Your Best Damn Guide on How To Start A Fantasy Football League

UCFL fantasy football draft board and championship belt

In this guide, we show you how to start a fantasy football league. But first, we should tackle two fundamental life questions:

A) should you play fantasy football this year?

B) should you start a fantasy football league?

Let’s take a test.


Should You Play Fantasy Football Litmus Test

should you play fantasy football test

The next question is should you start a league or join a buddy’s fantasy football league? The easiest choice is to join your friend’s league. But that decision has a few downsides:

  • You didn’t have a say in who your league mates are, and you won’t like some of them
  • You didn’t get to select the fantasy football platform – ESPN, Yahoo, etc.
  • You didn’t help set the league rules

You could risk it and join your buddy’s league, and if it sucks, don’t play in it next year. He might hate you for it, but maybe not. Or strap on your entrepreneurial helmet and start your own damn fantasy football league!

No Excuses – Start Your Own League

We created Your Best Damn Guide On How To Start A Fantasy Football League, so what’s holding you back?

This guide is the best advice on starting and running your fantasy football league. Our collective wisdom pulls from 15 years of managing and playing in our home league, the great UCFL. We’ve tweaked, modified, and tested many things and before you is one tip for every year of the UCFL’s life.

long road through desert mountains

You’re doing more than starting a fantasy football league. You’re designing a destination spot for lonely travelers on the long highway of life to hang out all year.

Are you ready? Let’s kick things off.


Estimated reading time: 42 minutes

#1 – Set High Expectations for Prospective League Mates

Yes, we’re talking about a fantasy game, but every league mate must take it seriously for it to be fun. This first rule is the most important in how to start a fantasy football league. It ensures you create a strong league that’s fun and endures—many of the other steps in this guide flow from this one.

Inform every prospective league mate that a commissioner will enforce the rules—more on selecting a commissioner later.

How do you set high expectations? What should the expectations be for your new fantasy football league?


#2 – Don’t Invite Just Anybody

It sounds like we’re creating a secret society or cult, but we’re not. It’s so much more important than that! You’ll make great friends and have fantastic fun through your fantasy football league. But you have to get the right people on the party bus.

Five Steps to Recruit League Mates:

5 steps to recruit fantasy football league mates

I’m only kidding a little. The UCFL could’ve been more selective at times rather than accepting any warm body to fill a spot.

Start Close to Home

Start with a few of your closest friends and family members – people you enjoy hanging out with. These are people who love football. You probably go to games with them or hang out with them on Sundays watching football. Consider friends with a casual interest in football but who are serious-minded. These people can add value to your league. This was me in 2008 when Andy invited me to the second year of the UCFL. I won the fantasy championship that first year. The fantasy football bug bit me hard.

Birds of a Feather

After establishing a solid core, branch out. These league mates can ask their like-minded friends and family. Birds of a feather flock together.

But this fantasy football league is your creation. Have everyone run suggestions by you first. A UCFL league mate catches hell if he invites a turd to our great league. Speaking of turds reminds me of Fink the Stink who I invited to the UCFL in 2019. Fink’s not a turd; he just goes by the name Fink the Stink. But he doesn’t stink at fantasy football. Fink won the championship his first year and became our only back-to-back champion in 2020.

Our guys are very opinionated about who gets league invites.


Wisdom from the UCFL crowd:

League mate, Jbunc says to get references for potential fantasy football league mates when you start a fantasy football league
Chris says to tell fantasy football league mate prospects they will be replaced if they don't take it seriously
Chris doing his best badass impersonation

The UCFL is fun but fierce – attributes you’re looking for when learning how to start a fantasy football league.


How Many People Should You Recruit?

The great UCFL has always been a 12-team league. A 10-team league is acceptable, a 12-team league is ideal, and a 14-team league is overcrowded.

I’ve played in multiple leagues some years, and one was a company 10-man league. A 10-man league creates a talent-rich free-agent pool that discourages trading. You can always find good players on the waiver wire when needed.

A 14-team league is the opposite – too many skinny dogs fighting for the same free-agent bones.

A 12-team league is a perfect balance. Free agents are available, but you can get better players by trading. Also, twelve teams are easier to divide into divisions if you choose to have them. We like divisions as they create intense rivalries.

Your league size depends on how many people you can recruit. Remember, you’re not filling spots with warm bodies. You’re seeking high-quality, serious-minded, but fun people who bring value to your league. Consider the first year as a foundation you build on. Perhaps you only find ten incredible players, or even eight; that’s okay. Better to go with eight great than have hell with twelve. In your second year, you’ll add on as word spreads you started a fantastic fantasy football league.

Better to go with eight great than have hell with twelve.

The Fantasy Football Bullrush

If possible, recruit more league mates than you need. Some people may fall out before the season begins. If none do, go with the first 12 who run naked around Walmart (or the first 12 who pay their league fees). Use the others as alternates.

