Five Rules Every Fantasy Football Commissioner Should Follow

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Running a fantasy league is a whole lot of fun, but it’s also more work than people realize. If you make the decision to put on the commissioner hat for the first time it’s typically because your friends, family or coworkers are interested in playing and look to you to kick things off. The good news is you have plenty of freedom in terms of how you want to set things up, but it also means you’re faced with enough options to make your head spin. The league size and scoring settings are all about personal preference, but aligning the league with industry standards can help newer owners find information that will help them the most. 

It has been well documented by the Ballers that their preferred scoring setting is half PPR, with four-point passing touchdowns. This is slowly becoming the norm and it’s a good place to start if you’re completely new to the commissioning world. A typical league has 10-12 teams and usually has lineup settings with at least two receivers and two running backs, one quarterback, one tight end and at least one flex spot. There’s plenty of customization options past these but if it’s a first-time league then you probably shouldn’t go overboard. Past the basic roster settings, there’s a lot of ‘unwritten rules’ that the best commissioners follow. Let’s take a look at five of them: 

Rule #1: Define your bylaws, and stick to them. 

Think of your league rule book like the constitution. You’re setting up a document that can be referenced all year long and most importantly – can’t change (at least not in the same year). Before you bring any of your friends into the madness, make sure you have airtight rules for lineup settings, waivers, scoring, playoffs, and trading (more on that later). If things need to be decided before the season through league votes, make sure you do so with clear expectations of the people who lose the votes. A commissioner’s role is to run the league and keep everything together, so defining the expectations is crucial. Once your league finishes their draft there’s no going back, and most of the time a dedicated owner will draft with the league settings in mind. If you decide to make a change after the draft, it throws those strategies out the window and will lead to some truly frustrated leaguemates. 

It’s almost a certainty that there will be owners within your league going through mock drafts leading up to the big day, so it’s important to define those rules long before the league actually starts so everyone has ample time to do their research. A perfect example of this would be all of you who purchased the Ultimate Draft Kit. Thankfully there are multiple versions of the Ballers rankings in there, but if you make a draft plan centered around a full PPR league and your commissioner pivots to half PPR before the draft starts – it changes everything.  The commissioners who take some extra time to define concrete rules within their league often produce the best leagues that can last a lifetime. 

Rule #2: Separate Yourself When Necessary. 

Even though you’re running the league, you’ll have a fantasy team to worry about too. This rule is less focused on league setup and more focused on, well…. not being a jerk. It’s perfectly fine to share your thoughts during the preseason process, but that should be where it stops. Once owners start trading and making waiver claims, you can’t allow your personal opinions into the decision making. If any owners come to you with an issue about a lopsided trade, you have to be able to give an unbiased decision on whether or not it was collusion (hint: it rarely is). Even if you’re in a heated division race with one of the owners and the trade makes your chances of making the playoffs slimmer, you have to stay neutral. It’s fine to use your knowledge about the current state of the NFL to make a decision, but take your fantasy team out of it. 

Separation takes on a second form when it comes to making choices for the league. If your league has a buy-in or a significant prize, then it’s not your job to keep things ‘even’ amongst the owners (unless collusion happens). I asked for some input on Twitter regarding the things the #FootClan needs from a commissioner, and this one came up more than once: 

One of the gripes I have is a commissioner who over-manages and has to have a say in EVERYthing … even matters that don’t involve them – sometimes creating drama when there wasn’t any, to begin with”@CommishShow

Serious fantasy leagues should reward the more skillful players, and it’s not necessary to watch out for someone who joined the league if they did so with an understanding that it was a serious league. Remove yourself from your team once it’s necessary, and remove yourself from micromanaging the league until it’s necessary. If it’s not a serious league and there are owners that ask for your help with decision making, just be sure that there’s not much money on the line and that the other owners are okay with it. 

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Rule #3: Don’t Ever Veto a Trade (unless there’s collusion). 

This one has been talked into the ground in the past few years, but I will scream it from the mountaintops until my face turns blue. My boy Michael (@MPW270) referenced this in an article last year about a similar topic, and he puts it beautifully: 

I have NEVER overturned a trade for being collusive. Were there trades that appeared lopsided on the surface? Sure, but it’s funny how often those trades backfire or end up opposite of what you expected. Let owners run their own team.

If an owner joins a money league, they pay the same buy-in fee as everyone else (unless you’re in a state where sports betting is still illegal, of course). The decisions they make during the draft, the weekly waiver period, and during lineup setting – are their own. So why would trading be any different? Would you ever ask an owner to make a lineup change because you think someone on their bench will have a big game? Of course not. So don’t make decisions on their behalf for trading either. Let’s examine the different rebuttals to this commonly discussed topic:

Rebuttal 1: “That trade could ruin the league, it makes one team way too good”

Realistic Translation: “I didn’t make the trade first, and that owner did a better job than me at building a good team”. 

It seems harsh, but it’s true. In nearly every scenario, the owner is upset that their own team will have a higher climb to the top. This is not a reason to stop a trade, because everyone has the same opportunity to trade with that owner (and all other owners). 

Rebuttal 2: “Owner A is not as knowledgeable as Owner B, so they took advantage of them.”

Realistic Translation: “That owner spent more time researching public advice, and made a smart move that I didn’t make first”. 

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Everyone has the same opportunity to learn. You can be a full-time fantasy analyst or someone who has never played and still have access to the exact same information in the Ultimate Draft Kit. Don’t expect punishment to be given to another owner just because they put in more work. Whether it’s your job, your studies, or fantasy football – you get out what you put in. 

The only time a trade should be overturned is if there is genuine collusion. Your job as a commissioner is to monitor cheating and keep people engaged. It’s not your job to run someone else’s team or give everyone the same chance to win. By joining the league and drafting a team, everyone had the same chance. After that point, it’s not on you to make their choices for them. 

Rule 4: It’s time. Get rid of the kickers. 

You knew this would be on here. The primary argument for ditching kickers surrounds the predictability (or lack thereof) involved in choosing one for your team each week. Not to mention it’s boring and a waste of time in most people’s eyes. Long story short, there’s too much out of our control in terms of 3rd down conversions and play calling. It’s tough to pinpoint which players will get stopped short of the goal line, or catch a pass inside the 40-yard line and get tackled, followed by a three and out. This movement isn’t based on a hunch, it’s backed up by data. I’ll let the much more informed (and president of the #BanKickers movement) Jake Ciely cover the rest

Rule 5: Have fun

Fantasy football is fun, even for those of us that take it way too seriously. Listen to your league in the offseason and implement changes when things get stale. Adding a championship trophy or sending out weekly emails are two simple additions that boost a fantasy leagues activity. Don’t fall into the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality as an explanation for keeping the settings the same. Earlier this decade people were still using standard scoring in a majority of leagues (hence the term ‘standard’), but now it’s outdated. The game has changed, and so has fantasy football. Don’t settle for the same old league and stay active on the #FootClan forums if you ever need a new league or want to chat with other commissioners to get ideas. 

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