Wednesday, December 12, 2012
The Verdict: A commissioner’s guide to fantasy sports leaguesPosted by Michael Stein at 3:51am
So you have decided to become the commissioner of a fantasy sports league. Congratulations, that is very noble of you. But do you really know what you got yourself into? Are you truly prepared to handle the league’s administrative duties while also trying to lead your own team to victory? There are likely numerous aspects of being a league commissioner that have never crossed your mind. But fear not: The Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment is here to help guide you through the trials and tribulations of being a commissioner.
All guts, no glory
Do not kid yourself… there is nothing glamorous about being a league commissioner. You are not treated like a rock star and most likely none of your fellow league members will show you much, if any, appreciation for your efforts. It is a thankless job that, at the end of the day, will likely create more headaches for you than any feeling of satisfaction. This is not meant to deter you or imply that you are making a mistake. But you should be aware of the reality that comes along with owning this position.
In most instances, your decision to become the league commissioner indicates that no one else wanted to do it. Most people do not want the responsibility. But that is what sets you apart. Being a league commissioner requires several attributes that not everyone possesses. We will get more into that later, but be forewarned that the time and energy you will put into this job will go largely unnoticed. But that is okay because you didn’t take on this role to be a celebrity.
Be wary of who you let into the league
There are generally two types of leagues that require commissioners: public and private. Public leagues are usually composed of random people who do not know each other but wish to participate in the competition. Private leagues are usually people who know each other, or at least require an invitation from the commissioner. Public leagues are a whole other story, so for now we are going to focus solely on private leagues where the commissioner likely knows his league members.
It is a dangerous proposition to have more authority and power than friends, family, colleagues or casual acquaintances with whom you are in a league. You need to make sure your league is composed of people you can trust, who are reliable, and who have good reputations. If a friend recommends a new member you don’t know, you are well within your right to ask questions and get a better sense of who this person is.
Ideally you want your league to comprise people who are fiscally responsible and make their payments on time. They should be reliable in terms of attending and being prepared for the draft. They should be respectful and considerate of others by engaging in conversation and at least responding to trade inquiries or other questions from the commissioner and fellow league members. They should be competitive and honorable by ensuring that they play a legal lineup every week irrespective of their place in the standings. And you hope they are committed to the league in an effort to retain full membership year to year.
Put everything in writing
Being a commissioner requires you to communicate frequently and decisively with your league members. Whether you are trying to schedule the draft, amend a rule, fix an error, etc., you must be an effective communicator. The best way to do this is always in writing, using a medium that you know will be easily accessible by your league members. Many fantasy sites have message boards and other forums where league members can post comments or questions. But the reality is that many people do not read the league message board. It should not be assumed that messages posted there will be read or seen. Instead, you need to have a group email list where you can write to all league members and be able to confirm delivery and receipt. This gives you the knowledge that your message has been sent and received by everyone else.
The other reason to put everything in writing is for transparency. As commissioner, you don’t want to give anyone a reason to be skeptical of your integrity. So before you take any action that would affect the league overall, it is always best to convey your thoughts to everyone first and at least let the league know what you intend on doing.
Finally, the most important piece of writing you can have is a constitution, charter, or set of guidelines. Many league still do not operate under the guidance of a governing document. That is okay, but there should be a delineated set of rules that keeps league members on the same page and prevents any unfair advantages. Of course league commissioners are not expected to account for every possible scenario. But there should be written procedures in place to at least guide the commissioner and league members on how to handle an unforeseen predicament.
Get a secure piggy bank
Most fantasy leagues are played for money. Typically each league member pays an entry fee to the commissioner, who holds the cash until the end of the season for distribution. As we all know, the more money we come across, the more problems we see. Depending on how well people know you, there are certain to be those who are uneasy about giving you their money. Unfortunately it is not uncommon for rogue or unscrupulous commissioners to steal people’s money and not re-distribute winnings properly at the end of a season. That is why you must be extra careful with your league members’ money and keep it in a safe place, in full.
