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Choosing the Right Commissioner

Well thanks for clicking on my article! I couldn’t think of any witty or interesting way of summarizing the content of my first FantasySharks article without making the content, or myself, seem trivial. I’ll spare everyone the lengthy introduction until I actually get picked up to write a regular column. For now I’ll just give you my main qualification. I work in a job where money is on the line and I must handle disputes in a game multiple times a day. Very unique situations come up on a regular basis. I have a set of guidelines that allow me to make fair and equitable rulings, and I must call on all of my knowledge of those guidelines and knowledge of the situation to come to my decision. These situations translate very well into fantasy football.

I am a poker floor supervisor … the equivalent of a pit boss for poker players. Outside of being the guy that stands around looking cool in a suit, I handle disputes in the games. When I arrive at a game, it is almost exclusively to settle disputes with something the dealer has done or something another player has done. I face collusion, angle shooting and bending the rules to one’s advantage countless times a week. As a commissioner for the last few years, I’ve also faced every single one of these situations in a fantasy football setting. I also look a little bit like Jonah Hill.

Assuming I’m interesting enough to get picked up, I’ll be writing on different situations either from my past experience or e-mailed to me from you guys. I’ll go through thought processes and why I made decisions I made. For this article, since we’re just barely creeping up on the fantasy football season, I’ll be going over the qualities to look for in a commissioner, and fail safes to put in place in case you’ve chose the wrong one!

Yeah, so after that imagine what my “lengthy introduction” is going to be!

I’m writing this as if there are a group of you getting together without a predetermined commissioner. Many times you’ll be invited to a league with a commissioner already in place. That’s actually just perfect. If he’s run that league for multiple years and you just happen to be filling a spot, chances are he’s doing an alright job. It wouldn’t hurt to find out why the person who left the league before you did, but you won’t have any say in the rules or who makes them in an established league. My suggestion would be to simply use the following traits as a barometer for whether joining that league is a good idea or not.

In the event you’re joining a new league where a central organizer appears to be the commissioner by default, simply suggest voting on who it will be. Suggest this is a diplomatic way, saying that’s just always the way it’s been done in your old leagues, and ask for a vote.

Without further ado, here are the Top 4 things I feel you need to be on the lookout for in your new commissioner:

Trustworthy (specifically with money):

Obviously not all leagues will have money on the line, but a large majority of these leagues will. You need to be able to trust this person to hold your money for four months, and return it as soon as the league is over. There has been many a friend I’ve met over the course of my life that I’ve been able to trust with anything and everything up until money was involved. Has this person run leagues before? Did they pay everyone as soon as the league was finished? Was there a small delay? A long delay? Any delay is a bad sign, even if it was a small one. The person holding any money should have it in a safe place and not touched so that it can be returned immediately.

Fair and Equitable:

There are going to be so many unique situations that come up during the course of your league that you need to be sure the person given the authority to handle these situations can do so fairly. Stay away from anyone you perceive as an emotional person. The commissioner needs to be able to look at all situations on their own, without being emotional about either side. They need to be able to look at both sides of the argument, and decide the equitable outcome.


Once these situations do come up, and the ruling needs to be made, it needs to be adhered to. You don’t want both sides to argue, a decision to be reached, and then overturned two weeks later because the person making the decision faltered. You’ve already decided that this person is fair and equitable, so trust their initial decision.

Verbal Diarrhea:

I couldn’t think of a correct way to say what I was thinking, but I think that title gets the point across. Once a decision is made, this person should be ready willing and able (and, in fact, want) to give a lengthy explanation with reasons for their action. They need to be able to address points both sides have made, and specifically target the understanding of the party ruled “against.” There are a huge number of people who have been very upset with me and my ruling at a table, who calmed down entirely once I pulled them aside and gave them a lengthy explanation, citing examples.


Here are a couple of things I’ve done over the years that ensure a fair game. Not all of these are in place in every league that I’ve played in, but the first recommendation has been in place for every league that I’ve run.

Checks and Balances:

In government and the casino industry alike, there are always checks and balances – things put in place to make sure no one person can get too out of line. The major check and balance I recommend is having a secondary and tertiary commissioner. The secondary commissioner would rule on any trade or other situation involving the commissioner, and any trade or situation between the commissioner and secondary commissioner would be handled by the tertiary. This balances the power the commissioner has, and keeps them in check in case he/she decides to violate their own rules.

Safe Locked with Combo and Key:

I would highly suggest this in any league with a very large buy-in. You can find safes for around $200 that require a combination and a key to open. Obviously the buy-in needs to be large enough to make sense to spend $200 on protecting the money, so most leagues this would not be something that is needed. It’s also not something that most people have probably thought about doing. Give the key to the secondary commissioner, and the combination can be programmed by the tertiary commissioner, with the safe being held at the primary commissioner’s home or something of that nature. In the end, give the safe to either the winner, the commissioners, or roll it over for the next year of that league.

Or whatever you want to call a set of guidelines set forth before the league starts. Try to put as much information in one of these as you can. Look for examples from other leagues and change things as you see fit for the league you are in. If your commissioner doesn’t feel like writing this up, offer to submit one for his approval. There’s no possible way to cover all situations, but it is always nice to have something to refer to.

And finally ,
when all else has failed, make sure that your commissioner is willing to always differ to any precedent set forth by the NFL in a similar situation that has come up there. Many a situation can be handled in that manner, and it is in fact my preference to handle most situations with an NFL precedent if I can.

My name is Brett Philbin and I can be reached at

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