How to be an Effective League Commissioner (Fantasy Football)

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It’s that beautiful time of year when no one reached for anyone in the draft, no one has lost a matchup, and your best player isn’t dealing with an injury. That means it’s commissioner season. Those of you who have boldly taken on the title of league commissioner have taken on a task that, if done well, no one will thank you for, and if done poorly, everyone will hate you. You are essentially the offensive line of fantasy football. This series will predominantly focus on redraft leagues because if you’re a dynasty commissioner, you must have already done everything in this article. If you aren’t doing these things and are the head honcho of a dynasty league, you should adopt them ASAP.

I want to help you take your league from something you talk about at family gatherings in the fall to a competitive thriving community. Fantasy football has a magical ability to keep friend groups together across state lines and time. As the commissioner, if you lead the league to the highest level, anything is indeed possible.

Communication is Key

Yes, you are the one who decides what the league uses as a platform. You are the person that sets the roster sizes and sets the scoring metrics. These tasks matter, but they are not the ultimate goal you take on when becoming a commissioner. Your biggest job is getting people to talk to one another about the league. That is the true lifeblood of fantasy football. Communication is how trades get done, and it’s what makes winning a championship that much sweeter with smack talk. If the only time your league is talking is to decide the time of the draft, and then during the draft, you have a problem.

Many platforms you can play fantasy football on have chat areas, but they tend to be clunky and just a part of the app. It would be best if you did something more. That doesn’t mean creating software or setting up watch parties. Though watch parties are a great way to add in communication, they are not always sustainable for you to keep planning. Utilize the technology that the people in your league use most. Here are some options.

Start a Group on Social Media

Everyone most likely uses it and it makes for a perfect place to interact with each other. People can post pictures of scores and direct message each other to facilitate trades, and if announcements need to happen, you can post directly to the page and make sure everyone sees the posts. Social media is one of the easiest ways to facilitate your league being active with each other, and once set up, you don’t have to do anything other than be involved on the page. 

Create a Group Chat

Get everyone’s phone number and put them in a group text. As the commissioner, you should have everyone’s phone number already; if not, get everyone’s phone number, and you can quickly put them all in one text thread. People can post pictures, gifs, or memes. That also gives people the phone numbers of everyone in the league so they can work on trades and other things via text. Everyone knows how to text. A group text is the minimum you could do to get people talking, but it is an excellent start to getting everyone engaged in the league.

Create a Discord Group

If you are reading this and are not part of our Fantasy Footballers Discord, pause reading and join our Discord. You will find tons of like-minded people on there, and there is even a thread for commissioners that you can get on and get help. Then, create a new Discord for the people in your league. It is one of the most useful apps for a group of people all over the country/world. It is an easy place to communicate via text, picture, meme, or gif. It also has a feature where you can do group calls, meaning everyone can jump on and talk to each other or directly call a league mate. Using Discord does mean that league mates will need to create an account, but it does not require a phone number, which I know bothers some people. Discord is an excellent platform for your league, and you can always encourage the other members to join our Fantasy Footballers Discord.

Work Ahead of Schedule

STOP! If you have not set up your date and time for your draft, you need to go right now and get that established, then come back and keep reading.

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No one has ever complained that a fantasy league gets started too early. If you are making any changes, you need to do that weeks to months before the preseason starts. For example, I am the commissioner of two different leagues with some family members. I wanted to transition both of those leagues to Sleeper this year. So, I started those conversations in May. I first checked that everyone was okay to switch (remember communication is key), and then got the leagues set up and sent out invites. Why did I work on this so far in advance? Because I don’t want to deal with all that on draft day or between the draft and the season starting. I have given everyone plenty of time to get their profile set up and get some practice with the app. Now I can focus on the league and getting ready for the draft. Yes, it was all for selfish reasons. I want to win the leagues I play in, especially those I commission. If I put in the work beforehand, I can feel less responsible for the entire league come draft day.

You might be asking, how early should I set up the draft? The answer is you cannot do it too early. If your league is good, when you establish the date and time for the draft, most members will set aside their time so they can be at the draft. The NFL announces the season’s first game very early in the offseason. Target the weekend before that Thursday easily in advance, regardless of whether your draft is in person, over Zoom or video chat, or just online on the platform. Get the draft on managers’ schedules and remind them when it is, and then if someone suddenly can’t make that time work, do what you can to accommodate them. But if they really cannot make the draft, then you are off the hook. You did your job as commissioner, and they can be auto-drafted without you having to feel terrible.

Yes, I know I am making this all about you, but while fantasy football might be a group activity, it sure as heck isn’t a team sport. If you do everything you can to make the league fair and keep everyone in the loop, your next objective is winning. The earlier you start working on winning the league, the better. So get the formalities taken care of as soon as possible.

Explain the Rules

I know that it drives my league mates crazy, and it takes a long time, but before we draft, I take 15+ minutes to explain all our league rules and ensure everyone understands them. Of course, there are leagues with people who have no questions and are just ready to roll. However, I have those family leagues where some only play in that one league. There are usually questions in that situation, and I want to help explain the rules to everyone. That is our scoring, roster construction, and waiver and trade rules. Once everyone feels good to go with that, I go over the playoff format and rules for how everyone gets in the playoff, then we draft.

This rule explanation works best with in-person or video chat settings. If you are an online draft league, you must work earlier; trust me, no one will be mad at you for working ahead. Reach out to the league members and check that they don’t have any questions. If they do, make sure to get them comfortable.

I do want to say if you are not a commissioner, read the league settings. They are on the platform; look them up and learn the rules. Your preparedness is not the responsibility of the commissioner. That doesn’t mean leaving people out to dry; that’s a quick way to kill interest in the league and make people not want to play with you. Being a good person and ensuring everyone is ready for the season will make managers more invested and competitive. Those are good things for your league.

Get Out The Way

The greatest trick to being a commissioner people like playing with is not being a control freak. Do not make the league all about you. You work for the other managers, and your job is to make the league good for them, not you. Of course, if you hate your league rules, you need to discuss getting those changed, no one should hate the league they are a part of, but you are there to help everyone. Making sure everyone feels heard is essential. Communication is key, and then moving the league in the direction you discuss establishes trust.

I am not saying to run your league straight up like a democracy. If you can operate like that, great, but rarely do people all agree about the rules and decisions needed for a fantasy league. So find that balance and live there. You want people’s input, and often league votes are required. However, as the commissioner, you will have to help guide what needs voting on, and then you have to put the results into action.

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Even more critical is once the season is going, make sure to stay out of the way. If league members make a trade that is a lousy trade for one side, that is on them. You can talk to the ripped-off party and tell them what they did, but ultimately, they made the wrong choice. So, do not establish veto powers on trades. That only leads to people being mad at you and you having to explain why you did what you did. Unless some unforeseen craziness happens, think Bills vs. Bengals last year, then you need to be another member of the league once the season starts.

If you have done everything else above, you should have no problem getting out of the way. So, commissioner, check your ego at the door. You are a public servant now, meaning the league matters more than you. Also, if you get out of the way, you can again focus on winning, which is the true goal.

Create a good way for the league to communicate, get everything done early, ensure everyone understands the rules, and then get out of the way. These few steps differentiate between your league being just another league and an elite competition between managers. The latter should be everyone’s goal. Now, make it so.

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