Minimum Expectations for All Fantasy Football League Mates

  • Know the rules and bylaws (more to come about bylaws)
  • Vote on rule changes
  • Pay attention and respond when the commissioner or admin mentions your name. These are usually league announcements (discussed in the section, Create a Communication Channel)
  • Set lineup
  • Work free agency
  • Consider and respond to trade offers
  • Keep up with NFL player news and adjust lineups
  • Spend some time hanging out with the guys in the chat rooms. Don’t join the league and disappear until it’s time to ask for your winnings

We have more fun than grandma on bingo night, but slackers in our league catch unholy hell.

The Fantasy Football bullrush

#3 – Bylaws Are Essential to Starting a Great Fantasy Football League

We had a few league-specific rules we played by, but we wrote nothing down. Each year we had to think, “how did we handle roster restrictions?” League-specific bylaws, documented and stored somewhere, address issues your fantasy platform doesn’t cover. Problems will arise, and you’ll be happy you had the bylaws.

Wisdom from the UCFL crowd:

Bobby says nothing is set in stone in regard to fantasy football rules

What Fantasy Football Bylaws Should Cover

  • Number of teams in the league
  • Number of votes needed to make changes to bylaws or add new rules. We play on ESPN’s platform, and a change to their settings – scoring, roster size, roster positions, etc., needs a 10/12 vote. Majority rules on other changes
  • Type of scoring – standard, point per reception (PPR), or half PPR
  • Entry fees
  • Payout schedule
  • Auction draft or snake draft
  • Draft order
  • Penalty for a last-place finish?
  • Waiver wire or Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB)
  • Vote on trades or not
  • How to handle flagrant one-sided trades
  • Online draft or live draft – and is attendance mandatory for the live draft?
  • Keeper league or not
  • Do keepers cost anything on draft day?
  • Roster position requirements
  • Do teams have to draft a full lineup on draft day?
  • Injured Reserve spots
  • Special Covid-19 considerations
  • The duty to pay attention to league messages on your chosen communication platform
  • Invitations to play each year aren’t automatic – league mates must earn invitations

You and your buddies may have more ideas for bylaws. These are only a few. Get creative and have fun. Brainstorm every possible thing that can go wrong and plan for it. Our ultimate guide isn’t an extensive resource for fantasy football league bylaws. We want you to know your league needs them. Here’s a site with an excellent example of league bylaws.


#4 – Choose Your Commissioner Wisely

You’re the person getting the league started, but are you best suited to serve as the commissioner? Here are more questions to ask yourself:

  • Can you handle conflict?
  • Can you address team owners about league violations?
  • Can you overturn flagrant trade deals?
  • Can you kick out a team owner?

If you answer “no” to any questions, consider someone else for commissioner. We’ve done everything in the UCFL except kick out a team owner, but we were close once. More on that later.

I served as commissioner for a couple of years, but my management style was too diplomatic.

Now the UCFL has a good balance. Dan is the commissioner (we call him The Sheriff), and I’m the league administrator. Translation – Dan doesn’t mind busting balls, and I’m a good organizer and computer guy.

Requirements for a Fantasy Football Commissioner

Trustworthy

This person has the power to reverse trade deals and has access to league settings. They also settle disputes. Choose wisely.

Tough

The sheriff lays down the law when sparks fly and people cry. This person needs tough skin and the strength to be decisive.

Tested and Tried

In other words, the commissioner has some fantasy football experience. A person with experience is an excellent resource to help newbies, and they know what to expect. But you may not have a seasoned player in your group. If not, trustworthiness and toughness are non-negotiables.

The commissioner must be willing to piss off one guy for the greater good. 

The Fantasy Football Bullrush

#5 – Create a Communication Channel

The day you decide to start a fantasy football league, create a communication channel. Your fantasy platform will have a message board and a chat, but you’ll want better for your league.

Your Communication Channel Will Serve Many Purposes

  • Convey important information: deadlines, meetings, decisions, clarifications, and beer specials.
  • Store your bylaws. Our platform, Discord, allows you to group conversational topics into different channels. Make one for your bylaws—more about Discord to follow.
  • Talk trash. Trash-talking is the number one reason to create a fantasy football league. A communication platform is your battleground.
  • Build relationships. Some of your league mates may not know each other. A communication platform is a place for everyone to get acquainted. Many of my league mates met in the league and are now friends. Some are business owners who swap services. Kendall (The Hexorcist) is my HVAC guy.
  • Keep everyone connected. February to September is a long off-season, and Discord allows us to stay connected all year.

Make Your Greatest Friends in Fantasy Football

Me, Dan, and Crystal tailgating in Kansas City at a Chiefs game
Me, Crystal, and Dan 1000 miles from home tailgating in Kansas City at a Chiefs game. I met Dan through fantasy football

We’ve evolved over 15 years. We started with a regular group text.

DO NOT USE GROUP TEXT!

I still suffer from PTSD thinking about the dark years we used group text messages. Greg and Andy debated the Civil War all day, every day. Group text is hell, a prison, at least. You can mute the conversation and run the risk of missing something vital. You also have to create a new group every time someone drops out of the league. Don’t use text messaging as your form of communication. Just say no.

We moved from text messaging to the app GroupMe, which was better.

GroupMe offered the following improvements:

  1. You can mute the everyday nonsense talk but get notifications when your name is mentioned.

  2. You can post videos.

  3. You can create polls. Some are fun nonsense polls like, “Do you wish Kendall would stop being a whiny bitch?” Or use polls to vote on essential league matters.

