How to Run a Great Fantasy Football League
In the world of sports fandom, no higher calling exists than serving friends in the venerated office of fantasy football commissioner. Poor execution of this station can result in acrimony, lost respect and derision, both in person and on social media.
In order to avoid this and serve the fantasy public effectively, the person running the league must remain conscientious about every aspect of administration. So if you want to become the best commish since Michael Chiklis, you've got a sizable task ahead of you, but respect from your peers and fantasy glory await at the end of the path.
With these eight helpful tips for prospective fantasy commissioners, you'll have your buddies calling you "Pete Rozelle" before you know it.
Thou Shalt Not Draft Too Early
The sport of football (real football, not fantasy football) contains a high degree of violence and risk of injury. Even in the preseason games—when starting-caliber players who would be relevant to fantasy drafters merely seek to tune up and get acclimated to competition for a few series—serious injuries can occur, drastically altering the complexion of a season.
If you happen to have a fantasy league that drafts early in the preseason, then all subsequent exhibition games result in white-knuckle suspense, since your players cannot earn you fantasy points but can most certainly sustain an injury.
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal penned an article with the headline "Preseason injury plague spreads" on August 20 last year, noting a serious knee injury sustained by Dustin Keller and a foot injury to rookie runner Le'Veon Bell. Other notable additions to the preseason ailment report included EJ Manuel, Victor Cruz and Wes Welker.
Somewhere across the country, an owner who drafted Cruz and Welker as their primary receivers had to drown that misery in a family-sized bag of potato chips. And then there was the head-scratching injury to Mark Sanchez as Rex Ryan attempted to win the "Snoopy Bowl."
You can avoid such sadness and garment-rending by holding your draft as late in the preseason as possible. The Green Bay Packers visit the Seattle Seahawks to open the schedule on Thursday, September 4, so aim to draft your league in the final week of August.
League Size and Format
Do not think you are smarter than the scores of fantasy commissioners who have come before you. They were titans and pioneers; you are not.
When setting up a fantasy league, do not attempt to reinvent the wheel. This process has been honed over time, and certain patterns should be repeated after proving effective through trial and error.
You need at least 10 teams for a league, and 12 would be ideal (14 is just silly; you've got to cap it somewhere). Eight teams can also work, but then you run the risk of having a waiver wire with so much depth that shrewd drafting can be rendered moot.
And don't subject your friends to keeper leagues unless you're playing with seasoned fantasy GMs. Redraft leagues are more fun. Live in the moment.
Moreover, while you can play with eight, 10 or 12 teams, you cannot play with nine or 11. This is because the one and only format to use for fantasy football is head-to-head.
Save the total points scoring for baseball, a format which mirrors the lengthy season and process of attrition that defines that sport. Likewise, the nature of football comes from the matchups, the crucial factor played by each opponent and the overfull implications for each new week.
Whether you use a division format in your league or not, the only scoring method worth considering is head-to-head.
Bench Size and Bye-Week Roulette
One of the major limitations of the real-life football schedule actually transforms into a pivotal strategic tactic in fantasy football: bye weeks.
Each team has a bye at some point during the season, coming between Week 4 and Week 12. Dancing a fantasy team around those byes requires precision footwork and thorough planning.
Any fantasy drafter worth their nacho cheese knows the bye weeks become a crucial consideration on draft day. Three WRs with the same bye can devastate a team when that week rolls around. Correspondingly, the second QB on a roster must have a different bye week from the top starter regardless of how much you want to draft both Joe Flacco and Tony Romo.
Such considerations are rudimentary, but the commissioner must also provide a bench with sufficient flexibility to facilitate players avoiding those bye weeks. Moreover, giving each team a deeper bench can encourage trades in the league, which are always fun to talk smack on and reminisce about. (Remember that year you traded Ahman Green for Jake Delhomme?)
If a league has 10 starting roster spots (QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, WR, TE, W/R/T, K, DEF), the bench should have no fewer than six spots, and bumping that up to eight is advisable.
Scoring: To PPR or Not to PPR?
Regardless of which platform you use for your league, there will be a standard format for the scoring by default. A savvy commissioner can tweak this to improve the league even further, but imagine it's like a soup: You want to add enough salt and seasoning to taste, but you don't want to ruin it by getting too bold or extreme.
Minor scoring considerations should be left to the commish and opened to the league for comment and input on the message boards before the draft. Such scoring issues include an increased deduction for interceptions and fumbles or for missed field-goal attempts of under 50 yards. Another helpful scoring adjustment includes having passing TDs worth less than rushing or receiving TDs (four points as opposed to six).
However, the most contentious of all the scoring debates comes in the form of PPR, points per reception. PPR leagues have risen sharply in popularity, primarily because fantasy players like anything that gives them points.
Certainly, it stings when you have receivers who haul in a ton of catches and rack up the yards, but your opponent outshines that with a couple of guys getting a sneaky touchdown on just one or two receptions.