There are companies, such as LeagueSafe.com, which will hold everyone’s money securely and distribute the winnings for you. But if you want to keep control of the money yourself, just be careful not to spend it or lose it. At the end of the day, your league members are rightfully depending on you to allocate the winnings for the full and proper amount.
Think outside the proverbial box
There are a finite number of ways to customize a fantasy sports league. In recent years new companies have emerged offering different types of fantasy games, but most people still play standard rotisserie or head-to-head points leagues. But you can make things more fun by coming up with creative and innovative ways to maximize the experience. Whether it is adding different scoring categories, having a unique schedule, or offering daily or weekly prizes and incentives, the possibilities are many.
You need to ask yourself what you would consider fun and exciting if you were a member of someone else’s league. How can you create more drama and excitement while still maintaining the integrity of the league and the spirit of competition? Ask your league members for thoughts or suggestions, and tell everyone that you are open to new ideas. This will help keep the lines of communication open and demonstrate your willingness to listen to other perspectives.
Monarchy over democracy… to a point
Just as important as it is to let our league members know their opinions matter, you need to balance that with the necessity of maintaining control and authority over the whole thing. Of course you cannot be expected to know everything and always be right, but at least if it is only your decision that matters the league can function relatively smoothly.
The problem with having league votes on issues such as rule changes or trade approvals is that you could possibly get 10, 12, 14 or more different opinions. The fact is that league members have only their own agendas on their minds when being empowered with the ability to make crucial decisions. This does not give you carte blanche to run rampant over the league and break rules. Rather, it puts the most critical decisions and functions of the league in one person’s hands instead of 10 or more.
Trade disputes are some of the most common types of cases that get submitted to Fantasy Judgment. People dispute trades because someone else’s deal will negatively affect other teams, or those other teams are jealous that they didn’t make such a move. The point is that people cannot separate their own interest in a transaction from the overall best interests of the league. When people become owners of fantasy teams, they are entitled to manage their teams however they see fit within the confines of the rules. Allowing all league members to have a say in such activities severely inhibits fantasy owners’ abilities to make such moves.
But what will really set you apart as a great commissioner is if you can avoid conflicts of interest. Yes, you have the right to manage your own team and strive to success just like everyone else. But if you find your own team embroiled in an issue that you have the power to rule on, then you must take a step back and recuse yourself. Regardless of whether your decision is correct or fair, there is an appearance of impropriety if you make a decision that has some direct impact on your own team. The best way to avoid this situation is to ask yourself “How would my decision appear to everyone else?”
It’s a 24/7/365 job
There really is no such thing as a fantasy sports offseason anymore. With so many keeper or dynasty leagues, people are making trades and roster moves all year long. Even redraft leagues have lots of activity going on, including draft positions, rule changes, and preparations for the upcoming season. As commissioner, you must be readily available at any time to answer questions or resolve conflicts. That doesn’t mean you cannot go on vacation. But you should have a co-commissioner, a first mate, or a vice-president on board to help with some of the burden. By having someone alongside, you have a decision-maker who can approve or reject any trades made the commissioner. This balance of power is another demonstration of how fair and transparent you are.
Rules of engagement
Each fantasy league has different rules. Commissioners are free to choose what they want to include in their league’s rules, but some universal principles should apply to all leagues th atseek to maintain order and integrity, such as preventing teams mathematically eliminated from the playoffs from making trades or dumping players for the remainder of the regular season. Commissioners need to be specific and explicit when writing their rules so that it is clear to all league members what the rule actually is. For example, if a commissioner employs a penalty for having an illegal lineup or roster, it should be clearly defined what makes a lineup or roster illegal. Take a step back and objectively consider whether the rules you have written are clear and unambiguous. If you sense any gray area, then revise them.
This list is not exhaustive and is meant to provide a framework for you to work with as you take on the responsibilities of being a fantasy league commissioner. If it sounds like a lot of work, that is because it is. But it is well worth the effort because you can help make yours and everyone else’s fantasy experiences the most fun and competitive it can be.
The Court wants to hear your comments on whether you concur or dissent with the verdict by sending an email to michael.stein @ fantasyjudgment.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter @FantasyJudgment.