  4. You can leave the platform when you leave the league. Or the admin can boot you without having to create a new group.

  5. You can add new league members with ease.

GroupMe Poll

However, GroupMe lacks the organizational structure of Discord.

Why Use Discord When You Start a Fantasy Football League?

Versatile

Discord has video chat, voice chat, and text chat. Members can mute themselves with voice and video, or the moderator can mute them. Jump into a meeting room to have voice discussions with multiple members of your league.

Manageable

Create channels to group conversations by topic. Important league notices could get lost in the general chat room. Our general chat channel is a playground where Kendall and Bobby hate on each other all day.

Some of our Discord channels:

  • Chat – general nonsense channel.
  • Memes – some are pretty good. We want to find them again.
  • Trivia – we play trivia games on many Friday afternoons during the season. It’s usually me posting trivia questions to promote my stud players.
  • Food & drinks – usually pictures of the food we’re cooking, smoking, or grilling. Or places we’re eating, reviewing, and rating – a beneficial channel, indeed. Bobby frequently posts pictures of Appletinis he’s enjoying at trendy Charlotte hot spots. Fink says this channel is our most important one.
  • Trade block – post players you want to trade.
  • Fanduel – 5-6 of us play in a Fanduel group every week. We post the invitations here.
  • News – breaking player news.
  • Bets – lots of side bets happen every year in the UCFL. You’ll need a place to post and track them.
  • Trash talk videos – for your weekly head-to-head opponent. These videos are hysterical. Chris starts the season strong with trash talk videos until his fantasy team hits the skids by week 5.
  • Bylaws – as previously discussed. Store your bylaws here.
  • UCFL champs – where we track the history of all league winners.

Organizing is what you do before you do something so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.”

A. A. Milne

Functional

Give roles to members with permissions to do specific tasks. I’m the Admin, and Chris (Bud Knight) is our Communications Director. Only he and I can create channels, and there are specific channels, such as bylaws, only we can post, edit, and delete. Dan, our Commish, wants nothing to do with computer box things. Configure what you want in the settings.

Practical

Mute all conversations and only get notifications for mentions. We have an active group within our league who chat frequently, which is cool. The chatter facilitates relationship building. Check-in and out whenever you like. You can catch up at your leisure or ignore it completely. But keep your mention notifications enabled to see the important stuff.

Hysterical

Discord is the perfect environment to start a fun fantasy football league. Talk trash, conduct psychological warfare, post GIFS, videos, memes, and pictures, and do it in an organized, non-obtrusive way.

An efficient communication platform is the key to building a sustainable, successful league. Discord has been the best communication platform for the UCFL. Don’t let Discord intimidate you if you’re an older guy like me. Your kid can show you how to use it or check it out on Youtube.

image of appletini sitting on silver platter
Bob likes his appletinis

#6 – Play for Free or Play for Pay?

Should you play for money or play for free when you create your fantasy football league? The answer demands another question. What are your goals in starting a fantasy football league?

If they are to:

  • Build a long-lasting league of serious-minded players
  • Reduce year-over-year turnover
  • Have fun

Then charge an entry fee and play for cash prizes. Skin in the game keeps you in the game. League mates’ commitment levels often correlate to investment levels.

The UCFL has evolved on this issue over 15 years. The entry fee for the inaugural season was $20. We bumped it to $50, $100, and $150 along the way. The early increases were to make the game more interesting. We got more comfortable and confident in our abilities and wanted to play for more money.

The last raise was a couple of years ago to $200. We wanted to weed out anyone whose commitment level wasn’t on par with the most active players. The formula is simple:

formula for fantasy football fun - increase the number of active players
Formula for max fantasy football fun

Your results are relevant to the rewards. The bump to $200 shook out a couple of guys, and we filled their spots with Pete and Brad who are more involved.

$200 is a lot of money to pay, too much to deal with lazy league mates who are easy wins each week. The slackers cause a competitive imbalance which frustrates the active players. You don’t want to lose the good players, so you’ll have to protect your league diligently.

But the UCFL got to $200 over 15 years, not 15 minutes, and this is your first season. You’ll have to temper your expectations but remember my earlier advice. You’re building a foundation this year. You’ll be happier with eight who ante up than twelve free who barely show up.

Consider starting this season with a $25-50 entry fee. Of course, that depends on your socioeconomic circle. Your $25 could equal our $200.

How do you divvy up the money?


#7 – Payouts to Fantasy Football Winners

Once you’ve settled on an entry fee, decide on a payout structure. This decision could be a league vote. If $25 is your entry fee, make it winner-take-all or a 75/25 split between first and second place.

If you get the entry fee to $50, you have more options (in a 12-team league). You can pay down to third place.

1st – $400

2nd – $150

3rd – $50 (wins back entry fee)

Plan for the Slackers

Plan for waning late-season interest. What sucks is when teams get deep into the season and realize they’re out of the playoff picture. Some give up. Don’t invite them back next year, but you’ve got a problem here and now. Teams lying down give easy wins to teams fighting for the playoffs. Someone gets screwed. We’ve tried to solve this problem with a late-season carrot. With five weeks remaining in the regular season, we pay out $50 each week to the highest-scoring squad. Even if you suck, you can luck into a payoff.

