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1. League Name: every good league starts with a good name. While creativity rules this realm, a word of caution is in order: although leagues may be “private,” stay away from overly offensive names (whether it’s a league name or individual team names). No sense in alienating people or your fantasy league provider.
2. Draft type: there are several options in this arena. You could choose to have a live, online draft in which all of the league managers must sign-on at a designated time and draft players. While this is indeed an efficient option, it is not the most fun. Another potential problem stems from the fact that many fantasy providers (e.g. Yahoo, ESPN, Sandbox) have a limited number of time slots, so if you don’t sign up early, you might get stuck with a middle-of-the-night draft.
Option #2 is to have a computer generated draft. I’m not going to waste much time on this; it stinks. The way it works is that managers rank all NFL players before the draft, and the computer automatically selects players based on this ranking. The only reason to use it is if you are playing in a league where the managers cannot/will not get together at one time. But if you’re playing in that type of league, I wouldn’t have high expectations in the first place.
Option #3 is to have a live, offline draft. This is by far the most enjoyable option, yet also the most time consuming one. All of the managers get together in-person and select their teams for the year. The enjoyment comes from such extras as creating a big draft board, and making people walk up to the board and writing their picks down. The amount of discussion and ripping on each other’s picks may just provide a season’s worth laughs, and it sets the tone for the start of the season.
3. Number of teams: this is where the really important stuff starts. Having too many teams in a league is one of the most common problems I’ve seen in fantasy leagues throughout the years. By and large, the ideal number of teams is somewhere between 8 and 12. That being said, last year, 2 of the leagues I played in had 20 teams (20!). That’s just crazy. Unless, of course, roster sizes are slashed (see below for a discussion of roster size). Having just 8 teams allows for more roster spots, and greater skill in determining who to actually play week-to-week. 10 was a number that I used last year in the league that I am commissioner of, and that worked very well (though this year we are expanding to 12, so as to allow more of our friends to play).
4. Scoring type: there are pretty much only two options here: head-to-head or overall scoring. The clear-cut choice should be head-to-head scoring. In a nutshell, here’s how each system works:
Head-to-head – much like the NFL, this is a scoring system based on a won/lost record over the course of the season. Your team plays a different team in your league each week, and if you score more than that team, you get a win. It does not matter how much the other teams in the league score in any given week, you are only trying to outscore your opponent. Your team’s cumulative score does come into play when your won/lost record is tied with another team’s; the team with more points will be ranked higher. But here’s the key: your team will be ranked higher, even if it has less overall points than another team, if it has a better won/lost record. So, for example, a team that is 8-4 having scored 1200 overall points will be ranked higher than a team that is 7-5 with 1500 overall points.
Overall – using this scoring system shifts the emphasis to scoring points. Week-to-week scoring does not matter so long as your team ends up with the most points in your league. So in the example immediately above, the team with 1500 overall points would be ranked higher than the one with 1200 overall points, no matter what.
The main reason that head-to-head scoring is better, and chosen by more leagues, is the amount of fun it generates. Think about it: would you rather trash talk a different opponent each week, focusing solely on your 2 teams’ players and trying to eek out a win, or would you rather passively accumulate points over the course of a 17 week NFL season in order to determine a fantasy champ? I think the answer should be pretty obvious.
5. Maximum moves/trades: this concerns the number of times a fantasy owner can pick up players off waivers, or trade players with another owner. In general, I never have a maximum; thus each owner is free to make as many moves and/or trades over the course of the season as he or she desires. This is subject to the trade deadline discussed below however.
6. Protesting trades: every year, fantasy football leagues across the country have conflicts over trades. Words like lopsided, equal value, and unfair get tossed around. There are several methods to avoid the potentially serious trouble such conflict can create. No matter what you choose, make sure you have a firm trade protest policy in place before your season begins. Nothing is worse than seeing your fantasy league go down the drain because of some bad trades going through.
The first option is to have the commissioner approve each trade. This is the simplest method, but it is also the most undemocratic. A second solution is to have the commissioner approve trades, but only after giving other league members an opportunity to voice their concerns. There should be a time limit for filing such grievances, so as to allow the potentially trading teams to move on. At the end of this time period, the commissioner may make the decision himself, or allow for a league vote. You can require a simple majority to overturn a trade, or a super-majority. The latter option is probably best, since for a trade to be rejected, it should be grossly unfair.
A final option, and one that you will usually have to pay for, is to have an independent 3rd party review protested trades. If you play in any so-called “premium” leagues, this will usually be an option free of (additional) charge. If a trade is protested, by anyone, during the allotted time, then the independent board reviews it. They then make a final, binding decision that cannot be overturned, even by the commissioner. This is the best option for leagues that are constantly bickering over trade equities.
7. Trade Deadline: every league should have a trade deadline that is publicized before the season begins. I recommend having the deadline at least 4 weeks from the end of the regular season. This helps to prevent “dumping” by lower ranked teams (the trade protesting procedures outlined above should eliminate the rest of this threat). It also allows fantasy owners to concentrate on match-ups and managing their group of players rather than plotting trades. By the time the playoffs roll around, playoff-bound owners are familiar with each player on their team, and favorable and unfavorable match-ups. This makes for a higher quality playoff.
