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Being The Commish 101
League Format

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 participating in.

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 the commissioner.

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 them.

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 parameters.

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 teams.

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 draft.

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.