Creating a fantasy football league is easy, right? Go to ESPN, create a league, invite some buddies, and set a draft day. What could be hard about that? I’m sure that the contributors to this Reddit thread thought the same thing. I’ve been commissioning or co-commissioning fantasy football leagues for a decade now. My commissioned leagues consist of a 14-team, redraft league dubbed BFLE (Best [Fill-In-The-Blank] League Ever), a 10-team, 45-man roster dynasty league going into its fourth season (@EliteDynastyFL), and a 12-team league started two years ago for brand new fantasy football players looking for a league to join (If You’re Not First; You’re Last). Along my journey as a commissioner, I’ve taken some lumps and learned lessons on how to prepare for any possible scenario. The following are my steps towards creating the best fantasy football league for you and your family/friends.
Fantasy Football League Advice
Step One: Choose Your Commissioner AND Assign a Co-Commissioner
Your commissioner needs to have the following attributes:
- A passion for the game (and available time)
- Excellent communicator
- Easily available to reach, especially on game days
- Ability to de-escalate conflicts between multiple people
The truth about commissioning fantasy football leagues is that it is an unpaid full-time job. It’s a job that can be thankless and an absolute nightmare for people that don’t have the required personality to be a person in charge. Commissioners have to be firm, but fair. They cannot have an ego problem. A commissioner should be a democratic leader when it comes to running a league. They need to care about the member and well-being of the league; they cannot be a dictator. The league’s preservation comes before anything else in the league.
The second part of Step One is for the commissioner to appoint a co-commissioner to help run the fantasy football league. Continuing with the democracy metaphor, the co-commissioner to the commissioner is the same as a vice president is to a president. When a commissioner is unavailable because of a potential emergency or has other life obligations that come first (remember real-life situations always come before a fantasy game), the co-commissioner can step into the leadership role to keep the league running smoothly. There must be two trustworthy relationships. One is a relationship of trust between the commissioner and his co-commissioner. The other is a relationship of trust between the rest of the league and the co-commissioner.
Step Two: Find People For Your League
After appointing your leader(s) of your league, it’s time to fill out the rest of your league’s members. First, decide what type of league you are going to run. The type of league you choose to create determines the type of people you need to target for your league. For instance, dynasty leagues are for hardcore fantasy players that eat, sleep, and drink fantasy football content. On the other hand, your yearly work league is a casual league that has members look at Expert Consensus rankings on FantasyPros. Don’t invite fantasy football veterans of 20+ years to a league built with less experienced or brand new fantasy players. Try to bring in players with a similar skill level, experience, and/or interest level as the other members of the league.
When considering inviting people into your fantasy league consider the person’s “resume”. Treat your league like it’s your own professional business and your hiring employees. If a person is a known hothead that will quit on a league after an 0-4 start to the season or curses at league mates or acts inappropriately, don’t invite him to the league. Get people that enjoy fantasy football and want to have fun.
Step Three: Collect Money For Buy-ins
No, your leagues don’t have to be a money league. However, I have found that if people have any amount of money invested in fantasy football leagues they remain engaged in the league longer than they would if they joined a free league. Sometimes people abandon their teams when the playoffs are no longer a possibility. I’ll address playoffs later on in this article. The best way to collect money is to use LeagueSafe if you are starting a league with people that you do not know. If it’s a league with family or friends, then you can use Venmo or PayPal. This allows members to pay you and also allows you to keep track of who has paid or not paid.
The amount of money for the buy-in depends on the league. Hardcore leagues have members put their money where their mouth is and put up hundreds of dollars into the pool. Home leagues are closer to $5, $10, or $20 for each member. Do NOT let members draft or participate in the league activities until they have paid. That is a recipe for disaster and is going to cost the commissioner money out of pocket to cover for these league members.
Step Four: Vote On Rules
As discussed earlier, don’t be a dictator in your league if you are the commissioner! Allow anyone to present rules to your league and let your league mates vote on rules. Everyone has experienced this scenario before: league of 12 teams votes on a rule and the final vote is 7-5. A person on the minority side gets upsets and moans about it all season long. This is very annoying for leagues to deal with. In my leagues that I commission, there is a rule in place for voting. In order for a rule to be changed, it requires two-thirds or more of the league to vote in favor of it. In our leagues, we call this the “Vast Majority” rule. For instance, in a 12-team league, a rule change will only be implemented if it gets 8 votes. For a 10-team league, 7 votes are required to change a rule. People are less inclined to complain when a rule change occurs if a large percentage of the league votes for that rule change.
When voting on polls, give the league a platform to hold discussions before voting. Sometimes a person may present a rule and think that it’s pretty clear. However, other league members may have thought about something that the rule presenter never considered. Allow league members time to consider rule proposals. This will depend on how engaged your league members are during the offseason. League members can be given two days (more engage league) all the way up to a week (more casual league) to vote on rules.