8. Waiver time: this refers to the amount of time a player who is cut from another team must stay on waivers before he is capable of being picked up by another team. Although it may seem like an insignificant detail, it can actually play an important roll in the administration of a fantasy league. The reason? If you play in a league where team owners do not check their teams every day, or even every other day, then the owner that do check their teams frequently will have a decided advantage in getting players. Don’t be fooled into thinking that players on waivers are not valuable – last year I picked up Dominick Davis, Keenan McCardell, and others off of waivers. In order to level the playing field, having a 1 or 2 day waiver period is highly advisable.
9. Waiver priority: once again, this can play an important part in your league. Waiver priority means which team will get a player that has been claimed by more than 1 team during the waiver period. The team that claimed the player first may seem like the obvious choice, but you run into the same problem of owners checking their teams discussed above. The solution is to have a system of waiver priority, whereby a team claiming a player off of waivers can beat out another team claiming the same period. Again, it is not relevant which team claimed the player first, so long as both (or even more) teams claimed the player during the waiver period. My league uses a rolling list for waiver priority, determined by how many times a team picks a player up from waivers. Each time a team picks up a player, it goes to the bottom of the waiver priority list. Other options include determining waiver priority by inverse league rankings, with the worst team getting the highest waiver priority.
10. Playoffs: most leagues have either 4, 6, or 8-team playoff systems, correlating to how large their league is. Last year, I had a 4-team playoff in a 10-team league, and this year we are expanding to a 6-team playoff in a 12-team league. The trick is to find the proper balance of playoff teams, so as to properly emphasize the regular season without leaving out too much of the league. Having around 50% of your league make the playoffs is generally a good rule of thumb. Allowing more playoff teams makes the regular season worth less than it should be. Another factor, and one that I am making use of this season, is to reward the highest ranked teams with byes in the first round of the playoffs.
When your league has its playoffs is also an important decision. Since the final week of the NFL season – Week 17 – is often meaningless for real NFL teams (do to things like being eliminated from the playoffs or already locking up the #1 seed), it is best to avoid that week entirely for fantasy football purposes. Even worse, in leagues having a playoff, Week 17 would be the finals – the Fantasy Bowl. Think about it: NFL teams rest their starters, and fantasy teams are dependent on those players. They are the players who got the fantasy teams to the finals in the first place. And now they are not available in the most important fantasy game of the season. So while making Week 16 the finals of your fantasy league does make the season one week shorter, it will make the playoffs more fair and fun.
11. Roster Positions: determining the number of starters, and the starting positions, in your league just might be the most important decision your league makes. Most leagues pattern their fantasy teams on NFL starting line-ups. Others allow for variations; for example, starting 3 QBs. I think it is best to stick with the NFL starting line-ups, adjusted for the vagaries for fantasy play. Below is the line-up I used last year in a 10-team league, along with the line-up I am using in this year’s 12-team league:
Roster Positions (10-team league): Roster Positions (12-team league):
Defensive Team Defensive Team
6 bench positions 5 bench positions
As you can see, the 12-team league has 2 fewer roster positions (no WR/TE and one less bench position). This helps to negate the usual talent drain when leagues expand.
12. Statistical Categories: for the first time in this article, here is a topic that I actually want to de-emphasize. Fantasy owners everywhere often spend hours upon hours of league planning time debating whether 50 passing yards or 25 passing yards should be worth 1 point. No matter what you decide, here’s my point: each fantasy team in your league plays under the same scoring system. So quit wasting time on this area. For the record, here’s what I’ve used for the last 5 years, with the “standard” fantasy scoring system in parenthesis, where different.
Passing Yards – 20 yards per point (50 yards/point)
Passing Touchdowns – 6 points
Interceptions – 2 points
Rushing Yards – 10 yards per point (20 yards/point)
Rushing Touchdowns – 6 points
Receptions – ¼ points per reception (none)
Reception Yards – 10 yards per point (20 yards/point)
Reception Touchdowns – 6 points
Return Touchdowns – 6 points
2-point Conversions – 2 points
Fumbles Lost – negative 2 points
Offensive Fumble Return TD – 6 points
Field Goals 0-39 yards – 3 points
Field Goals 40-49 yards – 4 points
Field Goals 50+ yards – 5 points
Point After Attempt Made – 1 point
Sack – 1 point
Interception – 2 points
Fumble Recovery – 2 points
Touchdown – 6 points
Safety – 2 points
Blocked Kick – 2 points
Points Allowed 0 points – 10 points (8 points)
Points Allowed 1-6 points – 7 points (5 points)
Points Allowed 7-13 points – 4 points
Points Allowed 14-20 points – 2 points (1 point)
Points Allowed 21-27 points – 0 points
Points Allowed 28-34 points – negative 1 point (negative 3 points)
Points Allowed 35+ points – negative 4 points (negative 5 points)
13. Fractional/Negative Points: don’t overlook this category, despite my de-emphasizing scoring in general. Playing in a league that does not allow fractional or negative points is annoying to say the least. Why should the difference between 19 and 21 yards be a whole point? There is no logical basis for this, yet that is what not allowing fractional points will do. Negative points should also be allowed in order to penalize players for the inevitable fumbles, interceptions, and bad defensive games that occur. And yes, every once in a while a player ends up with negative overall points for a game – hopefully it won’t be one of your starters!