Anatomy of a League: The Scott Fish Devy Leagues

Ryan McDowell


When I mention the name Scott Fish, along with any type of fantasy football leagues, the recently concluded Scott Fish Bowl probably comes to mind. But, before Scott brought together 240 die-hard owners for the world’s largest fantasy league, he put together a trio of leagues especially for those of us who love the scouting portion of fantasy football.

I’ll let Scott and a pair of owners from his leagues, our own Rob Leath and Shane Hallam of DraftTV tell you more about what makes these leagues great.

DLF: How many years have your leagues been in existence?

Scott Fish:

That’s What She Said Dynasty League (2007)
I’ve Made a Huge Mistake Dynasty League (2009)
The Ron Swanson Dynasty League of Greatness (2012)

These three developmental dynasty leagues are off shoots of my original developmental dynasty leagues (at the time I called them college farm system leagues) that failed. One started with the developmental draft in 1999 (started playing in 2000) and ended after the 2001 season before most of the developmental players even made it to the pros and another that started in 2001 and ended in 2005. I took from what failed in those leagues and fixed the issues before making my three newest ones.

DLF: What made you want to create your dynasty leagues?

SF: I had started college farm system leagues twice before and had them fail. I partly blame a system in which the amount of college players we drafted killed the rookie drafts and also the fact that developmental dynasty didn’t exist at the time, so I was trying to teach non-dynasty playing, non-college fans from home leagues to play in dynasty leagues where you draft college players. It did not work well. I had joined a forum based fantasy site in the early to mid-2000s and realized the people in this forum were dedicated enough, educated enough and savvy enough with college players (or at least had the wherewithal to do the research during the draft) to make these college farm system leagues work with a few adjustments.

DLF: How did you go about finding owners for your league?

SF: I guess I just answered that, but the “That’s What She Said Dynasty League” was formed with those forum members. “I’ve Made a Huge Mistake Dynasty League” was formed with some forum members and some friends. The “Ron Swanson Dynasty League of Greatness” was formed when one of my closest friends in the fantasy community, Shane P. Hallam, wanted to create an expert version and we emailed several people in the fantasy football industry.

DLF: How many teams do you feel is ideal for a dynasty league?

SF: I am in the rare minority in that I completely feel it depends on your starting lineup requirements. I prefer 12 myself, however I have two deep dynasty leagues that have ten teams. They sport 40 man rosters with unlimited taxi squads for rookies and unlimited players in your developmental system. In those leagues we have as many as five flexes with a superflex and we start 11-12 players. I think the more starters you allow, the less teams that are necessary. I would love it if my ten team leagues started as many as 15 players.

DLF: What are the starting lineups your league uses? 

SF: Most of my leagues run with one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, and then three-five flex spots. I do like things mixed up more than that, but the three developmental leagues we are discussing run in that mold.

I’ve been very against kickers and defenses on fantasy starting lineups for about five years and have worked very hard to get them voted out of my existing leagues. I will never allow them in a new league I start or join. I just won’t play in a league with that set up. I started my fantasy career in touchdown only leagues and we didn’t know the winners and losers until we got the paper the next day. I refuse to go back to an inferior style of fantasy football.

DLF: Tell us about the unique rules that make up your league?

SF: Well in TWSS and Mistake, the developmental drafts have a “Two Year Rule” for the developmental systems. Any developmental player must stay in you farm club for at least two years. For example, if you were to draft Mike Davis this year and he decided to enter the 2015 NFL Draft, you would lose him and he would become available in the rookie draft. You may think this forces people to draft very young and you would be right. However, it also brings in a lot of strategy. Like taking late round fliers on proven studs and hoping they stay in school. For example, last year I took Melvin Gordon and Jeremy Hill in the middle rounds. One of them worked out. This year I took Shock Linwood in the last round. It also makes the rookie drafts significantly stronger. Both drafts can go four to six rounds and be very strong every year. Our developmental draft has a unique feature as well.

The Ron Swanson Dynasty League of Greatness as of next year will be running ten rounds of developmental drafting per year which is 120 developmental players. This is with hundreds of developmental players already owned. Most developmental leagues only have a few players per team, some maybe have five-15 per team. In this league, most teams will have over 30 developmental players each.