Your payout structure with a 12-team, $50 entry fee, and 5-week incentive:

1st – $350

2nd – $125

5-weeks – $125 ($25 a week)

Our payouts last year were based on a $200 entry fee, 12-team league:

Total cash: $2400

Champ: $1400 (60%)

First loser: $500 (21%)

Third place: $200 (8.5%)

Highest scores weeks 9-14: $250 (10.5%)

The prizes amount to $2350. The other $50 pays for the live draft kit and nameplates for our championship belt and trophy—more on that to come.

Pot-splitting and Name-calling

As you can see, we’re top-heavy to the champion. But over the last three years, the teams in the championship game have agreed to split the total pot. I decided to split with Fink in 2019. Prepare for a chorus of taunts and name-calling if you publicize the arrangement. Dan and Kendall are the loudest antagonizers in the UCFL about pot-splitting. Then Kendall lucked into the big game last year with Bobby. When Bobby leaked the news that he and Kendall agreed to split, Kendall cried his wife made him do it.


#8 – The WWF Style Belt and Other Bling

Big Dan 2018 champ holding the UCFL belt and trophy
Big Dan, UCFL Champ 2018

We like our rewards. And we like bling. Don’t start a fantasy football league without some hardware. We have a championship trophy that’s passed around, and the winner takes it home every year. We order a bronze nameplate with the champ’s name and year attached to the trophy. The commissioner presents the trophy to the winner at the next live draft, who keeps it until the next one. God only knows what the winner does with the trophy.

The Nature Boy Wants Our Fantasy Football Belt

We upped the ante a few years ago and added a WWF-style gold belt to the winner’s stash. The legit, full-size belt cost $250, which we paid for with a one-time special league assessment. Like the trophy, we pass the belt around and present it to the champion each year. The belt has places to attach bronze nameplates with the champion’s name. Kendall, who’s never won it, says he’s selling it at the pawnshop if he does. We ordered our gold belt and order the nameplates each year from Fantasy Jocks.

So, the fantasy football league champ makes out like a bandit. He takes home the lion’s share of the cash, the trophy, and the gold belt that would make Nature Boy Ric Flair envious. As I said, we like our rewards. Your folks will, too. Here are 5 reasons your league should play for a championship belt.

Fink the Stink suggested our league fees include $50 for a ring that the champ keeps. The idea is currently in our suggestion box for 2022.

Weekly Reward for Highest Fantasy Score

Finally, we switched to a Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB) instead of the waiver wire to add free agents. More about that later. Each team owner receives $100 FAAB at the beginning of the season (fantasy money, not real money) and uses it to bid on free agents in a weekly auction. We award the highest-scoring team of the week with an extra $10 FAAB. Yes, the rich keep getting richer. But we also contribute $1 FAAB, called the Biden Buck, to the lowest-scoring team of the week.

You can arrange it any way you like. We enjoy the extra spice the weekly $10 FAAB provides, and it helps late in the season as your budget dwindles.


#9 – Snake or Auction Draft?

Fantasy leagues draft their teams using a snake draft or auction draft format. We’ve done both, and I definitely have a preference, but I’ll explain both first and then give you my vote.

What is a Snake Draft?

In a snake draft, team owners take turns picking their players based on an order decided before the draft. You “snake” back and forth, up and down the draft board. You can determine the draft order any way you want. Check out this article from Fantasy Jocks for some interesting ways to determine your draft order. We usually drew names out of a hat.

The snake draft is orderly and straightforward. Make a pick and wait your turn for another one. Decide how much time to allow for each draft pick. If you’re drafting online, the fantasy platform, such as ESPN, may decide this for you. Keep in mind for a 12-team, 16-player roster, that’s 192 picks. At one minute per pick, your draft is over three hours. We’d allow more time for the early-round picks in our live drafts and put it on speed dial in the later rounds. You don’t need as much time to draft your bench players. We’d also take a break about halfway through to eat and regroup.

A snake draft is a good option for your first year.

What Is an Auction Draft?

An auction draft is high drama. It’s less orderly but more entrepreneurial and thrilling. You can draft any player you want as long as you have the money. Each team starts with $200 fantasy dollars and budgets their money to draft a full squad – starters and bench players. You can’t blow your wad on five players and then pick up the rest off waivers. Every owner must have at least $1 to bid on every roster spot. Here’s the formula:

Fantasy Auction Max Bid Formula

formula for max bid in fantasy football auction draft
Your max bid is your cash balance – # of empty roster spots + $1

For example, you have 16 total roster spots to fill with your $200. You’ve already picked six and have $100 remaining with ten spots to go.

$100 – 10 + 1 = $91 is the max bid on your next pick

If you bet the house on the next pick and go all-in with $91, you’re left with $1 for each of your remaining nine choices. Jbunc used a similar stars and scrubs strategy in 2018 and won 12 games in a row on his way to the championship game. Then he ran into the man, 4x UCFL champ Big Dan, who carries a horseshoe up his nether regions.