Step Five: Set Up League Schedule And Playoffs
Commissioners need to pay attention to the NFL schedule. Fantasy playoffs should NEVER start when bye weeks are happening. In 2020, the schedule makers made Week 13 a bye week for the Panthers and Saints. Players affected include Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Tom Brady, and Rob Gronkowski. The regular-season schedule should be randomized by the commissioner and can even become a league event that brings your league together. As your league evolves you can make the league schedule a more exciting time by introducing concepts such as Rivalry Week. A 12-team league allows for 11 weeks of schedule and a concept like Rivalry Week could help with the scheduling of Weeks 12 and 13. Leagues are usually filled with interleague feuds between two teams. These feuds may require more than just one seasonal matchup. Have every team paired up with two rivals and your Week 12 and Week 13 regular season matchups are complete!
Your playoff schedule will depend on how many playoff teams you have. If you have four playoff teams your two likely options are having your playoffs last two weeks (semi-finals and finals) or have four weeks (two weeks for the semi-finals and two weeks for the finals). A six-team playoff format is usually three weeks long where the top-2 seeds get a bye week in the first round (quarterfinals, semifinals, finals).
An alternative to consider for the playoffs is to abolish the H2H playoff format and have all of the playoff teams compete against everyone else. Here’s how it works for four-team playoff formats: 3 weeks of playoffs and each week the lowest-scoring team is eliminated. For six-team playoff formats: 3 weeks of playoffs and each week the two lowest-scoring teams are eliminated in the first two weeks, then the lowest-scoring team is eliminated in the third week. For-six team playoff formats you can still implement a bye week for the top-2 seeds if you desire.
Another consideration for your leagues regarding playoffs and payout formats is to implement cash prizes for 2nd and 3rd place along with a consolation bracket for the non-playoff teams. Here’s an example of a cash payout in one of my 12-team leagues with a $20 pay-in:
- First place: $150
- Second place: $50
- Third place: $20
- Consolation bracket: $20
The consolation bracket is for the six non-playoff teams. Why should leagues consider paying out to the second and third place and hold a consolation bracket? Simple. It keeps teams engage for the ENTIRE fantasy football season. We’ve all had the following situation occur. A team starts off 0-4, abandons the team then midseason more teams stop participating. By the end of the season, only three teams are playing the waiver wire and actually trying. Those leagues aren’t fun. One of your jobs as the league commissioner is to make the league fun and engaging. Leagues that are engaging late in the season attract other fantasy football-obsessed players. The $20 payout in the consolation bracket allows one non-playoff team to get their league pay-in back in order to try again next season.
Step 6: Set Your League’s Draft Day
Four to six weeks before the NFL regular season kicks off you will need to have a discussion with your league on setting your draft day. Give your league a two-week period before the season and ask your league members what days and times they cannot draft. Using this process of elimination will help you select the best day for your draft with the least amount of headaches.
In case your league has members that work nights or are from different time zones, please consider hosting a slow draft on Sleeper where you can set the time for teams to be 8+ hours and the commissioner has the ability to pause the draft to let the league sleep. If you do opt to have a slow draft, please host your draft early enough to finish. Slow drafts can last at least a week, so don’t start a slow draft the weekend before the NFL season starts.
Step 7: Decide How to Deal with League Conflict
Now that your league is set up, the next step is to develop a plan when there is conflict. Commissioning a league is like being a parent and having 9, 11, 13, etc. other children. Competitiveness can bring out the worst in people and lead to hurt feelings and bad blood. A monetary prize can lead to greed which can lead to collusion. Some leagues have people that complain about every single thing that happens. Addressing these situations and others before the season begins will make your life the fantasy football commissioner easier.
Trash-talking is part of the fun in fantasy football, but there has to be a limit and the commissioner needs to establish it with the entire league before the draft. Send a document to your league mates with things that are off-limits to talk about. For example, league member’s family members and race are two common things that should be off-limits. Be clever with your trash-talking, not crude. If two league members are suspected of collusion, then confront the members. If evidence of their collusion is present, kick them out of the league. Collusion ruins the league for everybody. Have a strict no-tolerance policy when it comes to collusion. Finally, ave your league members sign an agreement to obey the rules of the league. This may sound over-the-top, but trust me people will take the league seriously when they sign something resembling a legal agreement.
Step 8: Make it Official: Create A Written Constitution
Creating a document with all of your league’s rules is a necessity. As a commissioner, you can reference rules when a league member questions your decisions. For league members, they have a rulebook to follow by so that they understand how the league works and what happens to them if they break the rules. Also, if they want to question the actions of the commissioner they can reference the constitution first to see if the commissioner is following protocol. Most arguments can be avoided if a written by-law is done by the commissioner.
Use the constitution to decide how your league will handle situations such as inactive owners, owners that leave in the middle of the season, owners that break the rules of the league, etc. These situations should also be discussed with the league before the league starts so that the league members understand what is happening in the middle of the season when a big change, such as the removal of an owner, happens. The hardest part of creating by-laws for your league is starting from scratch. Once you create your constitution, all you have to do is manage your by-laws and add additional rules that your league adds in future seasons.