DLF: How are the rookie and developmental draft handled? Any special rules or features?

SF: The rookie draft is as standard as they come. It is NFL Draft style where the worst team picks first and the league champion picks last. The developmental draft is also NFL Draft style like the rookie draft, however, the draft order is decided by a draft lottery much like the NBA draft. Everyone has a shot at the top pick. The theory was to make it fun and that any player selected at 1.01 would not get to a team for a couple years or more in some cases and isn’t a lock to be a fantasy stud. With that in mind, getting 1.01 doesn’t necessarily help a currently bad team unless they chose to trade that pick right now for current value. A top team could be a bottom team in two years and vice versa, so why should the bottom team just automatically get that pick?

[inlinead]You may ask why I don’t do developmental or rookie auctions in these leagues since auctions are clearly the better and fairer way to do drafts. The short answer is that they were not set up that way at the onset. However, developmental dynasty is a different animal, especially the deeper you go. There is no excuse for the rookie draft, but the developmental draft should really only be auction if you are drafting less than 50 or so total college players. Honestly, maybe even less than that. The problem with deep developmental auctions is that you cannot get a sleeper player. The second he is put on the board, people can do their research on that player. When a league is drafting under 50 prospects, everyone knows the players and there are few sleepers. If you are in a very deep developmental league and would prefer auction, I would recommend auctioning off the draft slot.

DLF: How did you go about creating rules that has resulted in a successful league?

SF: Honestly, I think the biggest thing that leads to league success is the owners, not the rules. People can adjust to rules. Rules that make a league unique and or fun is great, but the owners make a league. Two of these three dynasty leagues have a great mix of owners with different strategies for team structure and players they value. This is the biggest thing that keeps a league active and successful and it’s not talked about nearly enough. When you create a league, many people just try to find the first 12 guys that want to play. If you have many options, maybe you choose the 12 guys that you like the most and want to be in a league with. I have this recommendation if you are starting a new dynasty league: try and find 12 owners that disagree on their value of players and or team construction as much as possible. It’s easy for a guy like me to trade with an owner that is constantly looking to win now with vets. I prefer younger guys and draft picks with some vets mixed in. That other owner will find it easy to trade with me. One of the three leagues has some issues with this, hopefully the two owner changes we have made will help that.

DLF: How do you handle controversy in your league? Can you give me an example?

SF: If I’m being honest, I am having trouble recalling even a single controversy in any of my leagues in 22 years of playing fantasy football. I think this is a pure result of only allowing people I know to be good, reasonable owners into my leagues. It could be a result of having clear rules at the onset. It also might just be luck. Since the point of this question is to potentially help other league owners with their controversies, if one should arise I think step one league vote is generally best. You can’t always make everyone happy, but as long as both options in a league vote will be in the best interest of the league, people will move on. If they don’t, just boot the problem maker from the league. I know that sounds harsh, but fantasy football is meant to be fun. If you have an owner that can’t get over something, or starts controversies, it’s in the league’s best interest to get a fun owner. Quality owners are far easier to come by than they were even a decade ago.

DLF: Are league decisions made solely by you, or does that league vote on issues?

SF: All of my leagues have rules that we go by. They are pretty clear and deep. At the end of the rules in all my leagues I have a “Best Interest Clause” in that states if something isn’t explicitly written into the rules, I can basically do whatever I want in the best interest of the league. That said, my version of fixing any issues or making league changes is by having an email discussion chain. If the email chain has a lot of mixed feelings, I go to a vote. You have to remember, sometimes (read: most of the time), people will tend to argue and vote towards what will help their team or their style of play. You have to try and step back and see what a potential decision will do for everyone. A lot of times I discuss issues with people I trust that commish other leagues and are not in the one in question.

DLF: What is something that could ruin an otherwise strong league?

SF: One weak link. Really, that is all it takes. A bad owner can make trades that can alter the competitiveness of a league and cause animosity among owners who took advantage and owners that didn’t. The second thing that can ruin a strong league with great rules and owners is inactivity. I have one league that is highly inactive, and it’s just boring. We don’t play fantasy football to be bored. Every other facet of the league is fun, but the lack of trading or even trade offers makes that league a borderline waste of time. It should be noted that all 12 of the owners in this league are great owners in other leagues. However, in the league in question, the owners just don’t mesh well together. That can happen.