Once the auction begins, team owners nominate football players, and the bidding starts. We have a nomination order to help control the chaos, but I don’t know if the order has a strategic advantage.

An auction draft is wild. You study players and auction values for hours and build a shortlist of players to target. Then the auction bell rings, and as the saying goes, “Man plans, God laughs.” Your target players get bid to the stratosphere while you’re a deer in headlights.

Man plans, God laughs.

Old Yiddish Proverb

Draft Stories from Around the UCFL

Chris’ favorite UCFL story is from our 2019 draft. I drafted Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. I put Luck’s name on the draft board while Bobby snickered. He held up his Twitter machine and announced that Luck retired 30 seconds earlier. There are no take-backs. Luck’s name stayed on the board, and I had to waste a pick on another QB.

Kendall’s favorite UCFL story is from our 2021 draft. Unfortunately, it also involves me. I drafted Baltimore Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins for $40. Then Dan laughed as he won the bid for Dobbins’ backup, Gus Edwards. Dobbins suffered a season-ending injury a few minutes before I drafted him. I watched my $40 fly away in the wind because of a stupid preseason game.

The takeaway here: always have Twitter up reporting live action before you make bids. I’ll learn that lesson one day.

The Best Draft Format for You

We did a snake draft for the first 11 years and an auction draft for the last four. We had some skeptics about going to an auction draft, but there are no skeptics now. Everyone loves the excitement and pace of the auction draft. A snake draft is more straightforward and may be the right call for your rookie season. Or you could dive headlong into the deep waters of an auction draft.

Once your league decides on a draft format, the next choice is a live, in-person draft, or an online draft?


#10 – Live In-person Draft or Online Draft

Plan a Massive, Blowout In-person Draft Party

UCFL draft day golf outing 2017 - Greg lines up his put while Kendall and Dan look on
UCFL draft day golf outing 2017

Always opt for a live, in-person draft, if possible. A key factor in the greatness of the UCFL is our legendary live, in-person draft parties. Despite many other changes through the years, the draft party is non-negotiable. If you can’t make the draft, you don’t play. League mates anticipate this late August/early September Saturday afternoon like kids do Christmas. Big Dan starts planning the draft party menu in May. It’s a festive occasion, and we often draw a few party crashers who come for the food and spectacle. How can you do it?

The 12-Step Plan to Hosting a Legendary Live, In-person Fantasy Draft

  1. Host it on a Saturday. Give everyone a couple of dates and select one close to the first regular-season game. It’s brutal to draft too early and watch preseason injuries decimate your roster.

  2. Set a party start time and a draft start time. The draft start time isn’t flexible, but there shouldn’t be a wide gap between the two times. You don’t want to allow too much time for drinking before the draft starts.

  3. Warn your family you’ll be home late. It’s your Christmas Day, after all.

  4. Plan for a lot of food. Take up a collection for pizza, wings, sandwiches, BBQ, whatever your poison. Or require everyone to bring something like a good ol’ Baptist covered dish dinner. But lots of food. You’ll be snacking and grazing for hours.

  5. BYOB or BYOWhatever. Our league supplies a couple of cases of water but otherwise, YOYO.

  6. Plan for breaks. The natives will get restless and start breaking on their own, slowing down the draft. Last year we had one guy who was never around when it was his turn to nominate a player. But it’s hard to plan for this guy. You’ll probably have yours, too.

  7. Cover the ground rules. Go over the rules and any logistics before you ring the draft bell. When are the breaks? Where are the bathrooms? How much time between picks? Does Uber serve the party location? What’s the draft order?

  8. Think about the weather. Draft day will be late August/early September, and it will be hot with a chance of thunderstorms. Host the draft inside or in a garage with giant fans. Local restaurants and bars may host your draft party since you’ll buy their food and drinks.

  9. Find a volunteer to be the timekeeper in a snake draft. This person starts and stops the clock for the time each team owner has to put a player’s name on the draft board. You have 192 picks to make. Keep the draft moving. Sixty seconds is enough time, and cut that in half for the last third of the draft. A snake draft gives each team owner plenty of time between picks to choose.

  10. Recruit an auctioneer if you’re doing an auction draft. Of course, not a professional auctioneer unless you happen to know one. An auctioneer keeps the action moving while allowing every team owner to focus on the draft. Find someone with personality. A knowledge of football is helpful but not required. Pay this person in free food and drink (but try to keep them sober).

  11. Recruit an accountant for an auction draft. Again, not a real one but someone who tracks every team owner’s max bid. They stand upfront with a dry-erase board with every team owner’s name and current max bid. Posting the max bids on the dry-erase board allows team owners to focus on the draft. Pause the draft when a team owner and the accountant are at odds on the max bid. Let them sort it out. Someone who gets away with overbidding on a player screws up the draft. My son was 12-years old when he took on the job of league draft accountant. League mates challenged him a few times on the max bid. My son was right 95% of the time. Of course, he wasn’t drinking.

