The Top 10 Tips for Starting a Successful Fantasy Football League

July 20, 2009

So you’re tired of missing out on the water cooler talk on Monday mornings and finally decided to start a fantasy football league. It’s not as difficult as it may sound, but it takes a lot of organization and there will be some bumps in the road. With these tips you’ll set yourself up for a league that will reward you and your friends for years to come.

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With the NFL season kicking off Thursday, September 9, if you want to start a league you're running out of time. It will take a while to gather at least eight owners who will see the season through, organize those people to be in the same place at the same time for draft during vacation season, and make sure that you have the right makeup of owners. Use these tips to make sure things go smoothly.

10. Go Big with Entrance Fees

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Most fantasy leagues that die, do so in the first couple years. Setting the ante high out of the gate may make it a little more difficult to get owners to join, but when there’s something big on the line it will make them fight tooth and nail until the end. When there’s nothing to really play for, cellar dwellers will stop starting their teams, which completely screws your league’s integrity. Remember, only one person walks away with the bulk of the prize, but if floating the fantasy bill was a struggle for some owners, they’ll come back the next season hungry for some payback. After a few years, most owners will have moved up in their careers and the ante won’t be as prohibitive, but by then you’ve built league camaraderie and the history and fun will be enough to keep everyone coming back.

9. Charge for Free Agents

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Sure, charging for player pickups will build the total prize and increase incentive, but it honestly serves a far more important role. As the season starts you’ll find that some owners are complete maniacs. They’ll sit by the TV on Sundays and try to pick up every slot receiver that has five catches and a touchdown before anyone else has a chance to even consider him. If you put a healthy fee in place for every free agent they’ll think a lot harder about having a hair trigger. On the flip side, there will be just as many owners with families or other responsibilities that will be more than happy to start their team before kickoff and then check scores on Monday morning. You have to make sure that the league is fun for both types. So allow pickups at any time (screw the waiver system), and charge for them.

8. Choose Owners Wisely

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This is incredibly important. You may know someone for a long time, but you don’t really know them until a big prize is on the line and there’s a dispute. Follow your hunches on people. If you know a guy who flies off the handle every time he has a few drinks, do not let him in the league. Try to make sure you know every single owner on a personal level. Do not listen to people in your league who know some “awesome dude” that no one else in the league has spent time with. If he has no vested interest in playing fair and doesn’t have to interact with other players on a personal level it can get ugly. If you’re in a pinch, allow someone in the league who’s just learning in favor of a ringer you don’t know. They’ll learn quickly and it’s extremely hard to get someone out of your league once they’re in, and you’ll be stuck with the jerk.
 
7. Pick a Commissioner and Stick with Him

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Once your league is a couple years in, people will start to get jealous of the commissioner. Alpha personalities will want to take charge, and as the league founder you’ll want to keep people happy and may relent. Don’t do it. This opens up the door for all kinds of issues. Being the commissioner is tough. You’re in the league and you want to win, but at the same time, you have to make everyone feel like things are fair. Developing this trust takes time. If you hand the reigns over to someone else after a couple years the continuity is broken and so is the trust. Suddenly there will be disputes over everything, people will start bickering, and the league will fall apart.

6. Do Not Use League Voting to Settle Disputes

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Democracy may sound like a good idea. It worked for America, right? There’s a big difference between millions of people voting for something and 10 fantasy league owners who have hidden agendas. People want to win at all costs—especially when there’s a decent-sized pot on the line. They will not care about the overall integrity of the league and how decisions will affect it years on down the road. They will bend the rules however they can to get an advantage and eek out a win. When disputes arise, give everyone a chance to make their voice heard through an email string or a message board post on your league site. Take everything in consideration and then rule. Make sure you establish this upfront so that no one will complain when the time comes (and it will).

 

 

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5. Be Fair Even if it Screws You…Hard

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There’s nothing worse than when a rule you create as commissioner stings you first. It’s all hypothetical until one point makes the difference between winning and losing. When you were the advocate of a ruling that costs you a win it can be tough to swallow. Take it like a man. It sucks, but other owners will see it, and their trust in you will grow by leaps and bounds. Look at it like you’re a parent setting an example for your kids. It inspires fair play from the entire league.

4. Make the Draft a Total Event

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For 90 percent of the people who play in your league, the draft is going to be the best memory they have of each season. Make it a total throwdown and pull out all the stops. The memory of an incredible party is often enough to get annual losers to sign back up each year. Buy a draft board so that every pick feels like it has some gravity. Create formalities like giving the winner of the prior season a round of applause or making owners call out their picks like the real NFL draft. Set a timer for each pick and start counting down the last 30 seconds. Enforce penalties like doing shots for drafting players who have already been taken. Make sure as many owners make the draft in-person as possible. Stories are created during drafts that you’ll be sharing for a lifetime. Set your league up to facilitate as many of those stories as possible.

3. Provide as Much Incentive for Losers as Possible

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As previously mentioned, all but one owner is going to end up a loser. You need to make sure that you soften the blow as much as possible. The best way to do this is to have a toilet bowl. Basically, the worst owners of each conference play each other the same week as the fantasy Super Bowl. The loser must then buy the suds or food for the next year’s draft or must have the draft at their place. It keeps all the owners on their toes until the end of the season. It’s also a good idea to allow as many owners to make the playoffs as possible. Generally, that means more than 50 percent. Just make sure you build in rewards for those who kick ass, like a bye week during the first round of the playoffs.

2. Spend the Money for a Decent Web Site

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It may be hard for you young whippersnappers to believe, but there was once a time when old fogeys like me had to have everyone leave their starting lineups on an answering machine and then add up the scores by hand. Web sites have remedied that with live scoring, but they can supply much more than that. A great web site is paramount in running a solid league. The more reputable the site, the better the chance that live scoring won’t crap out due to server overload, owners will be able to upload logos and talk smack on the message board to really live the fantasy, and there will be adequate research tools to make sure everyone stays competitive. Most importantly, make sure the site has time stamps for each move so that any disputes over people starting/not starting players in time will be eliminated. Have all the owners chip in to pay for a solid web experience. It’s worth every penny.

1. Write an Exhaustive Rule Book

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Without a doubt, this is the most important thing. Nailing down the details of your scoring system and rules may seem like a no-brainer, but if you only do it verbally, you’ll be surprised how some peoples’ memories become fuzzy when they want a rule to work in their favor. Write it all down and send it to everyone in your league several weeks before the draft. One of the most important things to remember to address is tie-breakers. You can allow ties during the regular season, but in the playoffs it’s not an option. This is one thing that you can let the owners vote on before the season starts. We recommend team defensive score since a defense is technically half a football team, but feel free to work it out amongst your league. A tie-breaker system that determines who makes the playoffs is just as important. We generally go with total points scored throughout the season. Also, do not allow owners to pick up players they’ve previously had on their rosters and dropped. It keeps them from "borrowing" players from each other when they’re in a pinch and makes the gravity of adds and drops much more intense. 

Fantasy football is filled with nuances that you’ll only learn as you play, but if you follow these tips you’ll be well on your way to creating a healthy, fair league that people will want to come back to each year. Stay tuned to Spike.com this season for exhaustive coverage of the entire fantasy football season to give yourself an edge including our brand new 10 UP/10 DOWN articles that cut through all the garbage to give you the 20 players to watch for each week. 

 

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