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Commissioner's Guide to Setting Up a Fantasy Football League

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Before every fantasy season, commissioners ponder the decrees that will govern their leagues.  This guide mentions just about any meaningfully debatable league, scoring, and award/entry setting, detailing some that I feel more strongly about, and how setting them correctly can perfect your league.   First, I should mention that this guide assumes that the commissioner wants their fantasy league to be fun and competitive, all the while reasonably ensuring that the best all-around fantasy managers have the best chance to win in the end (as opposed to the rookie of the league that rarely participates and just gets really lucky when it counts).   To help with this, think about these four basic rules of thumb when choosing league, scoring, and award/entry settings:

            1) Choose settings that encourage league participation
            2) Choose settings that eliminate the luck factor
            3) Choose settings that make the league fun
            4) Choose settings that are reasonably inline with tradition fantasy football settings

As you'll see, a few of the below settings should differ when depending on the managers of the league.   As well, everything here applies both to redraft and keeper leagues, and almost everything applies to IDP leagues.


Number of Teams - Usually, this is either 10 or 12.   12 teams encourage more league participation because managers have to dig deeper into the player pool for more unknown players, resulting in a need for more overall research.   As well, there is a bit less importance placed on the draft because the late round picks in a 12 team league are less likely to pan out than the late round picks in a 10 team league.   Don't get me wrong, the draft is still (and should be) the most important aspect of fantasy football, but we all know there is a decent amount of luck involved in a good draft (the factors out of your control are endless, most notably injury).   De-emphasizing the draft a small bit reasonably rewards those managers in-season who pay the most attention and study the hardest.

Head-to-Head Scoring or Points Only - When deciding this, you need to think about the best balance between 2) and 3).   If all managers in the league are friends on almost any level, you have to go with Head-to-Head Scoring, and I don't even need to explain why.   There's nothing like going mano e mano with your friends each week.   However, a Points Only league eliminates a significant amount of the luck factor, with only the most experienced, most talented, and most diligent managers having a chance to win.   It's just no where near as fun, and you have to have a balance between fun and eliminating the luck factor.   I'd only suggest Points Only in leagues where none of the managers know each other or high-stakes, ultra-expert leagues.

However, you should reward managers for having the most overall points at the end of the season (see Awards).

Roster Positions - This is the most difficult one for me, mostly because I want my leagues to promote 4), whether it is for comparative conversation, or allowing fair trash-talking with managers of different leagues, while at the same time wanting my leagues to be notable for eliminating more luck factor than average leagues.   There has to be a balance.   If you only have 3 QBs, 5 RBs, 8 WRs, 10 FLEX positions, you've definitely eliminated a lot of the luck factor (for similar reasons given in the Number of Teams entry above), but it's incredibly out of line with the average league, drafts would last forever, and the time you'd need to spend to eliminate all that luck factor is probably a lot more than you can give to any one league.

To reasonably eliminate the luck factor here, you obviously want more QBs, WRs, RBs, TEs, and FLEX positions than Ks and DEFs.   The reasons are congruent with the reasons you don't draft Ks and DEFs until the end of your draft.   Ks and DEFs (especially Ks) on a seasonal basis are the most unpredictable (part of the luck factor) positions in fantasy football.   However, with some in-season analysis and week-to-week matchup exploitation, some of that unpredictability can be eliminated.   Although sometimes I wish I could, you can't just eliminate Ks and DEFs altogether.   In this case, tradition needs to trump 1), 2), or 3).  

But it's not unreasonable to add an extra RB/WR/FLEX position to the traditional combination of 5 RB/WR/FLEX positions (the traditional combination is usually 2 RB, 3 WR or 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 FLEX).   It's just not..., well...., very traditional.   It would definitely promote 2), especially if it's another FLEX.   I doubt many would argue that FLEX positions decrease the luck factor; the more options available require more study and more room for error for managers, so there should definitely be at least one FLEX position.   The perfect balance lies in still having a combination of 5 RB/WR/FLEX positions, but with two being FLEXs: 1 QB, 1 RB, 2 WRs, 2 FLEX, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 DEF and 6 BN.   Aside from having the perfect balance between 2) and 4), another interesting thing about this combination is that you can practically run any real, conceivable football offense (wish-bone, run-and-shoot, etc.), with the exception of 5 wides and no TE (which you could do if you made the changed the TE to a WR/TE FLEX, but that's too untraditional for me).

Draft Date - In order to promote 2) with regards to the draft date, always draft as close to the start of the first NFL regular season game as possible.   This allows the most astute managers to do more studying and reduces the risk of unexpected (unlucky) events occurring post-fantasy draft and preseason (i.e. your top pick gets injured in a preseason, or gets arrested).

Can't Cut List - This has to be the worst possible notion in fantasy football.   The only reason I can see why the list option was thought of is to prevent collusion or unfairness/league desecration by disallowing managers to drop top players all of a sudden for no good reason.   That's quite ridiculous though, since every year at any given time there are plenty of top players not on that list.  As well, there should always be methods for the commissioner in place to disallow this type of activity on the fly, no matter who provides your fantasy football league service.

I remember participating in a league where I had a season-ending injury to a top RB, and the provider goofed by keeping him on the list for quite a while.   However, even one hour should not be acceptable in this case.   A season-ending injury to a top player is bad enough luck, but not being able to drop him because of this pointless option is even worse.

Maximum Player Acquisitions/Trades - This is a subject of a lot of debate, and I'm not sure why.   Implementing a maximum (one that actually would have an impact on anything) on these moves discourages league participation because managers are less likely to make moves on average, which results in less fun (I'm going to assume that 1) above will always cause 3)).   The classic argument for it is that managers have to think harder about their decisions, and although that might have some validity, I don't think its importance trumps 1) and 3).   In fact, every fantasy move is important when you think about it.   Anytime you drop a player, most default league settings choose to put that player on a two day waiver (which I, as well as most people, absolutely agree with), so you have to think hard about any move, regardless of how many you can make.

Waiver Priority - The waiver priority should not be determined based on the current standings each week, but should be based on the more traditional model where the last manager to make a successful waiver claim goes to the bottom of the priority list.   This gives every manager equal fairness when it comes to the waiver priority, regardless of rank.   Why penalize a manager just because they worked harder to be at the top of the rankings?

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