How to Start a Fantasy Football League

Tips for Founding a Fantasy Football League

Learn how to start a fantasy football league and become the commissioner of your own league, so you don’t have to worry about the kind of shenanigans we talked about the other day in “How to Cheat in Fantasy Football“.

If you’ve played fantasy football for a few years, you already have a leg up in getting a league started, because you know other fantasy football owners and most of the basics of fantasy sports. But if you’ve never played fantasy football, you can read this article and learn all you need to know to start a fantasy league of your own.

Below are the steps to forming your own league and having a great time in a well-managed fantasy league. As the league founder, you’ll have a lot of control in setting the agenda, so think of the kind of league you would want to play in and you think others would want to play in, and then make it happen.

  • Select League Rules
  • Recruit Team Owners
  • Set Up a League Website
  • Set a Draft Date & Time
  • Manage the Fantasy Draft
  • Have a Great NFL Season

Selecting Fantasy Football League Rules

The league scoring rules define what kind of fantasy league you’re going to start. Fantasy football has a whole lot of rules variations that have been devised over the decades. Some are more popular than others, but if you choose from this wide array of conventional rules, you’re going with ideas that have worked in the past. At the same time, if you’re tired of the standard performance-scoring serpentine redraft league, there are enough choices that you can have “exotic” rules and still choose something that’s been tested.

I’ll list some of the choices you’ll be making, when selecting the scoring system for your fantasy league.

  • Performance or Touchdown Only: Do your players get points for yardage, or only touchdowns.
  • High Performance or Standard Performance: Players get points for receptions, bonus points for yard plateaus, and perhaps negative points for fumbles & interceptions.
  • Team Defense or Individual Defensive Player: Are you drafting “Minnesota Vikings Defense” or IDPs like “Jared Allen”?
  • Draft or Auction: Do you assign players to rosters via the traditional fantasy draft, or auction off players in lieu of a draft?
  • Redraft or Keeper League: Do all players go back into the draft pool every year, or do you get to keep a handful of favorites?
  • Keeper or Dynasty League: Dynasty leagues are extreme versions of keeper leagues, where you get to keep the whole roster and build a dynasty.
  • Live Draft or Online Draft: League management tools allow for online drafts these days, for leagues with members spread around the country, or with too many conflicting schedules for a live draft meeting.
  • Serpentine or Redrawn Draft Order: Does draft order snake around from highest-to-lowest then lowest-to-highest throughout the draft, or do you redraw draft order every other round?

Beyond these basics league scoring and draft rules, there are all manner of variables that leagues can choose. Maybe you want 4 pts per passing touchdown, instead of 6 points. Maybe you want to give tight ends double points or 1.5x points. Maybe tackles in an IDP league count 2 points, instead of 1, to bring their scoring more in line with offensive stats. Maybe kickers get extra points for long field goals, while team defenses might get 20 points for a shutout, instead of the standard 10.

If you are confident of having enough players to start a league, you might consider buying your league website, because many league management sites offer a selection of pre-packaged scoring systems to commissioners. There are usually 10 to 20, with the option to customize if you like a scoring system, but don’t like a few of the rules. (More about this later.)

Recruit Team Owners

Many fantasy football league founders may want to recruit their league membership first. If you’re not entirely confident you have enough fantasy sports hobbyists among your friends and family, check around and see how many people you can recruit to join your league. Through the Internet, you can always sign up strangers from online fantasy football message boards and forums, or through Craigslist, but you might prefer to have an intimate league where everybody knows one another.

One factor that can effect recruitment is the league membership fees. Leagues that want to give out prize money in December need to collect entry fees to build up that prize money (unless you’re offering prizes out-of-pocket, which may not be feasible). There are also free leagues, often with a trophy that yearly moves between league champions, in place of a prize. If you do take up fees and offer payouts, have a system in place for this by the time you start adding team owners, so they know what the stakes and the fees are. (It’s common to have 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in a 50/30/20 split.)

