Commissioner Guide, Part 2: Acquiring Players

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

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As commissioner of your fantasy football league, one of your primary responsibilities includes overseeing how teams acquire players. General Managers (GMs) acquire players through three primary methods: The draft, weekly free agency, and trades with other GMs. 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 the ones which make the most sense for your league.

THE DRAFT

The single most important event for a fantasy league is the draft. Each year it begins the league's calendar in earnest and has the most impact on each team's roster via transacted players. The draft is where each team hopes to build the roster which will rise to the championship. The draft can be run in a variety of ways. Here are a few options to consider:

Directing league mates to the league constitution well in advance of the draft is a strongly recommended task item. Each participant must be on the same page for the draft and all of the upcoming league activities from the start. Reviewing the rules and settings with adequate time to clarify rules with questions eliminates any draft day confusion among league mates. League rules may also have been adjusted since the previous season (through a league vote or not) and reminding all participants of these changes is paramount. 'Know your league' is an oft-mentioned staple phrase for fantasy football leagues and it begins with the rules of play for each league.

ENTRY FEES

If your league collects an entry fee from each team, secure them before the draft starts. It is nothing personal, but it just works better for everyone if all participants pay before the draft. Each is held to the same standard. If at all possible, you should hold the money in a separate bank account, or use a site like LeagueSafe.com, so the funds are readily available when the season is over.

The most popular version of the draft is the live, in-person draft where all of the participants 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 everyone knows the start time and has cleared their schedule for the evening (or afternoon). 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 (or order in which they select which draft position they want), and the team with pick 1.01 is officially on the clock.

TIME IS UP

It is good to have a timekeeper and set a limit on how much time each GM has to make their pick when they are on the clock. However, you do not 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 does not become an issue until the later rounds when people can't really decide who they want to draft. In most cases, having a designated timekeeper with the threat to use it if people take too long usually keeps everyone moving in the right direction. If things fall behind, turn the timer on. Another method could be to use an online fantasy site to run the draft, even with all the league in the same room drafting in person. This can replace the use of a large draft board at the center or front of the room and a draft moderator (or each individual participant) posting the selections manually on the board. The ceremony of announcing picks in person is part of the appeal of the in-person draft, but some may opt to have the online platform technically run the draft (with or without a timer) for ease of setup.

Make sure whatever method used is easy to scan. Everyone has been in a league where one drafter asks "Has Player X been taken yet?" some six rounds after they are already gone. Whoever is keeping track of the picks will have the answer immediately at their fingertips.

ONLINE DRAFT

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 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 computers or become distracted at home. Just make sure 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 General Manger's team, causing an imbalance in the rest of the league.

SLOW DRAFT

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 potential training camp battles, injuries, and depth charts are decided and the more question marks about certain players are 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 to everything is just to keep the draft moving. The timer can initially be set for 10 or 12 hours and shut off overnight. As the start of the season gets closer, the length of the timer should shorten. The expectation which should be placed on every GM is they log into the website at least once a day and predraft their picks as much as possible.

If one of the participants cannot 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 if absolutely necessary. As you might expect, this is the most labor-intensive option for a commissioner to use.

FREE AGENCY

Free agency is a significant part of fantasy football. A well-run free agency system can mean the difference between an adequate 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 - typically Tuesday or Wednesday through the kickoff of games on Sunday. You do not 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 endpoint each week, people will know exactly what they have to do to acquire new players. A common deadline for general free agent pickups is the start of each player's game for the week. For example, a player on Monday Night Football would be available for pickup until kickoff that evening, which is beyond the bulk of players being locked as of some time (their own respective kickoffs) on Sunday, or Thursday.

Depending on the size of your rosters, you might also consider placing a limit on the number of free-agent moves 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 turnover in one week. While that certainly builds up the transaction pool (if you have one, where teams pay a fee to make a trade or pickup), it can create unnecessary churn with teams adding and dropping players each week, without putting much thought into who they want to have on their roster.

FIRST-COME, FIRST-SERVE

The most basic form of free agency is first-come, first-serve (FCFS). General Managers can drop and add players as often as they want (up to the limit), once the free agency period opens. GMs will camp out waiting for the free agency period to open, and there will be a mad dash to grab the top waiver-wire picks of the week. This method ignores records, and even the top-rated teams can grab the hot free agent. It rewards the team who happens to be online when free agency opens. If a GM is at work or won't be available when the free agency kicks off, they can't preload a list of free agents. This is not a common method for a global free agent setup for a fantasy league but is common later in the week after a waiver wire (or blind bidding) cycle is already complete.

WAIVER WIRE

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 the 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 General Managers can preload a priority list and they get the best available player on their list. This method helps GMs 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 if GMs forget about a bye week or injured starter, it may be too late to make a change before the lineup locks.

BLIND BIDDING

A blind bidding approach centers on each team in the league receiving a set amount of money (can be real or imaginative) to use for bidding on free agents for the season. If, for example, each team has $100, they can bid any amount on any free agent during the blind bid cycle of all the weeks of the fantasy season until they have no money remaining. The typical minimum bid is $1, but some leagues have the minimum as $0 so even teams out of waiver money can bid on players, but with no priority over any other team.

A hybrid model can also be used to incorporate both a waiver wire order (or blind bidding approach) and a first-come, first-served model. You open free agency based on the waiver wire priority (or blind bidding) for the initial player acquisition each week. This gives the weakest teams the opportunity to grab the more popular waiver wire pickups each week or an equal opportunity via blind bidding. Once the initial cycle is complete on say Tuesday or Wednesday, open it up to first come, first served so anyone can adjust their roster as necessary.

TRADING

Trades are the easiest thing for commissioners to manage and one of the more fun aspects of running a fantasy football team for participants. The trade negotiation happens between the two General Managers, and the trade is executed. The only thing the commissioner must do is police the trades be certain that neither of the teams involved is involved in collusion, which is when the two GMs are working together for the benefit of one of the teams, not each operating independently for the welfare of their own teams.

Some leagues require a trade confirmation - where both GMs must double confirm the trade before the commissioner processes it through the league software. While this keeps both GMs 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 GMs and the commissioner does not need to be involved.

VETO POWER

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 attempt to con another General Manager. However, what happens is a trade will come through where it looks like one GM is the clear winner and the other team was fleeced. The league reacts, half of them because they do not want an opponent to get a big advantage, half of them because they did not 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 will 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 GMs create, just like the NFL. If your league allows for free agency bidding, consider allowing GMs to trade bidding units as well. Anything a team can use to acquire a player should be fair game. One rule which will need to be in effect if allowing trades of varying size on either side is a restriction on team abilities until their roster is legal. If a trade puts a team over the limit, the commissioner will need to have a rule in place for when the violating team needs to be back under the limit. A common practice is locking said team from setting their lineup for the week until they have a legal roster, which could also include a per-position limit that was temporarily violated by the trade. All of these are factors to consider when setting league rules regarding the technical aspects and the potential aftermath of a fantasy football trade in your league.

TRANSACTION FEES

Finally, in some money leagues, a transaction fee must be paid by both General Managers involved in a trade. While this adds more money to the transaction pot (if one exists), this is really a personal preference. On the one hand, anything which adds more prize money cannot be a bad thing. However, there is another point of view it puts an unnecessary constraint on possible trades. Trades are a fun part of the league and provide interesting angles and storylines 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 this is not common settings in fantasy leagues.


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