Commissioner Basics - Acquiring Players
By Will Grant
May 25th, 2012

As commissioner of your fantasy football league, one of your primary responsibilities is overseeing how teams acquire players. Owners acquire players through three primary methods: The draft, weekly free agency or trades with other owners. Each of these three methods involves very different situations, and different levels of oversight. This guide will provide you with different ideas on how to handle each of these situations, and pick and choose the ones that make the most sense for your league.

Acquiring Players through the Draft

Without a doubt, the single most important night of the season is the draft night. It's the opening ceremony to 17+ weeks of fantasy football goodness. It's also where teams begin to build the team that they hope will take them to the championship. The draft can be run a variety of different ways, and this section will discuss a few of them.

A quick note on predraft preparations. You should circulate the most current version of your league constitution to everyone in the league a week or two before the draft starts. This way owners have a chance to review it and ask questions. If you have been running a league for a few years and have implemented some rule changes during the summer, create a one-page executive summary of the rule changes. Circulate that as well. Have at least one copy of the constitution handy the night of the draft and pass out your summary sheet again before the draft starts.

If your league collects an entry fee from each owner, collect it from every owner before the draft starts. It's nothing personal, but it just works better for everyone if all owners pay up front. There is no chance that someone will stiff the league, and there are no exceptions because every owner must follow this rule. If at all possible, you should hold the money in a separate bank account so that it is readily available when the season is over.

The most popular version of the draft is the live, in person draft where all of the owners of the league gather in one location and compete against each other to draft the best team possible before the season starts. This can be hosted at someone's house, or local bars and restaurants frequently offer specials for commissioners who make reservations. Make sure that everyone knows the start time and has cleared their schedule for that evening. Once everyone has arrived and has asked all questions about the rules, the draft can begin. Everyone can draw numbers out of a hat to determine the draft order, and the team with pick 1.01 is officially on the clock.

It is good to have a time keeper and set a limit on how much time each owner has to make their pick when they are on the clock. However, you don't necessarily have to start keeping time on people if the draft is moving at a good pace. The first rounds usually go pretty well, and time doesn't become an issue until the later rounds when people can't really decide who they want to take. In most cases, having a designated time keeper with the threat to use it if people take too long usually keeps everyone moving in the right direction. If things ball behind, turn the timer on.

You should also nominate one person to keep track off all the picks for the league. If you have a specific league software, that person can just enter the picks into the software. Make sure whatever method used is easy to scan. Everyone has been in a league where one owner asks "Has the New York defense been taken yet?" some six rounds after they are already gone. The guy who is keeping track of the picks will have the answer immediately at their finger tips.

If you can't have everyone in one place at the same time, the next best alternative would be to have an online draft. Think of this as a virtual live draft, where everyone is on at the same time, making their picks as if they were in the same room together. This usually takes place in a league chat room, and it has the added benefit of everyone being at home. If you have to run your draft this way, ensure that everyone knows the proper start time. Acquire a cell phone number for each person in the draft as well so that if someone loses internet connection or there is a power failure, you can call them on the phone. Timekeeping is critical during this type of event as people can walk away from their computer or become distracted at home. Just make sure that if someone drops out for whatever reason and can't be reached, you have a simple contingency plan in place to continue the draft. In most cases, turning on the auto draft of the best available players based on their average draft position will fill in the team without totally messing up the owner's team and causing an imbalance in the rest of the league.

In some cases though, you simply can't get everyone together at the same time, even online. In that case, you can implement a slow-live draft - where people make their picks over several days, and eventually everyone completes their roster. A timer is critical in this case because people have an incentive to drag the draft out. The longer the draft runs, the more training camp battles that are decided and the more question marks about certain players that get answered. A timer keeps everyone focused on keeping the draft moving. The key here is to have a clear understanding of what happens to a team if they miss a pick and the timer expires. You can either skip that person and let them add a player when they have time, or you can give them back to back picks in the next round. The key with everything is just to keep the draft moving. The timer can initially be set for 10 or 12 hours and shut off at night. As the start of the season gets closer, the length of the timer should shorten. The expectation that should be placed on every owner is that they log into the website at least once a day and that they predraft their picks as much as possible. If one of your owners can't be online, have them send you a list of available players that they want in order. When it comes time for their pick, you just award them the highest available player on that list. You need to be prepared to do whatever it takes to get the draft finished. In extreme cases, the draft may still be going on after the first game - and people will just have to start whoever they have on their roster at that time. This threat usually gets people moving to finish the draft. As you might expect, this is the most labor intensive option for a commissioner to use.

Acquiring Players through Free Agency

Free Agency is a big part of fantasy football and a well run free agency system can mean the difference between an OK league and a great one. Here are some different ideas on how to manage free agency throughout the regular season.

