision you have to make.
Scoring format, free agency issues, and draft strategies are all
impacted by how small or large you make your league. Simply put,
the more teams you have, the more dispersed the higher scoring
players are going to be. So, how much of a challenge do you want?
I think 8 teams is a minimum and this is for a very beginner level
league. In a league this size you are going to have good players
that aren’t even on a roster from week to week. This minimizes
the importance of having a good draft which should be the basis
of a good fantasy football team.
Ten and 12 team leagues are better and more competitive. Twelve
seems to be the preferred number for competitive leagues. It rewards
those who know their NFL players, but doesn’t really eliminate
the less savvy NFL fans either. My league has 14 teams. Again,
this is going to draw serious players who know depth charts inside
and out. Another advantage of 14 teams is that you can still cover
your bye week players and injuries.
Once you step up to a 16-team league, it becomes impossible for
some teams to field backups necessary to cover injuries and byes.
If you really want to go beyond 16 teams it becomes necessary
to divide the league in half and allow owners in each half to
have separate drafts. Basically a player will be on more than
one team under this format. It’s really the only way to
have a competitive league if you have to have more than 16 owners.
The obvious drawback here is that teams may be playing against
their own players and that tends to detract from this format.
2) League Interface
The next decision you are going to make is how your owners are
going to communicate with you and with other owners. I’m
going to assume the days of manually printing weekly results spreadsheets
and mailing them out are gone, though I’m sure some people
still handle it that way. Thanks to Al Gore inventing the Internet,
we can now play fantasy football with people anywhere in the country
and beyond. You’ve got a couple of options for Internet
interface. League management software is available that will download
and compile all your stats on your PC. You can then print reports
and e-mail them or export web pages for uploading. The advantage
of these packages is that they tend to offer a little more customization
for your scoring systems. It’s also generally less expensive.
The drawback, its more work to generate reports and real time
scoring isn’t an option that I’m aware of. Also any
team management functions have to be communicated to the commissioner
for his input into the system.
Your other alternative is web-based league management. There
are many sites (ESPN, Yahoo, CBS, Fanball) that offer you the
ability run every aspect of your league on the web. In addition,
the more serious players will have to have real time scoring.
I personally use CBS. It’s the best system I’ve used
online (I’ve also used Yahoo and ESPN). I’ve heard
a lot of people recommend Fanball. The only real drawback to the
web-based league managers are the price, but when you spread that
cost over 10+ owners even the more expensive managers cost no
more than $10 - $15 per team.
In Part 2 of Commish 101,
we'll look at how to setup your rules, scoring system, and rosters.