Around fifteen years ago, a group of die-hard fantasy players got together in hopes of forming a serious, active, year-round dynasty league. After much discussion, all that was needed was someone to step up and serve as the league commissioner. That “someone” was me. I had never led a dynasty league or any type of fantasy league, but I was starting with the most important asset needed for success in this area… a strong group of fantasy players.
In the years since, I have formed numerous other dynasty leagues, but in most cases I tried something different. Instead of beginning with a collection of core leaguemates, I formed a league based on a theme, concept, setting or rule I wanted to try. Once I had the basic framework of the league formed, I could carry forward with finding competitors.
Based on these experiences, anytime someone asks my advice for creating their own dynasty league, I suggest these two very different paths…
- Find a group of people you want to play with and gather their input as you form the league.
- Create a league based on a unique concept and then seek out people to play against.
The first option is much more common and is the recommended choice for first-time dynasty commissioners. Regardless of which road you choose, as a commissioner, there are a seemingly endless number of decisions to make when forming a dynasty league.
Let’s take a step-by-step look at the many decisions that need to be made in the formation of a dynasty league.
How many teams?
Determine the number of teams in the league and choose the necessary number of managers. When searching for possible leaguemates, I generally start with my favorite place to talk about fantasy football. That could be Twitter, the DLF Forum or even other existing leagues. Take advantage of your contacts and relationships. It is a good idea at this time to also choose a form of communication for the league. Possible options include apps like GroupMe or Voxer, Slack, Discord or even a Twitter direct message group.
Where should you play?
Beyond choosing who you will be playing with and against, the most important decision to make is where your league will be hosted. There are several options out there, depending on what you are looking for and your price point. Personally, I prefer MyFantasyLeague. If you’re looking for a free option, Sleeper is a quickly growing platform that many prefer due to the price and mobile access through their app. Other options include Reality Sports Online, Yahoo, ESPN, NFL.com, CBS and Fleaflicker.
Draft or auction?
This actually needs to be decided before you choose a league hosting platform as not all sites allow for auctions. Drafting remains the overwhelmingly popular method to distribute players to fantasy teams, but auctions have been gaining steam in recent years. I greatly prefer auctions, but drafts are likely the better choice for new commissioners and/or new dynasty players.
If drafting, you will need to choose a method for determining the draft order. Find a way to randomize the owner group, possibly using an online tool like 100-yard dash or even a number generator. Once the order has been created, you could opt to use the Kentucky Derby method, in which participants choose their own draft position. For example, if you top the randomized list, you might choose the 1.12 pick instead of the 1.01. Don’t forget, you also need to decide how future rookie draft orders will be assigned. For most, the league champion picks last, with other teams ranked based on regular-season finish or total points.
How much money is at stake?
Technically, this should be done before dynasty managers commit to joining the league, but early on in the process, you need to determine the entry fees. If you are using one of the league hosts that charge an annual fee, it is commonplace to share that among the group of managers, as well. The options here are obviously limitless. Many prefer to only play in free leagues, while high stakes can cost participants thousands per year. The typical dynasty leagues are between $20 and $100 annually, per team. Many dynasty leagues use a site like LeagueSafe to collect, hold and distribute all league monies.
Once the total pot has been determined, the next step regarding league finances is to set up the payout structure. A simple option is to reward the top three finishers based on playoff results in a tiered system. Personally, I like to also reward regular-season success, so my payouts are spread out, including winnings for top-scoring team and regular season division winners, among other categories.
How many roster spots for each team?
Choosing how many players should be on each roster may seem like a relatively trivial decision but actually is very important and will have a long-standing impact. To determine the number that is right for your league, think about how many total players should be rostered. In dynasty leagues, 300 rostered players are commonplace. That means, in a 12-team league, each roster would include 25 players. From there, you can pivot up or down based on how deep you want your league to be. Also consider what the waiver wire will look like based on the total number of rostered players. For example, with 30 players per team, there will be very limited options on the weekly waiver wire. If your league is filled with new dynasty players, I would recommend using smaller rosters, perhaps 22 players per team.
What are the starting lineups like?
Yet again, there are many options to choose from when determining starting lineups. Before you choose the number of starters at each position, first decide which positions you’ll be using. Quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end are obvious. Beyond that, most leagues still use kicker and team defense positions, most serious dynasty leagues have removed those positions. If you’re up for a challenge, include IDP (individual defensive players) in your lineups.