However, PPR leagues also reward teams with a dearth of receiving targets and unfairly tilt the playing field in favor of certain passing attacks.
Think back to the New England Patriots' Week 2 victory over the New York Jets in 2013. Julian Edelman caught 13 passes on 18 targets, but he did not find the end zone and totaled just 78 yards. He should not yield a handsome fantasy bonus merely because Tom Brady had no one else to throw to.
Some leagues balance PPR with points per carry for running backs (at a lesser rate, such as 0.25 points for a carry and 0.5 for a reception), especially in an NFL that has de-emphasized the feature back. To be clear, PPR can be a good scoring system, but it cannot be allowed to run wild. Do not become beholden to the almighty reception!
Return yards represent another contentious scoring consideration, and you might as well just cross that category off the list. However, the trend toward PPR cannot be resisted.
Just as in the NFL, fantasy owners fight and scrap and pour their hearts out to get to the playoffs. Missing out can make a grown man extremely frustrated, especially if your name is Jim Mora.
An NFL regular season lasts for 17 weeks, and planning the fantasy playoffs around this represents the single most important consideration for any league. The postseason brings a tangle of intricate decisions which will help determine the league champion.
When setting up the playoffs, proportion becomes a key consideration. Try to avoid making fantasy football like the NHL or NBA, where more than half the league makes the postseason. In a 10-team league, use a four-team playoff without byes. In a 12-team league, use a six-team format with the top two teams getting the first week off.
You will want to hold the fantasy championship in Week 16 so as to avoid the dreaded resting of starters in Week 17 by NFL teams bound for the postseason.
Another vital decision comes with playoff length. Part of the fun of fantasy football is the make-or-break nature of each week, but outlying elements can decide an entire fantasy season on a single Sunday, sometimes coming from a single game.
While it effectively pushes up the playoffs, strongly consider making each playoff matchup last for two weeks, though this would have the playoffs begin in Week 11 for 12-team leagues under the format described above. If your buddies couldn't crack the playoffs in the first 10 weeks, they don't deserve to be there.
Despite all the earnest analysis over setting up a fantasy football league, the goal is to have fun. This is not ditch-digging; it's a lark, something to occupy free time and an opportunity to procrastinate at work.
The fantasy league fun begins with clever, entertaining, original team names. A team could make a tribute to Marshawn Lynch (Bout That Action, Boss) or mock an infamous gaffe (The Butt-Fumblers) or make reference to Vince Wilfork's mesmerizing barbecue dance (perhaps the Baby Back Bump n' Grind?).
Then come the puns, which represent a whole different school of thought on fantasy team names. There are a thousand different directions to choose from, including It Takes Suh to Tango, Teenage Mutant Ninja Bortles and Goodell Vibrations. However, puns should be clever rather than merely referential, and the likes of Revis and Butthead should be avoided.
The best team name could win a prize, like a $2 gift card to a national coffee and donut chain store or perhaps just a well deserved "LOL" on the message boards.
Incentives, Traditions and Trophies
The FXX sitcom The League depicts a group of kooky friends who are obsessed by their fantasy football league. They go much too far in their zeal for their respective fake football teams, but they do provide a good rubric for fantasy traditions.
Each season on the show, the league winner receives the coveted Shiva trophy. Equally importantly, the last-place finisher gets saddled with the dreaded shame of the Sacko.
Trophies and shame awards may not be practical for your league setup because of geography or other factors, but it's important to incentivize performance at the top and bottom with some sort of tradition.
Need a really cheap fantasy prize? Find a spare Vince Lomardi Trophy, then wrap it in foil.
Fantasy competitors should aggressively shoot for the top, and the weakest teams should fear the cellar. Laud the winner, respect the playoff teams and relentlessly mock that person in last place. Perhaps they should supply the 6-foot sub at the fantasy draft the following year.
If pride and glory do not serve as sufficient incentives, some leagues choose to award monetary prizes, but beware of significant gambling. If this buy-in is done, try not to make it too large. The goal is to make the entire process more fun, not to turn it into a major wager.
Fantasy Message Boards, Civility and Society
To reiterate, fantasy football should be fun!
Use the message board to keep the league lively and stoke debate. Analyze opponents and call them out for leaving a high-scoring player on the bench on a given week. Mock the waiver pickups of others, or even just the team name. Maybe start a conversation about a significant occurrence from that week's action on the field.
Smack talk and an exchange of ideas are what made fantasy message boards one of the first social networks in sporting cyberspace, and that tradition must be carried forth.
However, bear in mind that we're living in a society as well. There should be some enforcement of civility on message boards in a league, such as eliminating profanity if some players are under 18 or having a rule blocking reference to the mothers of opponents.
Have fun, mock your friends, but also bear in mind the motto learned by the legendary time travelers Bill Preston and Ted Logan: Be excellent to each other.
Now get started on the debate about league scoring and deliberation on a punny team name.