16 Things Every Commissioner Must Implement
The 2016 NFL season will be my 21st season playing fantasy football. I typically participate in 8-10 leagues per year. Over the course of time, I’ve been in dozens of leagues. Most leagues are fun, and everything goes off without a hitch.
But occasionally, a conflict or disagreement arises mid-season. Something happens that causes confusion, ambiguity, or conflict. In many of these moments, the commissioner, or some other group of owners in the league, are forced into a tough spot where a ruling must be handed down. In most cases, no one walks away totally satisfied.
I’ve seen leagues fizzle because they lack continuity or because the integrity of the league gets compromised. Even worse, I’ve seen personal friendships fractured over mid-season fantasy league disagreements and conflicts.
But my experience tells me that most of these negative situations could have been avoided, if only the league had proactively put some specific rules in place to solve these problems. The best way to solve these sorts of conflicts is to proactively have a quality set of rules in place before the season starts. In every league that I commish, I put in place a “Constitution” which governs the league, and is designed to proactively solve conflicts before they arise.
My suggestion to all league commissioners: Try to consider as many potential scenarios as possible, where something might go wrong, and proactively put rules in place to avoid those sorts of issues. Develop a Constitution for your league.
A quality league Constitution allows you to lay a solid foundation for a fantasy football league that will be long-lasting, prosperous, cohesive, and completely unbiased league. Having good rules and good structures in place will keep your league from falling into a chaotic or unbalanced situation.
As a commissioner, the weight of the league often falls on your shoulders, so here are 16 things that every commissioner needs to seriously consider implementing:
1) Have your scoring and league structure on “paper” somewhere.
I greatly appreciate online league management systems (ie: ESPN, Yahoo, MyFantasyLeague, Fuzzy, NFL.com, CBS Sportline, etc.). But please be sure to have the precise details of your league structure and scoring on “paper” somewhere other than just your online league system. I typically have it in a Word doc and simply email it to the entire league; this is what I refer to as our Constitution. You could also elect to put it on a Google doc or some other separate website (ie: Blogspot, Blogger.com, WordPress.com, etc.).
Why is this important? Well, if you do this long enough, inevitably, some owner is going to claim he that “didn’t know” the rules or that they weren’t clear. I have found that occasionally someone (like me) may accidentally type something into the system wrong, and then there’s confusion. If/when this happens, you can tell him, the rules were clearly outlined in the league Constitution that was emailed to everyone. If he chose not to read it, well, then that’s his fault.
2) League entry fee paid before the draft.
This one might sound obvious to many of you, but many commissioners tend to be loose with this one, especially in many “home” leagues where the guys playing know each other well or they are friends in “real life” outside of fantasy football. But I highly recommend against being loose. Questions about money can potentially fracture friendships faster than anything else.
Any league where I am the commish, I typically require payment from our owners at least one week before the draft (if not, two weeks). And I typically do not allow anyone to know their draft order spot before they have paid.
Multiple times I’ve been in leagues where one or more of the owners did not pay their entry fee at the start of the season. He drafts his team and says, “I’m good for it.” or “I’ll pay next week after payday.” Often times, because the commissioner is a friend of that specific owner, the commish might let him slide. In most cases, we’ve been able to track down those owners and eventually get them to pay, but in some cases the owner(s) have stiffed the league.
Let’s be honest: When an owner is 1-7, he’s got very little incentive to pay his entry fee. The best way to solve this problem is to proactively demand entry fees be paid before the draft. No exceptions. I typically set the draft order several days before the draft, but always AFTER all owners have paid.
3) Use a third-party payment system like LeagueSafe.
We’ve all heard the horror stories, about some commish that never paid out the prize money to the rightful winners. Using a third-party solves that issue.
As a commish, I hate holding the cash. I prefer to let someone else do it. That’s why I was ecstatic when LeagueSafe came on the scene. Rather than collecting cash from people, I send out a link by e-mail. Everyone goes to the website, logs into the site, and pays by credit/debit card. They hold the money until the end of the season and they distribute the money directly to the owners at the end of the season. This is a big win-win!
4) Consider setting up a competition committee.
We hope that these rules help proactively solve potential problems, but inevitably, your league will eventually have a dispute that will require a ruling. In most leagues, the commish would make the call. But consider setting up a committee to help these disputes.
At the draft (or before), appoint a three-person “competition committee” that anyone in the league can appeal to if there is a dispute with the commissioner at any time during the season or if they disagree with something the commissioner does. The competition committee can have a three-way phone conversation to discuss the dispute and vote on how to handle the issue (2 of 3 votes wins). Also, consider appointing alternates to the competition committee in case any dispute or appeal involves one of the members of the committee.
5) Make sure everyone knows when and where the draft is, and what the penalty is for being late or absent.
I’m in several leagues where we do live in-person drafts. But it is important that we know what will be the penalty if an owner isn’t there. Will you use ESPN rankings to draft for him? Will he forfeit his picks until he arrives? Is there a monetary penalty? I am not making suggestions as to how you handle it, but I am suggesting that you have it clearly defined before the draft.
