Commissioner Guide, Part 6: League Formats

Our commissioner guide looks at different league formats

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The format of your league is the foundation on which it sits. After playing with the same group for a season or two, you learn a lot about the league and what everyone wants from it. Sometimes, you may only need to add or change a few rules to keep things interesting. Other times, you may want to completely change the format of a league, and start out fresh with a different approach. This article will focus on large-scale format changes to existing leagues.


When you are looking at changing the entire format of your fantasy league, the 'why' is the most important aspect of making the change. Do you fall in love with certain players and want to have them on your team year after year? Do you hate the randomness of defensive scoring and want to move to a more consistent format with individual defensive players? Do you hate the draft order and pulling the wrong number out of a hat will prevent you from having the players that you really want? Whatever your reason, make sure it improves the league and the overall experience of all of your General Managers (GMs). Implementing a big format change may reduce or eliminate the fun for one or two GMs and they may simply drop out rather than stick with the new league. You should always consider the good of the league before making any changes.

For changes of this nature, it goes without saying that you should implement it at the end of the season. If you are switching to a keeper or dynasty format (see below), make sure to reset the draft before making the switch. General Managers build their teams each year with different strategies in mind. Some draft starters and backups while others play the waiver wire fast and often. Some target specific players because of bye weeks and others draft players from their favorite division. Whatever the case, if you are changing the format of the league, you need to reset everyone back to zero before starting the new format. These types of changes are really too big to fairly implement in the middle of a season.

League rule changes do not always need a consensus, but unlike scoring rules, these types of changes will dramatically impact every team in the league. They may not have played in the type of league you are moving to, or they may feel like they cannot compete with other GMs and want to drop out. You need to carefully consider how each team will react when you make these types of changes and be prepared in the event someone wants to walk away. Your best bet is to have an open, honest discussion with everyone as to why you want to make this shift and if necessary, put it to a vote. Voting can create its own set of issues, but if 90% of the league wants to make a shift, it can reinforce the fact you are not the only one who wants to move the league in a new direction. If you choose to let the league vote on new rules, as commissioner you should abstain unless there is a tie. Be prepared after the announcement some GMs may say "no thanks," and be okay with that. This is like selling your McDonalds and opening up a Taco Bell. You cannot expect all of your customers to like tacos.


Keeper Leagues

Keeper leagues are for General Managers who like to keep a small core group of players but still want the excitement of a full-blown draft. Each team is allowed to keep a certain number of players from last season's roster and prevent the players from being part of the initial draft pool that year. When the draft begins, every team has a few of these players on their roster already. Keeper leagues come in two general setups: everyone keeps the same amount and the player for draft pick format. As you might expect, in the first format, everyone keeps the same number of players – usually two or three players, but there is no hard and fast rule. If you do allow three or more players, you may wish to consider a position limit to prevent guys from carrying forward three or four stud guys from the same position. The player for draft pick format works much like a redraft league, except teams can protect players by exchanging them with their first few draft picks. A GM would give up their first-round draft pick to protect one player, their first and second to protect two players, and so on up to the maximum amount. Weaker teams can choose to surrender all of their players and pick from scratch. Early rounds may have only one or two teams picking from the free-agent pool, but those weaker teams also get the first crack at the rookie players so they can load up for next season. Other varieties of the keeper format are each kept player can be retained by forfeiting the next round higher (or two rounds higher, etc) the following season, which would keep the top-drafted players in the annual draft and provide an advantage to the well-drafting teams especially in the later rounds.

Dynasty Leagues

Dynasty leagues are like keeper leagues but to a higher level. You hold an initial draft for all teams and then each season you protect a majority of your roster (usually 80% or more) if not the entire team. A dynasty league draft consists almost entirely of rookies, and the drafts are usually a straight draft with the weaker teams always going first. In a pure dynasty league, the draft is only rookies, and veterans may only be added via free agency. Modified versions can allow a free agency period before and after the draft where teams give up a small portion of their roster and add a few veterans before the draft and finish off their rosters once the rookie draft takes place in their league. Dynasty leagues tend to be active year-round, with a lot of activity happening between the NFL playoffs and the NFL draft as teams trade and drop players in preparation for next season. This type of format requires General Managers who are really committed to the league, and it is important to make sure everyone is on board before making the shift. If a GM drafts a bad team and quits after a season or two of bad management, it may be difficult for a new GM to inherit a poor team and rebuild it.

Auction Leagues

These leagues require a very serious commitment from their General Managers, but it combines the thrill of a live auction with the excitement of the draft night. Each team starts out with the same amount of salary cap – say 200 units each. The draft is then replaced with a live auction where teams nominate a player for bidding and every team in the league openly bids against each other for that player until one team outbids everyone else. When a GM wins that player, they secure the player on their roster, and the bid amount is deducted from their salary cap. Roster limits are not as important in this format as the salary cap works to keep everyone from hoarding all of the good players.

