by Dan Trader (@RavensMafia)
"Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come." - The Night's Watch oath
If you take fantasy football seriously, it’s possible you envisioned yourself taking a sacred oath in a musky back room of an unknown location, dressed in your pin-striped Sunday-best with a slightly punctured yet strongly pulsating index finger, cupping a fiery prayer card of a dearly departed patron saint during the moment you joined your league of record. “Just as that saint burns, may your soul burn if you betray your friends in the league,” a looming, mysterious voice declares as you extinguish the blazes by rubbing both hands together while simultaneously echoing old, dark passages of ill-omened initiation.
However, if you’re the commissioner of your league, while you may have considered your commencement similarly celebratory, perhaps now you feel more like an isolated Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch at Castle Black awaiting imminent betrayal as you balance the responsibilities that come along with managing a group of primal, medieval ruffians while concurrently preparing for the ambivalence of the coming winter.
If the Sopranos and Game of Thrones references aren’t registering, last things first: c’mon, man! But my primary point is that, for many, being in a league and playing fantasy with friends or family is considered a thing of honor (I’m gonna go get the papers, get the papers).
But to be a league commissioner, one must be willing to assume a mercilessly thankless position while still taking the initiative to consistently improve the group’s overall experience before even taking into account that you’re also competing for, or in my case, defending the iron throne (insert tyrannical, diabolical laughter here).
Based on my experiences, here are some ways to be an exceptional fantasy commissioner without also being a human punching bag for your fellow comrades at war.
Know Your Role(s)
Being commissioner is tedious and exhausting and the responsibilities of running the league can be slightly complex initially. A wise man once said, “Chaos is a ladder”, so hopefully you have an unhealthy obsession with fantasy because that mania will assist in enduring the pending madness.
In order to gain perspective, allow me a moment to first touch on the roles of a league commissioner and how it relates on a larger scale.
Much like the U.S. Federal Government, you could say there are three branches of responsibility for a league commissioner: legislative, executive, and judicial.
If you run a league, you make the rules, so make them and post it online far in advance of the draft to avoid all confusion. This should include every last detail down to the payout structure, so be thorough. Remember, rules should be voted on, unanimously agreed upon, and/or decided on before making the league officially active.
Once the rules are applied, it’s also a legislative responsibility to collect taxes, or in our case, league dues (if applicable), so it would be prudent to provide multiple modes of collection online in the interest of everyone’s convenience, including your own. Venmo is among the fastest, easiest, and most secure and popular methods of transferring funds between friends and family on the internet, and is probably my preferred prototype. The setup is easy (download the app and it takes less than a few minutes if you know your information) and the money transfers directly into your account quickly. But there are other modes, such as PayPal, that will also suffice. These methods will also make paying out players in the green much quicker and easier.
Regardless of how you collect, make sure to effectively communicate the amount owed, the prize pool payout structure, the methods to pay, and when the money is due. Take my word for it, unless if you want to feel like a dog chasing its’ tail or have your friends perceive you as Bobby DeNiro on a bad day, make it explicitly clear that in order to draft a team, all GMs must pay prior to drafting. If you do this right, you’ll never thank me for it, because you’ll never have to suffer through the horrors of what comes from chasing your friends down for cash. And GMs, as Jimmy Conway might tenderly say, “bleep you, pay me!” Don’t procrastinate with the finances, because a good commish won’t procrastinate paying out.
As the “President” of your group of digital GMs, this is your show, but that doesn’t mean you have to be an insufferable jackass either, so try to be fun to be around. No one likes a dictator heading their league, but being a fair, considerate and consistent enforcer of the rules is another thing entirely, which is basically all your league-mates collectively want and expect from their commissioner. It’s imperative you know your duties and powers so you don’t over-step them.
While it’s also important that you’re always accessible and easy to reach, the other side of that is being responsive in a timely fashion. All members of your league should have your e-mail address and cell phone number at the very least.
Additionally, as the executive, it’s up to you to propose new ideas that improve the overall experience and spirit of the league. I’ll elaborate later.