6) Observe the ESPN undroppable list or some comparable.
We’ve all been in leagues where some novice drops a player that is too good to be dropped, a player that really ought not be on the waiver wire. This gives some other owner an unfair advantage when he scoops him up. Most of the leagues I am in do not have owners who would make those sorts of mistakes, so I don’t typically feel the need to implement this, but for most leagues this can be a problem. There is an easy way to stop this.
If your league uses ESPN for your fantasy league management, I recommend using their “undroppable” list. If you do not use ESPN, then come up with some comparable. The undroppable list is simply a list of players that ESPN has designated should not be dropped, therefore if anyone in your league attempts to drop that player, the system won’t allow that transaction to be processed.
If you need to come up with your own list, you might try using your draft for the first few weeks of the season. For example, you could say that any player drafted in the first five rounds of the draft will be ‘undroppabble’ for a period of time. Then, later in the year, the list can vary by fantasy points scored. For example, you could state that after 4 or 5 weeks into the season, no owner can drop any RB/WR/TE that is in the top 70 players of total points scored in your league, and no owner can drop any QB that is in the top 7 of total points scored at the QB position (long-term injuries could be the only exception).
Again, I don’t want you to feel the need to do this precisely how I suggest it, but seriously consider having some mechanism to protect the integrity of the league from the simple errors of newbie fantasy owners.
7) The “Robert Meachem” Rule.
In 2009, one of the wackiest plays we have seen in recent NFL history took place between the Saints and Redskins, and the star of the play was Robert Meachem. That play inspires this rule, which I contend every league must have in their Constitution. If you’re not familiar, I’ll catch you up. The Saints had the ball. Drew Brees throws an interception. The Redskins player fumbles the ball. Robert Meachem strips him of the ball and takes it to the house for a touchdown.
Once the Redskins took possession of the ball, Robert Meachem became a part of the Saints defense (even though he was a WR). When he scores that TD, should we reward that TD as if Meachem were a defensive player or as if he were an offensive player? Should the points go to owners of Robert Meachem or to the owners of the Saints Team Defense? I recommend that your league determine how you want to handle this.
My league Constitution reads like this: “In the rare occasion when an offensive player recovers a fumble after an offensive turnover and subsequent defensive team turnover and then advances the ball or scores a touchdown, the offensive player shall be awarded credit for a touchdown or any associated yardage after advancing, as long as the fumble as long as the offensive team is on the field when the play starts. In all likelihood these instances will be all over Sportscenter and not difficult to identify. However, the commissioner is not responsible for scouring the box scores to identify these instances and the responsibility falls upon the owners to identify them and bring it to the attention of the Commish to adjust the scoring. Since team records and points scored influence waivers, owners have until 11:59pm (EASTERN) on Tuesday evening to bring it to the attention of the Commissioner so the proper adjustments can be made. Otherwise, the scoring will be considered final.”
8) No trade backs or loaning players.
As children, we were all familiar with the time-honored tradition of “no backsies.” We would be wise to to implement that tradition into our fantasy football leagues.
Many of us have been witnesses to a league where the quality or integrity of that league was damaged because owners swapped players back and forth. Sometimes they do this to help each other out during bye weeks, other times it’s worse.
How about this one: Team A trades an elite player to Team B as a way of helping Team B defeat Team C, because Team A needs Team C to lose for playoff seeding, and then Team B trades that player back to Team A a week later.
These shenanigans are harmful to the quality of your league. You can ensure this never happens by stating something like this in your league Constitution: “Teams may not make two trades in the same season involving the same player.”
Or if you don’t like that, you can set a time limit before that player can ever return back to a specific owner. In my standard Constitution, I typically state this: “A traded player(s) cannot return to the team from which he was traded, in anyway whatsoever, for a minimum of 3 calendar weeks.”
9) The “Brad Johnson” rule.
Similar to the “Robert Meachem” rule, a unique NFL play inspires a rule that ought to be in your Constitution. In 1997, Brad Johnson did something no other NFL QB has ever done, he threw a TD pass to himself. How should this be scored? Should he get points for both a TD pass and a TD catch, or not? You decide, but make it clear.
10) Make sure owners have a full line-up. Solving the “inactive” owner problem.
The integrity of the league is maintained by each owner making substantial effort to field the best team possible each week. I recommend you implement a rule that makes it clear that each team is required to submit a complete starting lineup each week. Then, also make it clear, that if a full lineup is not inserted, then one of two items will happen:
1- The previous week’s lineup will be considered valid, or;
2- The commissioner and/or the competition committee will adjust the line-up to be the most competitive line-up possible.
My leagues have often given the commissioner the power to alter the starting line-up of any team that has been inactive or has a player on bye-week in the starting lineup, while other players on the roster are not on bye-week.