  12. Buy a fantasy football draft kit. The kit includes a giant draft board, player stickers, and a permanent marker. You can buy the kits on Amazon. Some advice from personal experience:
  • Don’t buy a fabric draft board that touts itself as reusable every year to save money. I made this mistake last year, and half the stickers came off the board due to the late August humidity. You can’t imagine the ensuing chaos. Plan to buy a new board every year.
  • Buy a kit that has the player’s bye week on the stickers. It’s helpful not to draft a team full of byes in week 8.
  • Ensure the draft board has enough rows for your roster size and enough columns for your league size.
  • Buy a kit with stickers big enough to see from a distance.

Controlling the Chaos at Your Fantasy Football Draft Party

a wet cat

A large part of pulling off a legendary live, in-person draft party is controlling the chaos. Our last draft was a crapshow because we violated steps 2 and 4 above. Dan held the draft at his lake house and invited everyone to come up early for a day on the lake before the draft. A few of the guys were hammered by draft time.

We learned the formula for a disastrous draft =

6 drunk league mates + 1 drunk auctioneer + 1 malfunctioning fabric draft board.

The result was like herding wet cats in a bathtub.

Online Fantasy Football Drafts, the Necessary Evil

An online draft might be your only option as you assemble your fantasy football league. Can you find 10-12 local people? Or you have great contacts across the country, and fantasy football is a perfect way to connect. An online draft is permissible under these circumstances. Better to draft online than forego fantasy football.

I’ve played in multiple leagues a few times and participated in online drafts. Online drafts are easy, quick, and efficient. Most usually last an hour or so. You pick a date and time and hope everyone shows up. Leaguemates can set their teams to auto-draft and not show up, which isn’t fun. It’s one strike against them.


#11 – Fantasy Football Scoring Systems

The scoring system is a divisive topic when starting a fantasy football league. The decision is crucial because it determines how team owners draft their players.

Do quarterbacks get 4 points or 6 points for throwing touchdowns? The answer determines how high you value QBs.

Are you playing standard, points-per-reception (PPR), or half-PPR? This decision has a significant impact on the value of running backs.

But let’s back up a bit and discuss what standard, PPR, and half-PPR are, which will explain why they can be so divisive.

Standard Scoring in Fantasy Football

Standard scoring is for your fantasy football purists – the Big Dans of the world. Quarterback passing touchdowns are 4 or 6 points (you decide). Running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends get 6 points for TDs plus points for yardage but no points for receptions. Big Dan argues it’s their damn job to catch the ball. Why give bonus points for doing their jobs? It’s like giving an employee a daily cash bonus for showing up to work on time. As a result, pass-catching running backs aren’t as valuable in standard scoring.

Running back Adrian Peterson as a Detroit Lion
All Day Adrian Peterson after his glory days

Point-Per-Reception Scoring in Fantasy Football

PPR scoring, sometimes called full-PPR, would drive Dan over the edge. PPR gives all pass-catchers, including running backs, one fantasy point for every reception. You know the silly shuffle passes Pat Mahomes does behind the line of scrimmage? Yep, the receiver or running back gets a point for catching it. A player catches a shuffle pass behind the line that travels 12-inches, loses 9-yards, and still nets positive points. It’s only .1 point, but still positive for a 9-yard loss. If yards are like corporate profits, why should a team profit from losing them? A running back in this same play in standard scoring loses .9 points.

Do you see why football purists like Dan hate full point-per-reception scoring? They want fantasy football to resemble real football. Real football players don’t get rewarded for losing yards.

Half Point-Per-Reception Scoring in Fantasy Football

Half-PPR is your moderate, middle-of-the-road candidate who seeks to please all parties. The purists bend slightly, and the liberal high rollers cede half a point. Imagine the love child of Trump and Hillary. Half-PPR leagues are the industry standard now. Fanduel, the uber-popular daily fantasy sports site, uses half-PPR. The great UCFL, along with Big Dan, converted from standard to half-PPR a few years ago, and we enjoy it. The half-point is a dash of extra spice in the gumbo.

As you can see, the decision about your scoring system is both important and divisive. A PPR or half-PPR league will value pass-catching running backs higher. For example, in 2021, Fournette finished with 186.6 fantasy points in standard scoring. This score placed him as the 11th-highest-scoring running back. Yet, in PPR scoring, he finished at #6 with 255.6 points. The difference was his 69 receptions. In half-PPR, Fournette finished in the 7th spot.

If Lenny has a similar role in 2022, he should be high in the draft rankings for PPR and half-PPR leagues. My recommendation is half-PPR. Half-PPR opens up more viable players for your starting lineups. How can you not appreciate a Trump/Hillary love child?


#12 – Number of Bench Spots

Your fantasy football platform may default to seven bench spots. Leave it there. They are the experts and know what they’re doing. In our glorious 15 years, the UCFL has done it all. We’ve played with as few as four bench spots – Big Dan’s preference. And on top of that, we had roster restrictions, such as only two QBs allowed on the roster. We tried too hard to micromanage the idiots.

Then the Great Reformer Bobby came along in week 6 of 2017(more on that later) and started reforming. In 2018 we trashed the roster restrictions and bumped the bench spots to five and seven in 2019. The wheels of progress turn slow. However, Bobby said roster restrictions aren’t bad for a new league with new players for a year or two. This time keeps the league even while everyone learns how to play fantasy football.

