Fantasy Football Commissioner: The Importance of Written Rules

Collusion! Conspiracy! Favoritism! Shenanigans!

Every season many great Fantasy Football leagues fail. Sometimes the simplest rule-related issue can derail a league, while other times a completely ridiculous reason is the downfall. We’ve all heard the horror stories of rogue commissioners changing rules mid-season, tweaking playoff settings in Week 13, to the benefit of one and the detriment of all.

2018 will be my 15th year playing Fantasy Football. I’ve been a league commissioner for one or more leagues in 14 of those seasons. Every league has its little nuances and that is part of the fun. However, every time I hear one of these horror stories, I ask what their rules say about it. In almost every situation, I find that the league lacked a central guideline document to fall back on, relying on assumed or unwritten rules. With many owners playing in multiple leagues, the unwritten rules eventually get mixed up. On top of that, fantasy league hosting platforms relying solely on their league settings page to represent the “rules”. Unfortunately, the league settings page only focuses on a few aspects that make the league function on their platform and do not highlight the nuances of your league.

This article is designed to be both a warning and a guide to writing a thorough and encompassing rules document that prevents the chance of your league falling apart when it shouldn’t.

“My League Doesn’t Need This”

Yes, it does. If you have grandiose visions of your league being one of those that lasts for years and decades, you should have a formal guideline. While you and your league mates might know all the unwritten rules, what happens if a new member joins the league or the commissioner steps down? Most of the time, it’s in the form of trial and error, which often leads to frustration. If there is money involved, you absolutely need a written document in place. The last thing anyone wants is accusations of foul play when money is involved.

Your league guideline document should highlight all the important parts of your league so that it is clear where, when, why and how specific events happen or are addressed. Below are some of the key points to incorporate into your document. Since every league is different, I cannot say exactly what to say, but I’ll highlight why it’s important to include this information.

League and Owner Expectations

This is the league’s bill of rights and gives the commissioner the ability to enforce all the rules. Highlighting topics such as tanking, roster dumping, collusion, and the expectation to set a line-up every week, this is what the commissioner can reference when asking an owner to live up to expectations or leave the league.

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The Draft

There most exciting part of a league is usually the draft day so highlighting draft-related topics is crucial. How does your league determine draft order? This is especially important for dynasty leagues involving rookies. The draft section should also touch on the league’s preferred draft platform and its settings, such as how many rounds, draft style and pick clock timer. It is also important to indicate what happens if an owner runs out of time and misses their pick.

Rosters

Laying out the roster requirements is important for new owners to a league. Explain position limits and how the league handles IR positions, if applicable. For keeper leagues, outline the rules regarding keepers clearly so there are no grey areas. In a dynasty league, go over the key points regarding any roster cut downs prior to or after the rookie draft.

Starting Lineup

This section is usually straightforward, indicating the starting positions and the number of each. Key to this section is indicating how “gameday locking” will work. Typically, players will lock at the kickoff of their game, allowing “late-swaps” between players in the later kickoffs, but if your league is different, this is the place to highlight that variation.

Scoring

Scoring is almost always found on the host websites league settings page; however, having them listed in your central document is an easy way to keep everything together should you ever change league management sites.

Free Agency

Many times, free agency and waiver acquisitions are a starting point for league discourse. Many owners play in multiple leagues and few are identical. This section can prevent owners from squabbling over what they “thought” the rules were. A clear statement of how waiver orders are determined or how ties are broken when using FAAB is an easy way to avoid conflicts and accusations of favoritism.

Trades

Arguments over trades are one of the most common reasons leagues fall into disarray. While trading is one of the most enjoyable aspects of fantasy football, vetos and accusations of collusion are the banes of most owners and commissioners. If your league insists on using vetos, at least outline the process in your rules document. Rouge commissioners vetoing trades is one of the biggest complaints when discussing failed leagues. Obviously, key topics like trade deadlines should be listed here, but in addition, I highly recommend you include these two statements in this section:

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1: “Only trades that can be performed on the league website are allowed.” This means that you cannot trade anything that is not an option on the trade screen on the host site. Owner A cannot trade his kicker and a signed Tom Brady jersey to Team B for Aaron Rodgers.

2: A trade is only official when submitted and accepted on the league hosting website. The commissioner will not process or enforce handshake trades.” This rule will help commissioners stay out of those disagreements when an owner gets cold feet.

Regular Season Schedule

Highlight what the basic setup of your regular season schedule is and how it is arranged. Are there divisions, double-headers, rivalry weeks, random shuffling each year? Put it all in here so there are no questions how the schedule was determined.

*Commissioner Tip: Always make sure that the schedule is correctly set BEFORE the draft. Changes after the draft look shady and as if it’s being arranged to take advantage of bye weeks.

Playoffs

Another common story of failed leagues is seeding and schedules being changed right before the playoffs commence. Lay out exactly how the playoff seeds are determined and which teams will play. If there are byes and/or you re-seed after each round and always have the highest seed play the lowest seed, indicate that and how it is determined. If there are “wild card” positions, clearly define how those are awarded.

New Members

Introducing new owners to a league is sometimes a necessary evil. While you want the best owners, it’s always tough to lose a longstanding member. Layout how new owners are assigned to open teams along with any dispersal drafts or keeper related rules. If the draft order was already determined, explain how the new owner is assigned.

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League Setting and Rule Changes

Rule changes are an area where leagues end up falling apart when handled incorrectly. First, rules should never be changed in-season, unless the entire league agrees on the change and the rule in question was a mistake and is causing a problem. Often, leagues and commissioners who do not have a rules document to fall back on will make changes mid-season to appease an upset owner to the detriment of the league. Outline an off-season plan to suggest and discuss rule changes and set a deadline, such as one week prior to the draft, for any final changes. This way, everyone is on equal knowledge for the draft and season. Update your rules document with any changes and send it out to the league so that everyone is on the same page.

League Fees and Awards

If your league charges an entry fee, layout when the payment is expected to be submitted to the commissioner and the penalty for not paying on time. A clear payment plan for league awards is also important to hold the commissioner accountable for paying out the correct amount to the rightful winners.

Closing

If I’ve held your attention this long, you probably feel strongly that your league would benefit from an official rules document. The last topic I would suggest including is a league mission statement. Almost every successful business has a mission statement. It is a quick-hitting, high-level impression of what the company does or wants to do, how and why it does it. So why does a fantasy football league need a mission statement? For those exact same reasons; to outline why this league exists.

While it may feel silly at first, getting your league mates involved in creating the written rules and a league mission statement will also build a stronger bond with the league. Give owners a reason to buy-in and agree to be held accountable for the success of the league. If you’re not the commissioner, approach them about it and offer to help write it if they are skeptical.