How to Start a Fantasy Football League
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How to Start a Fantasy Football League

A basic guide for first-time, beginner Fantasy Football league commissioners.

Want to start up your very own Fantasy Football league? Great! Here's how to do it in a few easy steps.

Determine Your League Size

The most common league sizes are 10 and 12, but eight- or 14-team leagues aren't rare. There are even some that have 18 or 20 teams. Typically, smaller leagues are easier to play in, because each team in the league has a greater number of talented players. As owners are added to a league, the available talent gets spread thinner over more teams, so owners will need to reach deeper into the talent pool to find viable players. Deep leagues are often more difficult and require more time in order to compete successfully. If it's your first league, your best bet is to stick with eight or 10 owners.

Try to make sure you have an even number of owners. It's possible to have an odd number, but if you do that, one owner will be on bye – not playing – every week.

Recruit Some Owners

This is the most important step. Your owners can be colleagues, friends, family – anybody you know who wants to play Fantasy Football. When recruiting owners, do your best to get interested, active football fans. Ideally, your league members watch the NFL every Sunday and know at least a little bit about the game. This isn't required, but it certainly helps. At the very least, make sure everybody you recruit is committed to playing Fantasy Football for at least one full season. Fantasy Football doesn't require tons of time, but each owner will need to set his or her lineups for each week of the season. The last thing you want is a bunch of inactive owners who don't set their lineups every Sunday. Inactive, uncommitted owners can cause a whole bunch of problems. So recruit owners who really want to play. This will make your league more competitive and, therefore, more fun.

Choose a Fantasy League Provider

Some of the most popular ones are ESPN, Yahoo, and NFL.com. All of these sites offer many custom settings, research, mobile apps, live scoring and more, so your decision comes down mostly to preference.

If you really want to, it's possible to skip this step, and score your league matchups by hand. That's how it was done before the Internet, and there are still leagues that run that way. However, the rest of your league probably won't be happy if you choose to do this.

Set Your Rules

Everyone in the league needs to understand and agree to the rules by which your league is governed. This includes everything from the number of teams, league entry fees, roster size, to the minutiae of each scoring detail. A lot of leagues choose to adopt constitutions, which set rules for things such as trade vetoes, and punishments for rules transgressions such as collusion. This isn't required, but it will help save a lot of debate in the event that something unseemly does happen.

In what's generally accepted as standard scoring, 10 rushing yards are worth one point, 10 receiving yards are worth one point, and 25 passing yards are worth one point. Rushing and receiving touchdowns get six points each while passing touchdowns get four. Fumbles and interceptions are minus two points. But these settings can be tweaked tremendously. The primary concern is that everyone in your league agrees to the rules before the season starts.

You will need to decide whether your league is going to run head-to-head settings (H2H) or total points. In H2H, owners square off in weekly matchups versus one another. In total points, the team with the most points at the end of the season wins. H2H is the more common way of playing fantasy, and many players will tell you it's more fun.

There are myriad possible wrinkles and variables to league structure and scoring rules, but at the beginning, you'll probably want to keep things as simple as possible. Try a season with your league provider's standard scoring rules. If the league owners identify something they want to change, you can put it to a vote going into year two. In the beginning, basic is better.

Collect Money

This seems to be a big sticking point in new leagues. If you decide to play for money, make sure every owner in your league has paid before the draft. Most everyone who has played fantasy for any length of time has a bad story about an owner not paying league fees. Trying to collect from someone who doesn't want to pay can be very awkward. Friendships can become very strained, even ruined, when money is involved. So you will want to avoid a situation in which somebody's team doesn't do so well, and that person decides they don't want to pay the league fees. Make certain that everyone has paid the fee before anyone is allowed to draft a team. This will save you tons of hassle and social discomfort. Fantasy Football is supposed to be enjoyable. Playing for money can make it more enjoyable. Just make sure everyone antes up.

As for the method of collecting money, cash is always simple. But if you're playing with people who are spread out across the map, there are a few good services that make the collection and storage of league fees really safe and easy. Of course, there's the ubiquitous PayPal, which makes sending money really simple. But if you want to store the prize money in escrow during the season, check out Tilt or LeagueSafe. Both of these services keep everyone's money safe until the end of the season, for a small fee.

Schedule a Draft Day

There's nothing more fun than reserving a room at a local restaurant or bar to host your draft party in person. Everybody gets to hang together and talk trash before the season starts. A lot of fantasy owners will tell you that their live draft is the best day of the year.

But if your league mates live in different cities, your best bet is probably an online draft. All of the major league-hosting sites provide tools for this now, and it couldn't be easier. Doing a draft online takes all of the clerical work out of the equation. No need to scratch names off a list – the computer handles that for you. Everyone in the draft can instantly see their current roster, the current rosters of all other teams, and a list of players available. When the draft is over, rosters will be automatically uploaded to your league page, saving the commissioner hours of tedious work. Also, if your league conducts an auction draft, the computer will automatically take bids and deduct money from draft budgets.

Leagues that gather in person to conduct their drafts will often use computers for the actual drafting process. Remind everyone to bring a power cord for their laptop – if power goes down during the draft, the auto-draft tool will kick in, and that can create some drama.

Manage Your League

Take a breather. Most of the hard work is done. If you followed all the suggestions listed above, managing the league will take care of itself. If entry fees are paid, the rules and punishments are understood by all, and the teams are in place, there's very little for the commissioner to do other than enforce rules, which is made easy with your hosting site's commissioner tools.

It is important that as commissioner you never, ever do anything that deviates from the rules of the league, or gives your own team or any other team any an advantage. Since you're in charge, you have a responsibility to hold yourself to the highest standard of conduct. Don't try to cheat. It will ruin the league and could harm relationships.

There you have it. As you can see, it's easy and fun to start a Fantasy Football league. Now get out there and start recruiting some owners!

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Stephen Englert
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Indianapolis, IN
FFToolbox Fantasy Football Writer since 2014
Stephen Englert has been a fantasy football enthusiast and writer for over 10 years. He is a diehard fan of the Indianapolis Colts first, and his fantasy teams second (barely). He currently lives in Naples, FL.


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