Timing is the key with any free agency. Each week should have a beginning and ending period for free agency - usually Tuesday or Wednesday through the kickoff of games on Sunday. You don't want free agency to be going on during the games because not everyone will have access to a computer. If you have a definite start and end time each week, people will know exactly what they have to do to acquire new players. In competitive leagues, you may also want to disable free agency during the playoffs. While it's hard to imagine adding someone that you would want to start by that point in the season, it can also be a big letdown if the No. 1 running back in the league goes down, and the guy who came into the playoffs on a wild card picks up the injured player's backup running back and goes all the way to the Super Bowl.

Depending on the size of your rosters, you might also consider placing a limit on the number of free agent moves that a team can make in a given week. If a roster has 20 people on it, and you allow five free agency transactions a week, that's a 25% roster turn over in one week. While that certainly builds up the transaction pool (if you have one), it can create unnecessary churn with teams adding and dropping players each week, without putting much thought about who they want to have on their roster.

The most basic form of free agency is first come, first served (FCFS). Owners can drop and add players as often as they want (up the limit), once the free agency period opens. Owners will camp out waiting for the free agency period to open, and there will be mad dash to grab the top waiver wire pick of the week. This method ignores record, and even the top rated teams can grab the hot free agent. It rewards the team that happens to be online when free agency opens. If an owner is at work or won't be available when the free agency kicks off, they can't preload a list of free agents.

A more balanced approach to free agency takes advantage of the waiver wire order of most fantasy software sites. As commissioner, you set a priority of who gets first crack at the free agents (usually worst overall record or lowest total points scored) when the free agency period begins. Free agency is one or two rounds where owners can preload a priority list and they get the best available player on their list. This method helps owners who may not be available when free agency opens, and rewards the weaker teams in the name of a more competitive balance for the whole league. The drawback of this is that if owners forget about a bye week or injured starter, it may be too late to make a change before the lineup locks.

A hybrid model can also be used to incorporate both a waiver wire order and a first come, first served model. You open free agency based on the waiver wire priority for the first round or two. This gives the weakest teams the opportunity to grab the more popular waiver wire pickups each week. Once the first two rounds are over, open it up to first come, first served so that anyone can adjust their roster as necessary. This continues to reward the weaker teams in the name of league balance, but also gives owners the ability to wait for FCFS waivers and add people there. If you want to adopt this model, check to be certain that your league software supports it.

However, if you want to truly level the playing field with all of the owners, the best way run free agency is to use blind bidding free agency. First you give every owner a certain number of free agency bidding units. Each owner then blindly bids on each free agent week to week, and the team with the highest bid wins the free agent. This way every team gets an equal shot at every free agent, and the only limit is the free agency salary cap. If a team uses all their free agency bidding units up in Week 1, they must survive the season without any waiver wire moves, even if they can't field a starting lineup. If you want to take it up a notch from there, make the free agency units eligible for trading. This way, if someone overspends, they need to give up a player or draft pick to get additional units.

Acquiring Players through Trades

Trades are the easiest thing for commissioners to administer. The trade negotiation happens between the two owners, and the trade is executed. The only thing that the commissioner has to do is police the trades at the end and be certain that neither of the teams involved is trying to pull something shady.

Some leagues require a trade confirmation - where both owners must double confirm the trade before the commissioner processes it through the league software. While this keeps both owners from making a mistake while trading, it really puts an unnecessary step into the trade process. If the commissioner is unavailable for a day or two, a trade can go days without being processed. The vast majority of the time, however, the trade is worked out fairly between the two owners and the commissioner doesn't need to be involved.

Allowing the league to vote to accept or veto a trade should never be used. On the one hand, you may be tempted to let the league veto trades as a way to police against collusion. If the league can override a trade, people are less likely to pull a fast one on another owner. However, what happens is that a trade will come through where it looks like one owner is the clear winner and the other team was fleeced. The league reacts, half of them because they don't want an opponent to get a big advantage, half of them because they didn't get there first, and they vote to override the trade. This creates hard feelings on a lot of different fronts, and ultimately creates more harm than good. You need the ability to veto trades as the commissioner to prevent true collusion, but in 99% of the trades that will happen, you'll just let the trade go through without issue.

Some online software management systems force trades to be even on both sides - the same number of players given as received. If your software supports it, you should allow for trades of all shapes and sizes. Draft picks, players and any mix that owners can think of. If your league allows for free agency bidding, consider allowing owners to trade bidding units as well. Anything that a team can use to acquire a player should be fair game.

Finally, in some money leagues, a transaction fee must be paid by both owners involved in the trade. While this adds more money to the transaction pot (if one exists), this is really a personal preference thing. On the one hand, anything that adds more prize money can't be a bad thing. However, there is another point of view that it puts an unnecessary constraint on possible trades. Trades are a fun part of the league and provide interesting angles and story lines over the course of a season. Encouraging trades from a commissioner standpoint is a good thing. Give serious thought to requiring a transaction fee before implementing it.

As always, feel free to provide comments or suggestions to grant@footballguys.com.

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