Once you have locked in the positions, decide how many starters you prefer. My preferred format includes limited required starters and multiple flex options, including a superflex position, allowing each team to start two quarterbacks each week. Lineups in my leagues look like this: One QB, RB, WR and TE, one SF, five flex spots, which could be running backs, wideouts or tight ends.
What is the scoring system?
Along with starting lineups, the scoring system is one of the most basic cornerstones of a dynasty league. There are many moving pieces that go into this and fortunately, your league hosting site should offer some guidance in the form of “default” scoring formats. Each position brings some key decision points beyond the basic options. For quarterbacks, you will decide between four and six points for passing touchdowns. Because this position typically scores more than any other, most leagues stick with just four points for passing scores. You will also need to decide how much to penalize signal-callers for interceptions. For years, a loss of one or two points was standard but recent trends have increased that penalty to as much as negative four points in an effort to push strong quarterback play.
Two recent scoring trends have helped the running back position. Awarding points per carry and points per first down can boost the scoring for running backs. Both of these settings are still fairly rare but can be used to seek balance across the four main positions.
The final key decision impacts pass catchers. For years, wide receivers and tight ends were valued far below running backs, which led fantasy leagues to begin using a PPR (point per reception) format. As the wide receiver pool grew deeper and more talented, that imbalance swung the other way. Regardless, PPR seems to be here to stay for most leagues. If using a PPR format, you could mix it up by rewarding tight ends with one and a half or even two points for every reception, typically called a tight end premium system.
How do waivers work?
There are essentially two options when looking at how weekly waivers will be processed. Years ago, a running waiver order, in which the teams with the worst record had the first shot to pick up players. Because many felt this was unfair, a large number of dynasty leagues have moved to a weekly blind bidding format. Each team receives a set amount of “money” to begin the season and spends that as they choose to acquire free agents.
After you choose a format for waivers, the other consideration is the schedule. If in-season waivers are processed mid-week, as is common, how is the rest of the week handled? One possibility is open waivers, meaning teams have unlimited adds and drops, while some leagues opt for a second weekly blind bid waiver late in the week. Also, since dynasty leagues are designed to be active year-round, you also have to consider your waiver schedule in the off-season. Personally, my leagues continue with blind bid waivers all year long.
How are divisions determined?
Many fantasy leagues try to mimic the NFL. That’s a nice idea but it doesn’t really work for many reasons, and this is one of them. The NFL uses geographical-based divisions and that is obviously not necessary in fantasy leagues. Because of that, I prefer to not use divisions at all, instead placing all teams in one group, allowing for a more balanced schedule. If you do choose to use divisions, I would suggest rearranging every year or two. Speaking of the schedule, that is another area that your league hosting site should largely determine. The goal should be a balanced setup, meaning all teams play all others once, possibly with some randomly chosen opponents for any remaining games.
Which teams qualify for the playoffs?
In most leagues, half of the teams make the post-season and battle for the league title. This could be as simple as sending the six teams (in a 12-team league) with the best record to the post-season. I would suggest reserving at least one and maybe even two spots for the top-scoring teams, regardless of record.
How are trades regulated?
In short, they shouldn’t be. Some leagues do use a trade review process. This could include the commissioner or even a group of managers making the determination as to whether agreed-upon trades should be processed. Others allow all trades to go through as soon as they are accepted but those can be questioned by others in the league. Either of these will eventually create hurt feelings and unnecessary drama in the league. If you have been successful in the first step of the league-building process, starting with a strong group of dynasty managers, allow them to trade as they choose.
If you are a dynasty veteran but looking to add some new features to your league or try something new in your next league, here are some options…
- Devy – In this spinoff of dynasty leagues, not only do you build a normal league of NFL players, but college players are also eligible to be drafted. You keep them on your roster, often on a taxi squad, until they reach the league.
- Contracts – Years ago when I was looking to get into slightly more intricate dynasty leagues, I tried contract leagues. Simply give each participant a total number of years to spread across their roster. When a player’s contract expires, free agency and franchise tags come into play.
- Salary Cap – If you’ve already tried contract leagues and want to take it to the next level, salary cap leagues are for you. This really challenges dynasty managers to make wise decisions and if you misstep, the penalties are sometimes very strict.
If you’ve made it this far, you are now ready to start your own dynasty league. Good luck and feel free to reach out with any questions. Also, be sure to check out Commission: Impossible, the podcast for fantasy football commissioners, hosted by Scott Fish and me.
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