Commissioner Guide, Part 1: Getting Started

The Footballguys guide to starting a new fantasy football league and being the league's commissioner

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The questions a commissioner must answer in advance of a new fantasy football league are vast. However, the journey begins with straightforward decisions to guide the commissioner down the proper path for an environment for competition, rivalry, and fueling the passion for the football game we all love.


Each of these has a wide range of levels for fantasy football leagues which are not always connected. First, on the money side:

Fantasy football leagues can be either free or include an entry fee to join the league. There are perks to both and potential downfalls. First, a free league obviously has no financial strings attached. Anyone with the desire and requisite time to manage their roster for the draft and season can participate. Some, while they may love the NFL and fantasy football, may have financial barriers to paying an entry fee. Creating a league without an entry fee would include that subset of participants for the league. Some may have a fundamental issue with putting money on the line regarding fantasy football whether among friends or strangers.

If your new league is a free one, your approach may be more casual as the commissioner regarding rules, settings, etc. This venture may purely be to enhance the league's participants' enjoyment of the game. It may be a collection of family, friends, or co-owners where the league will promote their connections with each other during the football season from banter to friendly competition.

On the flip side, a higher-stakes environment of league fees and prizes many times intensifies the focus on rules, fair play, and the week-to-week and overall season's outcome. Also, money on the line means each participant needs to be fully engaged in the league's activities. A few checking out by midseason can have pronounced effects on the remaining teams and the league's outcome. A league constitution and set of rules is a requirement to spell out the expectations for participants and the rules of the league. Details are key with a constitution as situations arising without addressing them in the constitution can quickly escalate to disastrous results in an otherwise functional fantasy football league.

If deciding on a pay league, how much money involved is a key factor. Is there a minimum amount for the league required to keep things interesting for the participants? Is the league more about bragging rights than the monetary prizes to finish the season? How will the prizes be split each season? Will there be weekly prizes? What about finishing second, third, etc. for the entire season compared to first? Will participants be required to pay a transaction fee to pick up or trade players? All of these questions are vital to setting up the best league for those involved.

In a pay league, you may also want to use a premium online service (see below). If so, you should consider collecting the league software fee on top of the prize money. You may also consider working out a way to help defer the cost of the draft night festivities, such as through penalties for different infractions like starting a guy on a bye week or finishing last the year before. Finally, if you are going to run a money league, ensure everyone pays their initial fee before the draft begins and make sure the money is in a safe place until the end of the season. The quickest way to ruin a money league is to have a participant promise to pay later, only to stiff the league when they start losing too many games. Even worse is when the commissioner spends the money during the course of the season, only to not have the payout available when the season ends. Resolving these potential issues before they happen can save a ton of pain and strife down the road.


Once you know if your league is for money or not, your next step is to determine the scoring system. While adjusting rules from year to year, the initial structure will set the tone from day one.

The most basic of leagues score for touchdowns on offense (six points each) through the avenues of passing, rushing, or receiving. Defenses get points for touchdowns (also via special teams), turnovers, and sacks. To further reward players for performance, yardage is commonly used, such as one point for every 10 yards rushing/receiving and one for every 20 yards (or 25 yards) passing. You can even award a point to any player who makes a reception. You can also expand defensive scoring by awarding points based on how many yards or points the defense allows in a game.

To make things even more interesting, you can switch things up and go with more realistic league formats such as using individual defensive players (IDP). You can expand the typical starting lineup to include flex players (multiple positions may be started in specific lineup spots) and even adjust scoring systems based on the position such as giving two points to a tight end for a reception, but only 0.5 to a running back. Think about some of the owners you want to recruit before going too far down this route because some owners may not want to play in an IDP league for example. Some owners prefer more NFL-like scores to their games and only want basic touchdown scoring implemented. Ultimately it is your call as commissioner, but keep these things in mind when making these decisions.


There are plenty of league software systems to help you run your fantasy league. Big professional sites like Yahoo and CBS offer commissioners the ability to create free leagues as long as you sign up for their service. Most of these sites also offer a premium version of their software that allows for expanded scoring rules and starting lineups. Sites like are premium-only but offer a wide range of options for rules and lineups. Google fantasy football league software and you'll find pages and pages of examples.

Without prize money, the commissioner would either have to pay for the league software or use a free service. In money leagues, it is common to split the league management software fee among the league's participants to defer costs away from the commissioner. Most commissioner sites allow you to configure your league first before making the decision to purchase it. You should try out a couple of different versions to make sure the league offers what you need.

Along those same lines, you need to compare your proposed scoring system with the league software you are considering. One of the most frustrating things for a commissioner is to come up with some great scoring rules only to find out your league software does not support them. Starting from scratch, you can test out both the scoring rules and the league software at the same time to make sure everything works the way you want.


Now that you have determined the basics of your league, you need to find the league mates who will play. You may already have a group of people in mind, but you may need to add a few more once everyone knows the type of league that you are running. Start by recruiting those you trust, especially those who have played fantasy football before. Let them know what you're doing and why. It will be a great incentive for them to join your league.

Ultimately you are looking for owners who are active. You want folks who will be engaged at all points throughout the year. You want those who are always wheeling and dealing with trade offers. You want those who will be logging into the website three or four times (or more) a week. You want the people who you will not have to chase for their lineups, and you want the leaguemates who will pay their entry fee on time and can be trusted to pay their transaction fees (if applicable) as well.

If you are going to start an auction or IDP league, you might want to limit the number of rookie owners you add to the league. If you have eight league mates who have all played IDP and four owners who have never played, they might have a rough time adjusting to the new format. If you do have an owner or two who are new to fantasy football or maybe the format that you want to run, you might want to give them a crash course to get them up to speed.

From time to time though, you may need to find a replacement owner. If that time comes, it is best to start with the guys inside the league. They know the ins and outs of the league and can help convince new owners why they will want to play in your league. Referrals are an outstanding way to maintain a strong league.

If you cannot recruit the right owners, you are faced with a couple of choices. You can put out a listing on different message boards such as the ones at We have a forum for owners who are looking for leagues and leagues that are looking for owners. If you have a face-to-face league, you can still look to the message boards or contracting the league down by an owner for a year or two. Just make sure you do not reduce the league beyond a point that really changes the format of the league. Going from 12 teams to 10 is acceptable. Going down to six teams completely changes the dynamics of the league.


With these items in place, you will be well on your way to launching your own fantasy football league. Ultimately there is no better teacher than experience, and navigating through your first year as commissioner will teach you more than anything you will be able to anticipate now. Do your best to gather as much information as you can from this series here at, and don't be afraid to ask for help, especially from those already with commissioner experience.

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