8 Ways to Improve Your Fantasy Football League

Jun 19, 2023
8 Ways to Improve Your Fantasy Football League

The calendar still shows your fantasy draft day is many weeks away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about fantasy football.

This is especially true if you're expecting to have some downtime on an upcoming vacation, but even more especially true if you run your own league and have done so for what seems like an eternity. Check out 4for4's rankings to be the most prepared you can be.

Other League Ideas: Last Place Punishments | Fantasy Football Team Names | Drafting Under the Influence | Ways to Keep Managers Engaged | Live Draft Tips |

Everyone loves fantasy football, but if you and your league mates feel like it’s getting stale, it probably is. A friend of mine recently quit his fantasy football league for this very reason, and while it may not seem like a big deal, it was a league that’s had the same group of close friends for decades, and his leaving upset some longtime friends. This is the time of year when owners who are in multiple leagues start to either think about adding more to their plate or cutting back.

As someone who has run a league since the late 1990s, and has played fantasy football even before that, the last thing I want would be for one of my best friends to leave my league because they are bored. So whether you run your own league or have been in a league for a long time, it never hurts to look over a fresh set of ideas to improve your league for the better.

I’ve been doing this for what seems like forever, and I’ve seen typical leagues and leagues with different sets of rules, so here are some of my top ideas for keeping your fantasy league going strong.

Find the Right Managers

This seems pretty easy. You want managers who are going to be engaged and want to play the fantasy football season from start to finish. You don’t want someone who falls for a terrible trade to your league’s Evil Empire or disappears after an 0-5 start. A few years ago, the commissioner of a league I’m in just kind of wiped out half of the managers and replaced those with a whole new set. These were his friends...

To this day, I never really asked how he was able to do this, or even why, but my conclusion was he wanted to get what he deemed to be his ideal set of managers. And to be honest, the league is stronger than ever.

In another league I run that is only a couple of years old, we had some turnover last season and were looking for replacements. A friend of mine said he knew someone who never played fantasy football but loves the NFL. Turns out, he did just fine and while he’s still learning the process of what it takes to be a fantasy manager, there is no doubt he’s better than some guys who I have played with for years. Don’t let fantasy football inexperience deter you from bringing those kinds of managers into your league. We all had to learn somehow. I’d rather have an inexperienced fantasy football player who wants to be there and wants to do well versus an experienced one who quits on his team after a slow start.

While it's not always easy, it seems like the best leagues are formed when everyone has a bond. I'm a board member on my boys' soccer club, and a couple of years ago I noticed we had over 10 people on the board, so I suggested a fantasy football league. While leagues can certainly be successful when not everyone knows one another, leagues, where there is a strong connection among everyone, do seem to keep things interesting.

Overall, having good, responsible managers is half the battle when it comes to running a league.

Listen to the Managers

Once you have the right set of managers in place, a good commish will take into consideration any ideas they have for the future of the league.

As a commish of two leagues, I’m always putting out there that I’m open to ideas to change things for the better, but it doesn’t mean you have to accept every idea you hear. In one league I’ve run for over 20 years with friends, it’s pretty obvious they don’t really care about rules. They are there to have fun on draft day, be competitive and win, and maybe talk trash. In the other league I run, for what is just in its second season, I do things a totally different way.

In this league, I get more proposed rule changes and we put them to a vote. Things don’t always turn out the way I want them, but honestly, just because I run the league doesn’t necessarily mean it’s just my league. Granted, in the first league, I made dictator-type decisions when it comes to rules that no one really cared about. That’s mostly been for my own sanity and keeping with the times. Everyone just kind of goes with it, and that’s fine, too. It doesn't mean they are bad managers.

In the end, you at least want to give your players the feeling they have a say in the rules, especially if you don't really know some of the managers as well as others.

Have a Live Draft

This might be easier said than done. But, if there is one thing being stuck at home has taught us, is if you want to be a part of something, programs like Zoom and Microsoft Meeting can still allow you to do that.

Draft day is one of my favorite days of the year. I’m in a handful of leagues that always draft live. For a couple of them, I can physically be there, and for another, I have to do it remotely. In the end, though, I would much rather do it live versus an online, timed draft that only allows you a few minutes to make a selection and is over in an hour and a half.

Sure, there are always those who want the draft to be over a few minutes after it starts and will complain it’s taking too long. While this can be an issue with a live draft, my feeling is it’s one day a year and I can deal with a slow draft. But overall, a live draft is a great way to get together with friends, have a few drinks and laughs, and draft some teams which could turn into the highlight of your league. There are also programs like ClickyDraft that allow everyone to draft from the same program. I have also written an article with tips to host a live draft. Even if only half the league shows up in person, it can still be a fun time to look forward to.

Adapt Your Rules to the Times

So you have your league, you have the managers you want and you have a live draft scheduled. Some of my favorite leagues are leagues that have a different flavor and aren’t just the typical leagues that haven’t changed since 1995.