And lastly, it may make you unpopular to a certain degree, but you must be prepared to be decisive on difficult issues, regardless of how your stance may leave your perceived, so try to always follow a moral compass.
The commissioner’s judiciary role is self-explanatory, but basically means to act as the judge when things are questionable or weigh-in as a tie-breaker when needed and carry out the rules with integrity.
While you are the judge, keep in mind that your peers make up the jury, and anything that requires any shade of judgment should be a group discussion.
Rule changes, unless in cases of demonstrable fraud and collusion, should be: A) voted on and agreed upon by the majority to pass and B) applied before the season starts (or at the beginning of the following season if the vote occurs mid-year). Apart from a drastic mistake or a reason so good that it’s beyond my ability to fabricate an example right now on the spot, don’t change anything mid-season. But when in doubt, hold a vote.
Lastly, in my opinion, it’s crucial to understand that you should never veto a trade if there aren’t elements of unquestionable collusion involved. There also may be instances of severely taking advantage of a player that might call for a vote. But if your league has the ability to vote on whether or not a trade should be vetoed, the requirements to fulfill said veto should be ridiculously hard to meet, like 80-90% approval for instance. Because it’s no one else’s place to overturn a trade solely based on the opinion that it’s not fair from their perspective. There will always be winners and losers from several different standpoints in every trade, even in the NFL, so it’s important to let owners run their team the way they want to run it, apart from situations involving collusion of course.
Know Those You Govern
Even if you’re best friends with every member, it’s important to socially engage regularly, whether that’s through group text messages, phone calls, the league forum, or in person, in order to comprehend where they stand on certain issues. Aside from learning their likes and dislikes or opinions regarding league matters, you’ll show the group that you care about their input and they’ll respect that you went out of your way to consider them, whether they vocally acknowledge that sentiment or not. This aspect could also bring some ‘actionable intelligence’ to the table, but I’ll elaborate more on that phase of the game as the season approaches.
In my estimation, it’s crucial to slightly shake things up each season to make the league more fun, more competitive, and keep people intrigued and adapting. In my situation, as commissioner of one of my leagues, each season I’ve proposed a rule change or roster alteration primarily in the name of keeping things interesting, leveling the playing field, and forcing strategies to adjust and evolve.
We started as a standard ESPN league with essentially default roster and scoring settings. Fast forward to 2016 and we have transitioned to points-per-reception with high-yardage bonuses and reward teams for the highest weekly points in the league, which keeps GMs setting their lineup each week regardless of their standing or playoff possibilities. Slight changes every season will accumulate over as little as two or three years, gradually upping the ante and slowly boiling the tensions.
The other side of that is there have been multiple proposals of mine shut down and rejected by the league, and that’s okay, because in addition to the democratic aspect of the league being respected, at the very least it got my league-mates active, thinking, discussing, and involved. Anything that increases the excitement of being engaged week-to-week will increase the involvement, which will in turn increase the competition, ultimately leading to an overall increase in general participation, enjoyment and satisfaction. Fantasy is supposed to figuratively provide players with a temporary safe-haven from the outside world, so try to keep that in mind.
If you get to a point in your league where everyone is content with the current state of rules and affairs, make them a tradition and don’t break or deviate from them because there are other ways to make your league more fun each season.
Speaking of other ways to make your league more fun, there really is no end to the possibilities, but I advise to start with the draft. Even if your league draft is already a group event, you can always keep expanding on the celebration. If you’re beyond that point, just remember that the more of an event you make anything relating to the league, the more fun it will be. For example, the draft order selection process this year for one of my leagues will be established via homemade Plinko board inspired by ‘The Price is Right’, our draft will be in a bar and I will most likely try to hold a party at my house during the fantasy championships. The sky is the limit here. Most likely, your league will not be thanking you for planning and executing a party or event at the end, but trust me, they’ll be happy about it.
In closing, being a league commissioner requires much of one person and isn’t a task fit for everyone. But if your desires to run a league still burn bright after reading this, you’ll love being a commish more than any job you’ve ever hated.
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