Congratulations on your decision to start your own fantasy baseball league.  Becoming the commissioner of a league carries many duties and responsibilities, so you should be well aware of what you are getting yourself into.  Are you truly prepared to handle your league’s administrative duties while also trying to lead your own team to victory?  There are likely numerous aspects of being a league commissioner that have never crossed your mind.  But fear not – the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment is here to help guide you through the trials and tribulations of starting your own league.

1. All Guts, No Glory

There is nothing glamorous about being a league commissioner.  You are not treated like a rock star and most likely none of your fellow league members will show you much, if any, appreciation for your efforts.  It is a thankless job that will likely create more headaches than reward you with any feeling of satisfaction.  This is not meant to deter you or infer that you are making a mistake.  But you should be well aware of the reality that comes along with owning this position.

In most instances, your decision to become the league commissioner is indicative of the fact that no one else wanted to do it.  That makes sense because most people cannot and do not want the responsibility.  But that is what sets you apart from everyone else.  Being a league commissioner requires several attributes that not everyone possesses.  Heed this warning that the time and energy you will put into this job will go largely unnoticed.  But that is ok because you didn’t take on this role to be a celebrity.

2. Be Wary of Who You Let Into the League

There are two types of leagues that generally require commissioners: public and private.  Public leagues are usually comprised of random people who do not know each other but wish to participate in the competition.  Private leagues are usually comprised of people that know each other, or at least require an invitation from the commissioner.  For now we are going to focus solely on private leagues where the commissioner likely knows each and every one of his league members.

It is a dangerous proposition to have more authority and power than friends, family, colleagues or casual acquaintances who are in your league.  You need to make sure your league is comprised of people who you can trust, who are reliable, and who have good reputations.  If a friend of yours makes a recommendation for a new member of the league that you don’t know, you are well within your right to properly vet this person.

Ideally you want your league to be comprised of people who are fiscally responsible and make their payments on time.  They should be reliable in terms of attending and being prepared for the draft.  They should be respectful and considerate of others by engaging in conversation and at least responding to trade inquiries or other questions from the commissioner and fellow league members.  They should be competitive and honorable by ensuring that they play a legal lineup each and every week irrespective of their place in the standings.  Finally, they should be committed to the league in an effort to retain full membership year to year.

3. Put Everything in Writing

Being a commissioner requires you to communicate frequently and decisively with your league members.  Commissioners must be effective communicators in the event they have to schedule the draft, amend a rule, fix an error, etc.  The best way to achieve this is always in writing using a medium that you know will be easily and readily accessible by your league members.  Many fantasy sites have message boards and other forums where league members can post comments or questions.  But the reality is that many people do not read the league message board.  It should not be assumed that messages posted there will be read or seen.  Instead, you need to have a group email list where you can write to all league members and be able to confirm delivery and receipt.  This gives you the assurance that your message has been sent and received by everyone else.  If a league member does not have an email address, then they are possibly a time traveler stuck in the future without 1.21 gigawatts of electricity needed for the flux capacitor.

The other reason to put everything in writing is for transparency.  As commissioner, you don’t want to give anyone a reason to be skeptical of your integrity.  Before you take any action that would affect the league overall, it is always best to convey your thoughts to everyone first in order to let the league know what you intend on doing.

Finally, the most important piece of writing you can have is a constitution, charter, or set of rules.  Many leagues still do not operate under the guidance of a governing document.  That is ok, but there should be a delineated set of rules or guidelines that exists to keep all league members on the same page and prevent any unfair advantages.  League commissioners are not expected to account for every possible scenario that can arise.  But there should be written procedures in place to at least guide the commissioner and league members on how to handle an unforeseen predicament.

4. Get a Secure Piggy Bank

Most fantasy leagues are played for money prizes.  Typically, there is an entry fee that gets paid by each league member to the commissioner who holds the cash until the end of the season for distribution.  As we all know, the more money we come across, the more problems we see.  Depending on how well people know you, there are certain to be those who are uneasy about giving you their money.  There are always going to be dishonest commissioners who steal people’s money and not re-distribute winnings properly at the end of a season.  That is why you must be extra careful with your league members’ money and keep it in a safe place, in full.

There are companies and websites which will hold everyone’s money securely and distribute the winnings for you.  But if you want to keep control of the money yourself, just be careful not to spend it or lose it.  At the end of the day, your league members are rightfully depending on you to allocate the winnings for the full and proper amount.

5. Think Outside The Proverbial Box

The first decision to be made is where you want your league to be hosted.  There are several websites out there that offer league services with the most popular being CBS Sports, Yahoo, and ESPN.  There are several others which offer unique structures and formats, so do your due diligence and find one that best suits your needs and is user-friendly.

