To provide context on our experience, all four contributors have been commissioners of competitive and fair fantasy leagues. All have had good and forgettable stories to tell while at the fantasy helm. These ten points represent the best practices gained through over 30 years of combined fantasy football experience.
1) Find Dedicated League Members
A league is only as good as its members, regardless of how structured the league is. Moreso, you should steer clear of members who are in more than two, maybe three competitive leagues for the simple fact that they have overextended themselves.
Good members who are dedicated will fortify the league through quality suggestions for best practices and regular league-wide banter. Commissioners can enable league members to provide suggestions through an annual review at season's end, which can allow certain recommendations to be subject to a league vote. This reinforces the value of the league member and increases their dedication to the league. (Side note: This sounds eerily familiar to a Communication Theory course I took in my undergraduate studies.)
2) Keeper Leagues a Plus
Once you find those dedicated members, make it a keeper league. However, when you do the keeper league, make sure of two things. First, make absolutely certain that the first three rounds worth of players are off-limits. No one likes a league where they know they have no shot of selecting a perennial top 5 pick ( e.g. LT). Second, institute a three-round deduction for every year in which you keep a player. For example, if Joseph Addai was selected in the 9th round of last season's draft, he can be kept this season for a 6th rounder and next year for a 3rd round pick on the condition that he is kept on the roster when able to perform ( i.e. not on injured reserve).
3) 2QB League Is The New Paradigm
Like many things as they seemingly progress, fantasy football has evolved. The days of the one starting quarterback league are numbered. You can totally miss on your top quarterback and still win the championship. In 2003, I selected Kurt Warner who turned out to be a bust, but I picked up emerging backup Marc Bulger in free agency and proceeded to win the regular season. A top 5 backup, as Bulger was entering the 2003 season, would never be available in free agency. You cannot bomb on both of your quarterback picks and win the title in a two starting QB league without shenanigans taking place in the trade market.
4) A Defined Trade Policy
Where there are trades, vetoes are not far behind. In some leagues, players (you know who you are) veto for the sake of vetoing and this drives commissioners wild. Have a defined trade policy saying exactly how many vetoes effectively nix a trade and utilize your power as commissioner to throw out shady votes which may have little to do with the value of the players being traded. Also, have a deputy commissioner with an independent mind on hand in the case that you (the commissioner) are involved in a trade. This will undoubtedly enhance the legitimacy of the commissioner and the league as a whole.
5) Free Agent Draft Is The Wave Of Today
At this point, free agent drafts are only a part of the more advanced fantasy football leagues. Yes, free agent drafts are time-consuming for the commissioner who must lock teams from picking up free agents five minutes before kickoff of the first game. Yes, commissioners must update the waiver priority based on overall record every week and this can be a laboring task. But, while some may think it's a disabler ( i.e. from picking up free agents during games), the free agent draft enables league members to enjoy football viewing in its purest form - be it at an NFL stadium or at a bar with friends and not with your laptop in front of you as myself and many others have grown accustomed to. It also enables the older folks with families to take care of adult duties and not worry about other league members dashing to the free agent page to pick up Anquan Boldin in a memorable first half performance [of his first career game] against the Lions.
6) Make Draft A Full-Day Event
Draft day is the single-most important day of the fantasy football calendar. Depending on how much disposable time league members may have, the commissioner can organize activities such as a cookout that will allow junior members to build rapport that may aid them later in the season when they need to pull off a trade.
7) Offline Draft The Only Way To Go
Much like house music, the offline draft is the only way to go in a competitive fantasy football league. If you live within one hour of the draft site, you must be at the draft, no questions asked. Being a local who misses out on the draft is tantamount to heresy and a means for permanent expulsion. If your members are spread out all over the country, find a conference line to use for a few hours and enforce time limits on picks. Another added bonus of offline drafts is the ability to target players through the use of trade propositions on draft day.
8) Interaction, Interaction, Interaction
Talking smack is an essential in fantasy sports. If you're only drafting and setting your lineups on Sunday morning, then you're doing a disservice to yourself and the league. Interaction is absolutely key to any league staying afloat and talking smack about your opponents is quite fun.
In my simple mind, three rules exist for talking smack: Keep it funny. Keep it fresh. Avoid making it personal. If the last of the unspoken rules are breached, don't be afraid to step in and rectify the situation, because lingering resentment can suck the life out of a league faster than you can say Houshmandzadeh.
9) Fractional Points Are ... A Good Thing
Fractional points are messy to say the least, but ties are even messier. Some leagues prefer to break ties with bench points, but members should not be rewarded for leaving Player X on the bench who scored 30 points when his starter only got 10. Awarding fractional points may result in thinking you've won on Tuesday to losing on Wednesday due to a scoring change, but the team who started the most productive players win every time.
10) Payout Structure Needs To Favor The 14-Game Championship
For years, the null hypothesis in fantasy football payout structures has been to reward the playoff champion handsomely and leave the scraps to those who were successful in the regular season. This needs to change. Winning the 14-game title is a much more impressive feat for a manager than winning what is usually a three-game title. The payout structure needs to manifest this truth, while also awarding weekly high scores in the regular season.
One more note about fantasy playoffs. They should reflect the real playoffs, however, players on good teams are rested regularly, often putting the best teams during the regular season at a major disadvantage.