Fantasy Football COVID-19 Rule Suggestions
Not a day goes by that I don’t wish for a full NFL season. As hard as it is to realize, though, NFL players are normal human beings just like you and me. They want to do their jobs in a safe environment while providing for and protecting their families. I hope whatever plans the NFL implements for this pandemic are successful and the need for this article is diminished as we proceed through the season. Many in the fantasy football community have begun thinking of ways to help stabilize the competitive balance in their leagues without a blueprint for how this season will progress. Drawing off of those ideas, I would like to facilitate a conversation for commissioners and fantasy players at the precipice of the most uncertain, and possibly most revolutionary, NFL season to date.
Increasing bench spots may be the most traditional way to adapt to the pandemic this season. This will put everyone on the same page with as little change as possible before the draft starts, ensuring that everyone knows what they are getting into. Teams will be able to plan ahead by handcuffing running backs and possibly even top-end quarterbacks. However, this rule change could seriously sway competitive advantages. If everyone in your league plays with the same level of competitiveness, this could be executed smoothly; but if some players are more attune to nuances of fantasy, teams could become very skewed, even before the first game. Increasing bench size could also turn the waiver wire into a wasteland, dramatically hindering last-minute pickups. Be sure to objectively assess the abilities and effort of owners in your league before proposing expanded benches.
While increasing benches may be the most common approach, decreasing bench size could be the answer that provides equity no matter the ability of the fantasy owners in your league. The thought behind decreasing benches is that more quality players will be available on the waiver wire. Competing owners would have to evaluate the risk/reward when attempting to pick up a player to block a team affected by Covid, where increased benches would give little punishment. This would dramatically affect the way you play the game in 2020, but it could give a fun twist to your league with minimal rule changes and upkeep by the commissioner.
Increased IR Spots
My oldest league has adapted to many trends over the years but still hasn’t implemented an IR spot, which I fully expect to change this year. Increasing the number of IR sports will allow for flexibility when a player is either injured or tests positive for Covid. Players could be ruled out for several weeks when testing positive, so owners will be able to keep highly-valued players in IR spots.
Reserved COVID-IR Spots
This may be my favorite suggestion for the upcoming season. Fantasy football during a pandemic is new to all of us, so maybe a new roster spot is needed. I would be in favor of adding unlimited players to this spot as long as they are on your team before testing positive, not added through waivers. However, I think that this spot may warrant certain limits for when a player is no longer infected. A 24-hour rule is a possibility, in which the player would be forced to drop to waivers if not placed back on the traditional roster in a day. This is in contrast to similar IR rules where the owner is simply not allowed to add players while a player is un-injured in the IR spot.
While I am heavily in favor of this type of change, it may be the most work and require the most trust. If Fantasy platforms choose to implement a COVID-IR, it will be much easier to regulate and could level the playing field; but this could also create more work for commissioners and owners if left up to leagues to execute on their own. Immense trust will be needed between the commissioner and owners to carry out this type of rule due to the varying ways this virus and testing protocols affect players’ availability.
Best Ball has increased in popularity since its inception. For those unfamiliar, Best Ball only counts the best score for each rostered position, eliminating the need to “start or sit” players. This type of scoring on a week-to-week basis may prove to level the playing field by eliminating the worst-case scenarios. I’ve heard many in the fantasy community express concern about having a Sunday Night or Monday Night player test positive for COVID after the majority of games have been played. Owners are used to preparing in advance or scrambling to find players ruled out during warm-ups, but what if multiple players test positive in a position room, and there is literally no one available to add to your team? Applying Best Ball scoring would allow owners to look at their existing score and determine if dropping a player for a one week fix is even necessary. Implementing this scoring system will require unanimous support before the draft, as many owners with experience in Best Ball will apply strategies like drafting top-end talent and inconsistent players with high-upside.
Eliminating or Reducing Waiting Periods for Transactions
This season may require immense flexibility on the part of owners, as rapid, on-the-fly changes could be the norm. A cutthroat approach of waiving a player, making him ineligible for the weekend games could become prevalent, especially if roster sizes are increased. Owners would need to seriously consider dropping a player when that same guy could get used against them no matter when they are cut that week. Reducing processing time for trades is another potential option. Desperate owners may need to make deals, which could be an advantage for both sides and increase activity in the league. Limits on the number of total trades and trades between teams may need to be examined to ensure integrity.
Replacing Positions with “All Flex”
Superflex has become the supreme way to play fantasy for many. Drawing from this concept for a year could add a new challenge to drafts while providing much more opportunity for the unknowns. Under the “All Flex” format, teams would roster a QB and five standard flex positions, instead of QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, and 1 TE. Leagues that previously featured Superflex could keep that roster spot available as well. The main advantage of an “All Flex” approach is the ability for owners to substitute at the last minute if a player is ruled out, even on Monday Night.
Drafting Team Positions
Another variation is to replace specific players with a roster spot for team positions. For example, instead of drafting Christian McCaffrey, you draft Panthers RBs. Points scored by all of the running backs in Carolina would count toward that week’s score. This would eliminate strategies such as handcuffing and avoiding RBBC, but it would take away from true three-down workhorses. Also, an important aspect of fantasy is the personal feelings you develop for a player as the year progresses, where this rule could detach fantasy players from actual NFL players instantly.
Unfortunately, players will test positive for Covid-19; that’s just a reality. The NFL can’t reasonably pull off a “bubble” like the NBA. Finding ways for owners to adjust will be vital this season. Facing virtually unlimited circumstances, paired with the level of seriousness that many (including myself) play this friendly game, the traditional approach may not be an option this year. There is not one, simple fix that will suit each league. You won’t always be able to get the exact value in return when COVID affects your team, but a proactive approach will help your league maintain its integrity and familiarity.
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Jason Staples, better known to friends as “Stapes,” has been playing fantasy football since he was in high school in the 90’s. He has a 7x Diamond rating in Yahoo Sports Fantasy Football with much credit to his team “There’s No L in Stapes.” He has 13 years of experience in education and currently serves as a middle school Reading Specialist, helping students strengthen their literacy skills. He also coaches middle school football, focusing on wide receivers and defensive backs. His favorite aspect of Fantasy Football is hosting an annual draft party as the commish each year with close friends. Jason currently resides in Virginia with his wife and two dogs.