Let’s take a look at some rules changes you can make to improve your league:

  • Draft order – Come up with a fun way to create your draft order. You can just use reverse order from the season before, but that’s not always the most exciting way. In my league, every year I like to pick cards and have a draft—for the draft order. Whoever picks the ace, gets to pick their draft slot, and so on from 2-10.
  • PPR vs. Standard – A lot of my leagues have slowly gone from standard to PPR over the years, and I’m now at the point where I strongly prefer PPR. While I still play in standard leagues, I love the way PPR opens up more player value to the draft and can create deeper teams if you do your homework. Third-down backs now have value and, of course, WRs get a bump, which reflects how most NFL teams move the ball these days. If you’re still running a standard league, think about moving to a PPR.
  • Flex spots – Another easy option is to just add another flex player to your starting lineup. I play in a 16-team league that uses five flex spots along with a QB, kicker, and defense. One of the 10-team leagues I run uses three flex spots. I believe this is a key move for a couple of reasons—I think it makes life a little easier for those just learning about fantasy football. The flex gives them more options for lineups, especially during bye weeks. At the same time, the most experienced managers can also exploit this rule. And something I love to do is stock up on RBs early in drafts and play as many as I can each week while using WRs as a fallback. To each his own, but the flex gives players of all skills more options and strategy.
  • Two QBs – Is it just me, or are more leagues moving to two QBs, or at least the use of a superflex? Two QB leagues aren’t for the faint of heart. There is a lot of strategy that goes into these kinds of leagues, and if you’re running the league, you need to think about rules to go with it. Do you cap the numbers of QBs each team can own, or is it a free for all? It could very well mean if someone doesn’t plan bye weeks correctly, or injuries pop up, there will be a zero in one of those QB slots. In the end, though, two QBs leagues really make things interesting, and depending on the number of owners, a superflex is the way most leagues are going now.
  • Other scoring rules - Get rid of the kicker, add an individual defense, and move to a fractional scoring system which likely eliminates ties.

Add Some Defensive Players

The older and grumpier I get, the more I don't like change. Over the past several years, though, I have really gotten into the dynasty format for fantasy football leagues. After I joined my first dynasty league, I needed to do more.

I got invited by a friend who wanted to start his own, however, he told me it was going to be different and involve defensive players. While at first I wanted nothing to do with it, I convinced myself to give it a try. But in the end, this wasn't a typical league that started a couple of individual players, he wanted to start seven defensive players: 2 linemen, 2 linebackers, 2 defensive backs, and a defensive flex. This was on top of a normal, offensive lineup (sidenote, always read your league rules).

Talking about jumping into the fire.

It didn't take long before I became totally addicted to scouting defensive players. I constantly looked at rankings and the free agent wire and continued to make moves nabbing young, highly-ranked defensive players I could hopefully keep year after year. By midway through the season, injuries had destroyed my offense, but my defense was great. I even began to get offers from contenders for my defensive players.

The point of all this is, as stubborn as someone like me is, if I can get into IDP formats, anyone can. So give it a try, it may just add some more juice to your league.

Make it a Keeper League

This could be a tough call because I find a lot of my leagues have mixed feelings about keepers. This may be a case where you really have to listen to the rest of your league when it comes to this decision. If you run a league and you really want to have keepers, it may be a situation where you need a complete overhaul of your managers.

I think having keepers is one of the biggest fears for managers who may not follow football closely, or just may be new to fantasy football, or may just worry about not having good players. The fear, I think, is not having keepers up to par with the rest of the league sets them back from the very start. Some owners feel they have to go years rebuilding and not being in the money while still paying league fees. It’s a fine line, so you need managers who understand the process.

The good news is you can have a varying amount of keepers. Having a couple of keepers is probably the best way to go, at least to start. Keeping one or two players in a 10-team league should allow managers to come up with a similar set of keepers, talent-wise. It could even open a door to more league activity and trades. This could be just enough change to keep people interested in your league.

And as far as keepers go, you can always make rules to support the keeper rule. For instance, you can only keep players for a year or two before they have to go back into the draft. You can make it so no players taken in the first round or even the first two rounds can be kept any year. There are also ways to keep players based on where they were drafted the previous year, or, you have to lose a pick in order to keep a player. Personally, I like to reward good, late-round drafting or free-agent pickups during the season and allow those players to be kept. In the second league I run, we can only keep players drafted after round eight or picked up as a free agent the previous year.

Make it a Dynasty League

As you may have read above, a change to a dynasty league could add interest but is even be a tougher call to make vs. just keeping a couple of guys. For a dynasty league, it has to be something everyone is on board with. And the fear of owners not having quality keepers is even more of a concern in a dynasty league. But if you're looking to keep your league engaged, a dynasty league could be a way to go. Or maybe you add it as a secondary league.

If you and your friends prefer just one fantasy league a year, then maybe a dynasty league isn't for your group, it's probably better suited for those who do multiple leagues a year.

But, a dynasty league will keep you more active more of the year. The NFL Draft is a huge deal, and then your rookie draft may take place a few weeks later. Having a draft in spring is a great jump start to the season as by the time your rookie prep and draft are over, it's just about time for camps to get started. Dynasty leagues keep the football talk going just about all season. There's always a reason to talk about your league and discuss trades, or rookies, or draft order. You're either in contention or rebuilding, so there is always a reason to trade.

If you're looking for a year-round option, this could be your big move. Check out Dynasty League Football for everything dynasty related.

Scheduling Changes

Doing some things with your schedule is also a way to improve your league. One thing I am against is a now Week 18 finals, or using Week 18, in any way as part of the finals (i.e. even a combined Week 17 and 18 final). One way to keep people interested all 18 weeks is to just set some money aside from league fees and offer money to the highest point-getter in Week 18. I’m in a few leagues that use Week 18 as a final, and while I never mind a challenge, this is a wild card that can really throw off fantasy lineups as NFL teams rest players for the playoffs.

Another idea is a rivalry week. In the two leagues I run, I like to group the standings with managers who may be closer to one another, maybe went to school together, or are related. For example, I have a father-son connection and a brother connection and I like to keep them in the same division. In a 10-team league, they will meet twice a season and things can get interesting with public trash talk. It’s just another way to keep those in your league having fun and just makes your league better in the end.

As you can see, there are endless ideas to improve your league, and staying on top of things will keep people coming back for more. Once you have improved your league you’ll want to keep those managers engaged as well, and I’ve written an article on how to do just that.

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