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Commissioner’s Playbook – #1 Onward and Upward

The Commissioner’s Playbook is a collection of short pieces with tips and ideas for making your fantasy football league better. Share this with your commish to improve your league!

A league is only as good as its commissioner.” – Confucius, probably

Commissioners hold the weight of their league on their shoulders. I know because I’ve felt it. One of the most frustrating, annoying, totally-worth-it pressures I have ever felt has come from being the commissioner for my home league. Over only two seasons, we’ve seen owners throw dramatic fits and eventually quit altogether over a pretty standard scoring rule, league abuse of veto power, collusion, shameless tanking (in a one-keeper league), and loads of plain ol’ whining. Yet, for the joy of creating a fantasy league that keeps owners engaged and bought-in, it was all worth it.

Being the commissioner is hard. It takes a lot of work. The Commissioner’s Playbook was made with the fantasy commissioner in mind. I want to give you, commissioners, as many resources and ideas to improve your league as possible. The inaugural play in the Commissioner’s Playbook is titled “Onward and Upward.” Please enjoy.

Onward and Upward

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw

To keep your fantasy league alive, you must continuously be thinking of ways to change and improve. Try proposing a change to the scoring system or an additional IR slot. If you are not moving forward, you are falling behind. As commissioner, it is your job to keep the owners involved and engaged season after season. The best way to do this is always to promote progression.

This is easier said than done. The vast majority of owners don’t like change, which makes thinking of ideas that much harder. Even though your league will probably shoot down 80% of your proposed ideas, don’t stop trying. Thomas Edison unsuccessfully attempted to invent the lightbulb 1,000 times before it worked. When asked how it felt to fail 1,000 times, he answered, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The lightbulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” While there is no such thing as a “perfect league,” never quit trying to improve. You might have to propose 20 different rule changes before one actually sticks with your league. Every year, I approach my home league with close to a dozen rule change proposals and why I think they would benefit the league—usually, only 1 or 2 passes.

One of my favorite ways to make changes is to ask each owner for ideas. A lot of owners might surprise you with what they have thought of but have not told you. The best time to ask owners for their ideas is at the conclusion of each season, while the game is fresh on their minds. If you wait too long into the offseason, most owners will have forgotten the context for their ideas or simply won’t care enough to have a conversation about it since the next season is several months away. In my opinion, the best way to do this is through an end of the season survey.

End of the Season Survey

The benefits of the survey are monumental. Allow each owner a platform to share their thoughts about the league: the rules, the roster, the commissioner, and every other aspect of the league. If you have trouble getting responses from your league mates, try making the survey anonymous. Although it might make the responses more feisty, it will also make the responses more honest, since they feel less pressure of condemnation if they have a polarizing response.

Here are some ideas for questions to have on your end of the season survey:

  1. Rate the league from 1-10
  2. Rate the 20__ season from 1-10
  3. Rate the roster size from 1-10
    • If you could change one thing about the roster, what would it be and why?
  4. Rate the scoring rules from 1-10
    • If you could change one thing about the scoring rules, what would it be and why?
  5. Rate the commissioner from 1-10
    • Any comments about the commissioner? What could he/she do better? What did you appreciate or enjoy that you would like for him or her to continue doing?
  6. Any comments about the league overall?
  7. Any changes to any aspect of the league that you would like to see happen this offseason?
  8. How likely are you to stay in the league for the following season? (1-10)

Democracy vs. Dictatorship

Although mostly all of us can agree that a complete democracy is the best way to run a government, it isn’t always the best way to run a fantasy football league. Don’t get me wrong; a dictatorship-style fantasy league is almost guaranteed to end in utter turmoil and disbandment of the league. But making an executive decision with the league’s best interest in mind instead of allowing everything to go to a vote can often help the league run more smoothly.

As an enneagram type 9, my natural position leans towards people-pleasing democracy. When I started as commissioner, I wanted to keep the peace between all of the owners, yet still allow everyone’s voice and opinion to be heard. That seemed like a simple goal, but I quickly realized how impossible it was during my first season. I allowed almost every aspect of the league to be voted on. It almost completely unraveled the league.

Should we have an IR spot? Should we make the playoffs six teams instead of 4? Should we change to a FAAB system instead of a rolling waiver? Very simple questions turned into polarizing debates. At the end of the season, I looked back and saw my error. Of course, some questions deserved a league-wide vote (when should we have the draft, should we make a buy-in, etc.), but other issues just need an answer from the commissioner alone. My advice to you is this: make every rule as crystal clear as you can possibly make it at the beginning of the season. If any grey areas begin to arise, look to the rules you stated to sharpen the contrast.

I am commissioning a dynasty league with a mixture of my friends. Because of my previous experience as a commissioner, I have written a thorough “Rules and Regulations” document for the league to refer to throughout the year. I made it available to everyone before the startup draft a year ago. If owners have questions or want to make a motion to change a rule, I’m happy to listen. Still, I’ve found it is far easier as a commissioner to make a stance about a rule, to begin with, and work from there to change/tweak it instead of asking the league about it without a rule already set. Therefore, make rules—set boundaries. Be direct. But listen to the owners and allow rules to be changed.

Conclusion

As a league, it is important to keep moving forward. Keep proposing new ideas, keep asking the owners for opinions and advice, keep progressing. Do your research. Ask questions to others in the fantasy community. There are loads of resources for you to use to improve your league.

Thank you for reading the first play in the Commissioner’s Playbook. As a thank you, I want to offer my personal twitter for your disposal. If you have any questions about my experiences as a commissioner, or if you would like to use any of the resources I use for my league, please send me a message on Twitter at @DomFFL. 

The next play in the Commissioner’s Playbook is all about ideas and techniques for draft order randomization. There will be a lot of fun ideas and explanations. 

Here is a list of some of the resources I have made:

  • Excel sheet formulated to calculate average points scored
  • Word doc template for a weekly article + Power rankings
    • Plus examples for several of the weekly articles I’ve written
  • “League of Dynasty” Rules and Regulations
  • Professional logos for several leagues

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