Injured Reserve

One more note on bench spots – we have an Injured Reserve (IR) spot. You can move a player to the IR spot if the NFL officially designates the player as on the IR. Check your league settings. ESPN allows you to use the IR spot if the player is OUT. So, we have to watch out for violators.

We have another IR spot we use only if the player is out due to Covid-19. This is a UCFL rule, not ESPN, so we have to self-police it. Occasionally we’ve found a nimrod or two who’ll use the Covid-19 spot for a non-Covid injury. We have the Covid-19 rule and the penalties for violation in our bylaws. I’ve copied/pasted it from our bylaws channel in Discord:

New IR Covid spot in 2020. This spot MUST only be used for a player already on your team who is officially NFL out due to Covid.

  • If you’re caught with a non-Covid player in that spot before games start and before waivers, the admin reverses it and notifies you.

  • If you win a player off waivers and had to make room for him by putting a non-Covid player in that spot, the admin reverses it, offers the player to the next highest bidder, and penalizes the offending player $25 FAAB.

  • If the rule is violated and games begin, and it’s caught, you take an automatic L, it’s all reversed, but you lose any FAAB money you used to win a player you could only acquire by moving a non-Covid player to that spot.

We don’t play around. Every person puts $200 cold, hard cash on the line, and we compete for a $1400 pot. We have more fun than grandma on bingo night, but slackers in our league catch unholy hell. As I’ve said before, part of starting a fantasy football league is learning how to control the chaos.


#13 – Handling Conflicts

Comprehensive bylaws and clear written expectations are the best ways to handle conflict. Usually, it takes years of screwing up to develop good bylaws and expectations. But you’re learning from the mistakes of the UCFL. When conflicts arise, point back to the bylaws. You can say, “Hey, we told you what we expected, and you clearly didn’t live up to these standards.”

But for years, we didn’t have bylaws, and we had a few issues. Here are some of our stories.

UCFL Stories of Conflict, Chaos, and Criminal Activity

Leave It to the New Guys to Stir Up Trouble

One year two new guys made a trade between tight end Charles Clay and running back Leonard Fournette. It already sounds stupid, trading a tight end for a running back, but it’s worse. Clay was never a top tight end in the league, and at the time, he was on injured reserve. And Fournette was a top 3 running back in the NFL.

The egregious trade blew up our group chat and it didn’t help that these league mates were buddies. Everyone cried foul and demanded justice, but we don’t vote on trades. Only the commissioner can overturn a trade deal, and I was the commissioner that year. I should’ve gone into the league settings and reversed the trade, no questions asked. Boom, done! Instead, I called the winning party in the deal and convinced him to reverse the trade. This event robbed me of a valuable hour of my life because two grown-ass men tried to be cute. Sometimes diplomacy is over-rated.

Your league has to decide about voting on trades. We choose not to because we love a free market society and trust adults to act like adults. But when they don’t, the commissioner can take action. However, the trade has to be outrageous. Nine people should be blowing up the commissioner’s name in Discord mentions. If the trade doesn’t generate universal heat, then let it go. Not all trades are equal. Some people get ripped off because they’re not as sharp as the next guy. The free market rewards the most informed and best-prepared. Everyone has access to the same information. A commissioner should only reverse trades that are obvious acts of collusion and treachery. Justin routinely pillaged Chris over chicken wings at Chex.

Chris and Justin talking fantasy football trades over lunch
Justin explains to Chris why his trade over is a great deal while trying to hide his smile
a cartoon drawing of a mad hornet with a quote, 'the time I stirred up a hornet's nest"

The Time I Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

One year I was commissioner, and a league mate called me on Sunday morning, about an hour before NFL kickoff. He said he couldn’t get into the league website to make a roster change because of his internet. He asked if I would do it for him. Everything in me said no, but I did it anyway. A few guys weren’t happy, and I understand why. This guy had all week to make a roster change, yet he waited until the last minute and wanted me to bail him out. The commissioner must be willing to piss off one guy for the greater good. But if we had bylaws to address this issue, it would’ve been much simpler.

Bobby in a hazmat suit

Bobby the Great Reformer Arrives

Let’s return to how the Great Reformer Bobby joined our league in week 6 of the 2017 fantasy season. Our reigning champ and founder of the great UCFL got frustrated and quit. We had two-thirds of the season to go with a vacant spot. This was the first time a team owner quit midseason in the league’s ten-year history. We didn’t have a plan for it(still don’t, really).

But we scrambled, and Chris convinced his friend, Bobby, to take over a roster so awful he had to manage it while wearing a hazmat suit. Bobby played for free since the departing owner had already paid the entry fee. He executed a couple of landmark trades and won the league championship, a remarkable feat. Bobby would also want me to mention he’s our reigning 2021 champ.</p><span style=”font-size: revert; color: initial;”>The lesson in this example is to expect anything. Have a couple of alternates who are willing to jump in if necessary

Kendall recording a trash talk video

The Hexman Blow Up

The only other major conflict we’ve experienced was at the end of the 2020 season. Go figure. 2020, right? Every year we have a toilet bowl (loser’s bracket) for the six teams that didn’t make it to the big boy’s tournament. These teams compete for a cash prize. In 2020 after the first round of the toilet bowl, Jason eliminated Kendall. Then Kendall realized that ESPN didn’t have the loser’s bracket set like we usually have it. As a result, he and Jason shouldn’t have played each other. Kendall would’ve advanced if the bracket had been right, and Jason wouldn’t have.