Salary Contract Leagues

Contract leagues combine the dynasty and auction formats. General Managers bid on different players like an auction league and then retain that player for a certain number of years based on the overall salary cap. Salaries typically increase each season, and once the contract is up, the player goes back into the free agency pool where anyone can bid on them. Trades become more complicated in this format because GMs must take into account the quality of the player, their salary cap, and the number of years left on their contract before they go back into free agency. More exotic formats can have a rookie salary cap and also factor in prorated contracts over multiple years. In some leagues, you can also trade salary cap room.

Individual Defensive Player (IDP) Leagues

For commissioners who want to eliminate the team defense concept, you can switch your league to individual defensive players. Just like offensive players, defensive players can be broken down into defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs. Some leagues even differentiate between defensive tackles and defensive ends and cornerbacks and safeties. You can have a set starting lineup like on offense (say, two defensive linemen, two linebackers, and two defensive backs), or you can add flexible defensive positions like on offense. Defensive players score points based on tackles, assists, sacks, turnovers, and touchdowns. In larger leagues with seven or more starting defensive players, NFL games become much more exciting to watch because you feel like your team will score points on every play, either on offense or defense. It also gives GMs a chance to build their teams in different ways: Be the team with a super-strong defense or skimp on the offensive side of the ball or vice versa? You can also combine IDP with other formats such as dynasty or auction formats.

Hybrid Leagues

For commissioners who cannot decide what they like more, you can always form a hybrid league. These leagues combine a couple of different formats in order to provide the most variety and challenge to the teams involved. One league that I know of had a hybrid draft format. You started by keeping two players from your previous season. This declaration was done a week before draft night. On the draft night, everyone was given 200 salary cap units and they had to use them to acquire eight additional players via a live auction. The auction ended when everyone had ten players on their roster. Finally, the last 10 positions were filled by a live draft, with the order determined by your winning percentage from the previous year. For an even bigger twist, you can say that the only people you can protect are players that were drafted. You can also have rules like no kickers or defenses can be acquired through the auction. In a Hybrid format, your only limit is your imagination (and record-keeping skills).


These leagues are designed more around people who love to draft but hate to play the "Who do I start?" game. These leagues are no trade, no free agency leagues where you draft your team and always start your best possible lineup each week once all of the NFL games are completed. The nice part about these types of leagues is they can be run concurrently with your current league without much disruption. Once the draft is over, there is little for the commissioner to do except post the results and provide commentary.

Head-to-head, Best-ball Leagues

These leagues play just like a normal redraft league (this is the head-to-head part). In a Best-ball league, however, you don't have to name a starting lineup. Instead, your best possible starting lineup is determined. Games are decided after the Monday night game is complete and all players are finished scoring. Rosters tend to be a little deeper in these leagues because there is no trading or free agency. You draft a lot of backups just in case your starters are injured and hope that your bye weeks don't line up against a tough division opponent.

All-play, Survivor Leagues

These leagues focus on pure scoring – who can score the most points week after week. In an all-play league, teams are ranked each week based on their points scored for that week. The highest-scoring team goes undefeated (11-0 in a 12-team league) and the lowest-scoring team gets blanked (0-11). The scores are reset and the same thing happens the next week. At the end of the season, the final standings are determined by who has the best cumulative record overall. In Survivor leagues, the league is based on the CBS reality series where the lowest-scoring team is kicked off the island each week, and the highest-scoring team receives immunity from elimination for the following week. You can eliminate the immunity if you like, but the idea is that one bad week will kill your chances to be the league champion.

Mid-season Redraft

This format works best with an autostart format. Scoring is determined each week and after a certain number of weeks, a winner is declared and all rosters are reset. Teams draft again during the season (typically Week 5 through Week 7), and then the winners of each half compete for the overall championship. If the same team wins both halves, they win automatically. The key is that the entire league needs to redraft during the NFL season. If you have not participated in a mid-season redraft, you should give it a shot. It's one thing to draft before the season starts and everyone is still speculating on who will be the stud and who will not. In a mid-season redraft, there are very few sleepers and most of the speculation goes out the window.


Changing the overall league format is a big step. You're basically taking everything about your league and turning it on its head. Some of your General Managers will embrace the change with both hands. Others will resist it with all of their might, and may even walk away because of it. If you are really committed to changing your league though, you need to be okay with this. You're changing your league for a reason. Maybe things have gotten stale, and everyone is just going through the motions. Maybe there were a couple of GMs drop out already and you are looking to shift things around a bit more. Whatever the reason, going to a whole new format can be a great experience both for the commissioner and the league.

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