DLF: What are the main reasons your league has become so successful?

SF: I think the two older leagues have been so successful for two different reasons. Did you watch American Gladiators on Saturday mornings when you were a kid like me? In TWSS, I’m the gladiator that people are trying to knock off the pedestal. I’m consistently bad for two or three years of every startup dynasty league. After that I am in the championship game nearly every year. In TWSS I have won five straight titles and only lost seven games in that time span, including a 33 game winning streak. The constant goal is to merely beat me. I truly love when it happens and as weird as it sounds, I don’t want to win this year. The league loves when my team gets knocked down.

In Mistake, I have lost in the championship game two years in a row, but the reason that league is fun has nothing to do with me. It’s because everyone is so evenly matched that you never know who will win that league or even be in the playoffs. The parity makes that league so much fun. With all three of these leagues, the part most people love is the deep developmental drafts. Somehow, even with hundreds of college players owned, people still want to keep going.

DLF: How many leagues do you commish?

SF: I am commissioner of three developmental dynasty leagues, one keeper league and two redraft leagues. However one of those redraft leagues is a 240 team pro-am that contains twenty 12 team leagues. So if you count that, I commish 25 leagues.

This last year I dropped my league count from 35 down to nine, including many that I was commissioner of. The less leagues you play in, the more you can concentrate on those leagues. It’s pretty simple math. I made the championship game in all but two of my dynasty leagues last year and gave up some great teams when slashing leagues, but I’m really going to enjoy being able to focus more on making the leagues I kept even better.

Thanks to Scott for sharing some of the secrets to his success. Now, let’s hear from Shane and Rob to get their feelings on these developmental leagues.

DLF: Is there a rule or feature that sets this league apart from others?

Shane Hallam: Some of the devy restrictions for some leagues (TWSS and Mistake,) make things very interesting.  Basically any devy pick MUST play two more years of college ball.  If they don’t, they do not transfer to your roster.  So the devy draft has a ton of different strategies.  Some stock up on stud potential freshmen before they even play a down of college ball since this will be the only chance to get them.  Some (like myself,) often opt for those going into their sophomore seasons who blew up as freshmen.  Players such as Tyler Boyd who were not five-star prospects and are ensured to play two more years.  Some (my later rounds) risk taking redshirt sophomores or juniors in hopes they are good, but don’t declare.  If it hits (see Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley last year,) you are rewarded handsomely. If it doesn’t (see Johnny Manziel) then you lose that pick for nothing.  I love how this allows for different devy strategies instead of looking at rankings or stats and just picking.  Scott has done a great job with this and sticking to his guns in how it balances the league.

DLF: What are some things the commissioner does or has done to help create a strong league?

SH: Open communication and constant rule flexibility.  We always vote on rule changes and Scott is great at identifying issues and tweaking the rules for those issues.  In Swanson, we didn’t have any type of 2-year rule so the rookie draft pool was going to dry up very quickly.  He adjusted rookie rounds, plead his case, and we passed it quickly.

The other aspect is that Scott isn’t afraid to let the leagues develop separately and with different rules.  TWSS and Mistake are very similar, but both sets of owners DO want something different in their leagues.  This allows leagues under the Scott Fish umbrella to grow and allow for more creativity and freedom (see the Swanson form of HEAVILY leaning on the devy side).

DLF: Overall, what are the main reasons this league has become successful?

SH: Scott’s diligence and personality along with his ability to run a website that includes all the devy teams, sortable tables, and easy communication.  Scott has been doing devy leagues for as long as I can remember.  Scott also does a good job of gauging temperature for any changes or problems since he has such a good relationship with all the members.  He can often quash any problems or issues before they even come up.

DLF: Is there a rule or feature that sets this league apart from others?

Rob Leath: Other than the devy aspect, I would not point to one rule as something that sets the league apart.  Instead, I’d look at the leagues’ constant ability to adapt.  It modernizes itself as fantasy football evolves.

DLF: What are some things the commissioner does or has done to help create a strong league?

RL: Other then being selfless, he has demanded that owners be active in managing their teams year round.

DLF: Overall, what are the main reasons this league has become successful?

RL: A league is only as strong as its members.  Continued commitment to helping the league grow has been essential.


ryan mcdowell