Kendall wanted us to reverse the results, and he had some minor support among other league mates. But our Sheriff, Big Dan, ruled that ESPN posted the brackets well before the game. Had anyone caught the mistake then, we would’ve fixed the bracket. We weren’t changing the results after the fact. It would be unfair to Jason and other toilet bowl participants. Kendall blew up and eventually settled down because he knew Dan didn’t have a hidden agenda to screw him. Remember, the commissioner has to be willing to piss off one guy for the greater good of the league.

We’re all glad this conflict ended amicably. The UCFL wouldn’t be the same without the Hexman.


Takeaways To Handling Conflicts In Your Fantasy League:

  • Be diligent about choosing the right commissioner (#4)
  • Create good bylaws and expectations
  • Know that things will happen not addressed in your bylaws
  • Exercise decisiveness grounded in fairness
  • Choose the greater good of the league over any one person

Every league mate should understand they have a voice in shaping up the league. They can help create the bylaws, set expectations, and play a part in future changes. It’s hard for anyone to gripe about a club they help create.

Usually, it takes years of screwing up to develop good bylaws and expectations. But you’re learning from the mistakes of the UCFL.

The Fantasy Football Bullrush

#14 – FAAB or Waiver Wire for Picking Up Free-Agents

As a reminder, FAAB stands for Free Agent Acquisition Budget. Free agents are NFL players not rostered by you or your league mates. Half of fantasy football success is determined by how well you manage the free-agent pool. You add players from free agency through an auction process or the waiver wire. Your league decides before the season begins which method you’ll use.

FAAB and the waiver wire process are very different processes. With FAAB, you have a chance to pick up any free agent you want through the auction. Be the highest bidder; get your man. But you don’t have unlimited funds like Elon Musk. You have a budget called FAAB. Team owners usually start the season with $100 FAAB, which has to last all season.

With the waiver process, there’s an order to claim players. You have to wait your turn. The waiver order is determined in one of two ways and rotates. If an unclaimed player becomes the hot surprise of the year and you’re at the bottom of the waiver order for the week, forget about it. We used the waiver wire until we adopted the auction draft a few years ago, and then we switched to FAAB. An auction draft and FAAB don’t have to go hand-in-hand, but it makes sense.

We prefer FAAB because of the excitement of knowing you have a chance to get any player you want. Playing with FAAB also allows us to offer the weekly highest score bonus of $10 FAAB. The weekly prize is a tasty carrot if you’ve run through your FAAB as the Kardashians do cash.


#15 – Weekly Fanduel Challenges

fanduel matchup

You’ve already got the gang together, so why not spice it up and play in weekly Fanduel challenges? Five to six of us play in a private tournament every week with a $5 buy-in, and the winner takes all. It’s exciting to draft a new team every week, and it’s a fun way to leverage the football knowledge you’ve acquired. A league mate who’s not doing well in your standings can start over each week and win some cash in Fanduel.

You can also include the folks who wanted to play in your fantasy league but didn’t make the 12-team cut. This is a great way to keep your alternates engaged. You may need them if league mates don’t return next season.

The weekly Fanduel challenges are one more element in building a robust, interactive, and fun fantasy football league.

If you want to sign up, here’s a Fanduel referral link. Once you’ve signed up, get your own referral link and send it to your league mates.


The Final Drive

There it is – Your Best Damn Guide On How To Start A Fantasy Football League. I’ve told you everything I’ve learned over 15 years of playing, commissioning, and administering. I also sought the wisdom of the crowd and shared insights offered by my league mates. You’ve learned there will be wrinkles to sort out and knuckleheads to contend with, but I hope you’re excited about starting your own fantasy football league.

Playing fantasy football has been the most fun I’ve legally had in my adult life. I’ve made great friends I wouldn’t have met otherwise. We’ve had lawyers, business owners, tradesmen, tech guys, and office guys. We even had a girl for a couple of years. She was better than most of the guys. We even have Kendall, the Hexorcist, who recently claimed he’s the best thing to ever happen to the UCFL. Debatable.

Fantasy football also opens up the world to you as an inroad to conversations. Over 40 million people in the United States play fantasy football. The odds are decent that you can talk to most people about fantasy football, if nothing else. With over 10% of the country’s population playing fantasy football, don’t let your wife make you feel silly about it.

Over 40 million people in the United States play fantasy football

ESPN

One final note. You’ll want to plan a couple of preseason meetings with your new league mates to nail down all of the details. If you’re local, nothing goes better with fantasy football discussions than beer and wings.

I hope you’ll play. Good luck! If you’re convinced to join or start a league, here are some lessons I learned from last year’s fantasy drafts.

Show a little team spirit!

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