One other quick solve for this problem is to have the competition committee set the line-up for that team by simply using ESPN.com’s weekly projections for that particular week; simply inserting whichever players are projected to score the most points that week.
11) Make sure you determine who gets to determine the positional changes.
Occasionally, the online systems will disagree on the position of a player, and it can impact fantasy football.
For example, I remember back in 2007, Yahoo’s system had Marques Colston listed as a WR/TE, which meant he could be started in the TE spot or the WR spot in leagues (this was obviously a silly error on the part of Yahoo that gave some owners a massive advantage). But most other systems only had him labeled as a WR. I remember many owners complaining that the owners who had Colston should not have been allowed to use him as a TE. They wanted their commissioners to do something. This caused confusion and conflict. We’ve had some similar confusion with other players over the years, such as Devin Hester and, to a lesser extent, Percy Harvin.
To solve this problem, I always make this statement in the Constitution: “All position changes are based on ESPN.com setup. (Ex: Hester, Chicago, DB to WR to RB). We will observe whatever is set by ESPN.com.” So, if ESPN allows Hester (or whatever player) to be played as a RB/WR, then we will allow it in the league. But if you don’t like being tied to a potential error made by the system, then give the commish or competition committee the right to make the call. I don’t care which you pick, just clearly state if you’re going to go with the system or if you’re going to allow someone to override the system.
12) Owners are responsible to verify lineup and scoring.
I remember being in a league one season when one of the owners sent an email to the whole league. In his email he claimed that the scoring system on the website had miscalculated his team’s stats for week 4, and that he actually should have won the game that the system claimed he had lost. I visited NFL.com to get the official stats. I went back and did the math, and he was right. The system had counted the points in a way that gave him a one point loss, but he actually should have won that game by one point.
Here was the bigger issue: He sent that email after week 7… three weeks after the error occurred.
He wanted us to go back and change the standings, but we’d then have to go back and change which players were awarded to certain teams off waivers (since the waivers were based in W-L record). Some other owners claimed that if they had not been rewarded those players off waivers, then they would have started other players in other match-ups, which would have impacted subsequent games. What a headache it was!
To make matters worse, he and I were fighting neck-and-neck for first place. I ruled that we would not change the standings. He was pissed. He claimed that I was being bias. The league was divided and several guys were angry, on both sides of the argument. That league ceased to exist after that season. But this could have been avoided.
The online management system you use should do the scoring for you, but in the rare case that it does make a mistake (which does indeed happen), I recommend that you make the owners responsible for verifying the scores and the stats and the legality of the lineups of both their own team and their competition. In addition, I always have a deadline as to when the owners are responsible for notifying the commissioner of stat or errors. Because waivers in my leagues typically run Tuesday nights, I usually make the deadline to notify me late Tuesday evening. Make sure the time is precise and that you include time zone (e.g. 11:59pm Eastern Time).
13) Determine how you plan to deal with stat changes.
This doesn’t happen often in fantasy football, but it does happen. Occasionally, the NFL will go back and change a stat. For example, let’s say, a defender tackles a quarterback in a game on Sunday afternoon, behind the offensive line, and the on-site statistician scores it a sack. But then, on Wednesday morning, the NFL announces that they are changing the scoring from being a sack to just a normal tackle because the QB was in the act of rushing towards the line of scrimmage (this is a real scenario that has happened in the NFL).
Well, the defensive team (or player) was credited with a sack in your fantasy league, but now the NFL is saying, that’s no longer a sack. Should you go back and change the score? What if that change of stat impacts the outcome of the game?
I think a valid argument can be made for or against going back for the change. Again, I’m not advocating which you should choose, I’m just advocating that you make the choice long before the scenario could arise. In most of my leagues, we determine to stick with whatever stats ESPN has as of 11:59pm (Eastern Time) on Tuesday evening. That is the time the scores become final, no matter what.
14) Stop owners from “Tanking” games for any reason.
I am from Philadelphia, so for the last several seasons I have grown accustomed to my hometown 76ers tanking NBA games to secure top talent like Ben Simmons. While it may end up working in the NBA, you don’t want this in your fantasy football league.
Be sure to implement a rule that no team is allowed to “Tank Games” for any reason (e.g. to get a better playoff match-up or get a better waiver or purposely allowing someone to win to screw over some other owner). The integrity of the league is too important. If it becomes obvious that this is happening, your commissioner and/or your competition committee should be allowed to change/edit the lineup. In essence, you treat the team like it’s an “inactive team” (See Rule #10 above).
15) Over communicate rules about put and kickoff returns.
I recommend that you go out-of-your-way to make sure that everyone knows whether or not players get points for return TD’s. It’s helpful to avoid the complaints from the fantasy owner that claims that he “didn’t know” the rules.
16) Over communicate any league rules you have that are different than the norm.
Be sure to also go-out-of-your way to make sure that you over communicate any rules or settings that your league has that may be out of the ordinary from other leagues your guys might be in. This will be very helpful to avoid the complaints from any fantasy owners that claim they did not realize the rule differences.