Those fantasy league founders who have played in other leagues before have an advantage in recruitment. You already know a collection of people who enjoy fantasy football. You also have an idea which ones you want in your league and which ones you would never have in your league. This lets you cherry-pick players from the various leagues you’ve been a member in over the years, collecting an all-star lineup of fantasy football owners. Since most fantasy football fanatics join multiple leagues these days, it should be no problem asking members of other leagues to join your own.

If you find you’re having problems getting enough solid commitments for the size league you want (12-team, for example), consider starting in Year 1 with a league smaller than that and adding more members from year to year. League members who are already involved also make good recruiting sources, since they might ask a friend you don’t know to join.

Set Up a League Website

Once you know you have enough players to have a full league, buy your league website. If this is too much of an expense, charge everyone an extra $5 at the draft (in addition to league membership fees) to pay the cost of the website. This is always recommended, because a fantasy football league website make your job so much easier, and the game so much more fun for everyone else.

A league website lets you quickly get messages to the whole league. It lets members of the league get to know one another and communicate, either talking trash or talking trades. The league website has real-time scoring, so everyone can keep track of fantasy scores on Sunday and Monday with up-to-the-minute updates. A league site helps players make trades, waiver wire pickups and any other transaction so much easier. In short, having your own league website makes fantasy football run smoothly.

Select a Draft Date and Time

Once you talk to every league member, try to find a date, time and location which suits all the members. This is the biggest pain in setting up a fantasy league, since you’re trying to coordinate a time when 10 or 12 people can all get together for 4 to 5 hours. This is usually on a weekend in the weeks leading up to the NFL season, so everyone may have family commitments, school starting, Labor Day celebrations, and the like. Be sure to get the draft day set as early as possible, hopefully months in advance, so everyone has maximum flexibility.

The fantasy football draft is the best day of the year for fantasy owners. This is the day of infinite possibilities, when you can still build the perfect team. This also might be one of the few days of the year you see a bunch of your buddies and you can all get together as “guys”, so having a live draft is better than an online draft, for these reasons. If the live draft isn’t going to work, though, the Internet draft gives people more options for drafting, and often lets people who can’t be online that very moment to set a draft wish list and let the computer make the selections.

Manage the Fantasy Draft

Once the draft date gets closer, you’ll need to make sure everything moves smoothly. Call everyone a few days in advance to confirm they are coming, and to remind owners the draft is near. You also want to make sure everyone knows how to get to the draft and when it starts, as well as what the food and drink situation is (bring your own, order pizzas, you’re taking care of everything, etc).

When everyone gathers, be sure to take up any league fees before the draft starts. If you don’t, you’re not likely to ever see that money, and you’ll either pay for prizes out of pocket, or they’ll be less than promised. Also, make sure the draft runs on time. Have a maximum allotted time for draft picks, so it doesn’t drag on too long and the wives don’t start calling. These commissioner acts shouldn’t be too strenuous or too forceful, if you have a good group of owners.

Have a Great NFL Season

After the draft, you’ll want to handle commissioner duties like league schedules, free agent transactions, trade reviews, I.R. moves, playoff bracket updates, and league announcements efficiently and on time. If you’re going out of town a few days, give someone else the commissioner password, to help with these transactions. Once the draft is over, your role should be less prominent, unless a big controversy happens. With a good rulebook and a logical scoring system in place, this shouldn’t be too often. You can expect one or two dust-ups in the season, but that’s natural among competitive guys.

Starting Your Own Fantasy Football League

That’s how you start your own fantasy football league. There’s really not much to founding your own fantasy league, though you want to handle your business well enough that everyone has a good time. There are a lot of little things a league founder or commissioner does that never get noticed, but, if you don’t do them, definitely gets noticed. So follow the steps above, be prepared, and have a great fantasy football season.


  1. I have an idea for a Fantasy Football league but it’s a bit different and i don’t think any of the Major Fantasy Football Host’s would run it? Is there anything i can do? Or maybe you know a Fantasy site that can accomadate any ideas?

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