Once you have found a home for your league, the most important decision you have to make is whether it will be a keeper/dynasty or redraft league.  Keeper/dynasty leagues allow people to retain a certain number of players from year to year which incentivizes long-term thinking when it comes to drafting, roster management and trade strategy.  If you are starting a new keeper/dynasty league, then the rules regarding keepers, contracts, and trading draft picks must be clearly delineated well before the draft takes place.

The next aspect to be determined is whether you want to have a rotisserie or points-based league. Rotisserie leagues are played using a certain number of categories in which statistics are accumulated collectively and the standings are determined based on where each team in the league ranks in each category.  Rotisserie leagues can have weekly head-to-head matchups or simply be a season-long accumulation of statistics.  Head-to-head points-based leagues have specific point values associated with each statistic where league members face a different opponent each week and a winner is determined by which team has the most amount of total points at the end of a scoring period.

Another critical decision to make is whether your league will encompass all of MLB or be a specialized NL-only or AL-only league.  The league-specific format is much more difficult simply because the pool of available players is cut in half.  

There are a myriad of ways to customize a fantasy baseball league.  In recent years, new companies have emerged offering different types of fantasy games.  However, most people still play standard rotisserie or head-to-head points leagues.  You can make things more fun by coming up with creative and innovative ways to maximize the whole experience.   For example, you can utilize different scoring categories to make the league more challenging, alter the point values of certain statistics to put more emphasis on certain positions, set a unique schedule with double-headers or standings-based positional matchups, or offer daily or weekly prizes and incentives.  The possibilities are endless.

You need to ask yourself what you would consider fun and exciting if you were a member of someone else’s league.  How can you create more drama and excitement while still maintaining the integrity of the league and the spirit of competition?  Ask your league members for some thoughts or suggestions, and tell everyone that you are always open to considering new ideas.  This will help keep the lines of communication open and demonstrate your willingness to listen to other perspectives.

6. Monarchy Over Democracy (to a point)

Just as important as it is to let your league members know their opinions matter, you need to balance that with the necessity of maintaining control and authority over the whole league.  A commissioner cannot be expected to know everything and always be right, but at least if it is only your decision that matters the league can function relatively smoothly.

The problem with having league votes on issues such as rule changes or trade approvals is that you could possibly get 10, 12, 14 or more different opinions.  It is human nature for league members to only have their own agendas in mind when empowered with the ability to make crucial decisions.  This does not give you carte blanche to run rampant over the league and abuse your discretion.  Rather, it puts the most critical decisions and functions of the league in one person’s hands instead of many more.

Trade disputes are some of the most common types of cases that get submitted to Fantasy Judgment.  The reason that people dispute so many trades is because someone else’s deal will negatively affect other teams, or those other teams are jealous that they didn’t make such a move.  The point is that people cannot separate their own interest in a transaction from the overall best interests of the league.  When people become owners of fantasy teams, they are entitled to manage their teams however they see fit within the confines of the rules.  Allowing all league members to have a say in such activities severely inhibits fantasy owners’ abilities to make such moves.

But what will really set you apart as a great commissioner is if you can avoid conflicts of interest at all costs.  Yes, you have the right to manage your own team and strive to succeed just like everyone else.  But if you find your own team embroiled in an issue that you have the power to rule on, then you must take a step back and recuse yourself.  Regardless of whether your decision is correct or fair, there is an appearance of impropriety if you make a decision that has some direct impact on your own team.  The best way to avoid this situation is to ask yourself “How would my decision appear to everyone else?”  As a result, it is best to appoint a co-commissioner in order to maintain a balance of power.

7. It’s a 24/7/365 Job

There really is no such thing as a fantasy sports offseason anymore.  With so many keeper or dynasty leagues, people are making trades and roster moves all year long.  Even redraft leagues have lots of activity going on including setting the draft order, rule changes and preparations for the upcoming season.  As commissioner, you must be readily available at any time to answer questions or resolve conflicts.  That doesn’t mean you cannot go on vacation.  This is another reason why you should have a co-commissioner who can help alleviate some of the burden. 

8. Rules of Engagement

Each fantasy baseball league is different in terms of which rules apply.  Commissioners are free to pick and choose what they want to include in their league’s rules, but there are some universal principles which should apply to all leagues that seek to maintain order and integrity.  This includes clearly explaining any prohibitions or limitations on teams making dump trades once they are eliminated from playoff contention.  Commissioners need to be specific and explicit when writing their rules so that it is clear to all league members what the rule actually is.  For example, if a commissioner employs a penalty for having an illegal lineup or roster, it should be clearly defined what actually makes a lineup or roster illegal.  Take a step back and objectively consider whether the rules you have written are clear and unambiguous.  If you sense any gray area, then revise and amend them.

This list is not exhaustive and is meant to provide a framework for you to work with as you take on the responsibilities of starting a fantasy baseball league.  It sounds like a lot of work, but it is well worth the effort because you can help make everyone’s fantasy baseball experience the most fun and competitive it can be.