How to Start a Fantasy Football League
written by Bob Harris ( The Fantasy League Report )

Draft Guide

So you say you're ready to put together your own Fantasy Football League? Ready to stop watching football in the same way you have in the past? Ready to give up your allegiances to your favorite teams for the good of your fantasy squad? You're ready to become a rabid football junkie, familiar with rosters and depth charts down to the third-string kicker? Well, it's about time!

If you're just begirming to make these decisions, perhaps you should read on. We'll provide you with some tips and advice that could make your league run more smoothly. We'll at least give you food for thought.

First of all, decide how many teams will comprise your league. The average around the country seems to be eight to 12 teams. It is possible to have more franchises in your league, just remember that the talent pool becomes fairly diluted when you go to more than 12 teams, especially at the quarterback position. Then decide if your league will be a "keeper" league or not. By that we mean, will the players on the rosters carry over from season to season, or will you start your teams from scratch each year? The "keeper" league makes for more strategy when drafting and trading (which can include future draft choices). The obvious benefit of the non-keeper leagues is that the best players are not tied up until eternity, but everybody has an equal chance of acqulring them at the begirming of each season. Some leagues use a combination, designating a certain number of players as keepers, then allowing the other players back into the draft pool at the beginning of each season.

The next decision on your agenda should be to appoint one of the owners as commissioner of the league. This is a critical decision. Many a league will fold due to a weak or lazy commissioner. Pick an owner who has some spare time and is willing to put some work into the league. Patience is a virtue in a commissioner; he should be prepared to keep track of roster transactions, team standings, and any payments due to the league from the franchise owners -- his power should be final. Some of the decisions the commissioner makes may not be popular, but our experience has been that someone needs to have the final word when controversy arises. And make no mistake about it, controversy will arise.

Okay, you've got a league and a commissioner...what's next? You'll want to decide how the team rosters will be filled. As a general rule of thumb, you'll want at least two reserves at most positions. A suggestion for a Fantasy team roster might be:

  • 3 Quarterbacks
  • 6 Runningbacks
  • 6 Wide receivers
  • 2 Tight ends
  • 2 Kickers
  • 2 Defense/Special teams

Starting a Fantasy League

A roster such as this would lend itself to a starting lineup of a quarterback, four running backs, four wide receivers, a tight end, a kicker, and a defense/special team. Of course, while you'll want to customize this to suit yourselves, we've found this to be a very popular roster setup. For your first season, it is a good idea to keepthings as simple as possible; however, keep in mind that many leaguesinclude individual defensive players, special teams players and, insome instances, even coaches.With roster size and configuration set, it's time to move along to ascoring system. Once again, we'll suggest keeping it simple the firstseason. Remember, the more complex the scoring system is, the inoretime spent keeping track of statistics. Because this usually fallsonto the shoulders of the commissioner, take into account the amount of time he or she has to spend on the league. We would suggest the following basic scoring system:

Touchdowns (run or pass)                      6 pts 
QBs with more than 300 yds. passing           1 pt 
RBs with more than 100 yds. rushing           1 pt
Receivers with more than 100 yds. receiving   1 pt
Field goals                                   3 pts
Field goals longer than 50 yds.               4 pts
Extra points kicked                           1 pt
Extra points (run or pass)                    2 pts

Of course, these are just guidelines and there is plenty of room forchange and improvisations. For instance, many leagues penalize poorplay with points taken away for interceptions, fumbles, and missedkicks. There is plenty of room to play around with scoring on yardage,with some leagues around the country going so far as to award tenthsof a point for every yard gained. Defensive scoring is also popular insome leagues, with points awarded for interceptions, fumbles recoveredand sacks. We stand by our first statement, however, and advisestarting slowly. With a year or so under your belt, you may have abetter feel for what direction your league wants to take. A complex scoring system may turn some owners off immediately if they find it is taking too much of their time to figure out what their team has done each week.

Your next point of order is to organize your draft. You need as many rounds as you have spots on your roster. Each team draws a number out of a hat to determine the draft order. A suggestion would be to use what we call the "serpentine selection order," where teams I through 12 draft in that order, then No.12 drafts first in the second round, followed by 11, 10, etc. Then No.1 drafts first in the third round. You may want to set a time lirnit for each pick, as people tend to take as much time as given to make a selection. A firm time limit will keep the draft running smoothly and get everybody at home by a decent hour. We've found that a little less time in the early rounds, when the talent is abundant, then bumping up the time in the later rounds works effectively. Stick by the time limits. Don't let those who are not prepared ruin everybody else's fun by dragging their feet trying to find that last wide receiver in the final round. Tensions will already be mounting from frustrated owners who have been unable to secure their favorite players. Don't let it get out of hand due to one or two guys who can't make up their minds. Pass them by if they exceed the allotted time. All passed picks can be made up after the regular draft.

Okay, you've got teams, a commissioner, a scoring system and rosters. It's time to make a schedule of games. If you have at least eight teams in your league, split them into divisions. Because the NFL season lasts 17 weeks, you'll want to leave enough games open at the end to have your Fantasy playoffs -- the final three weeks of the season make a good playoff time. Take the top three finishers in each division. The first week of your playoffs, have the number two and three teams play one another, giving each division winner the week off. The second week of playoffs; have the first week's winners go up against the division champions. The sixteenth week of the season can be reserved for your Fantasy Super Bowl. If you go with the divisional format, make sure that each team plays divisional opponents three times. That helps you avoid ties within the division. Fill in the rest of the season with non-divisional opponents.

Remember that your first year of Fantasy Football will be somewhat of a learning experience. Expect some glitches and controversy. You can use the benefit of some of our experience to alleviate some of these situations and make your first Fantasy season something to remember. The final tips to go on are as follows:

1. When drafting individual players, keep in mind their NFL teams' strength of schedule, the offensive system they use, and the overall potency of their offense. Obviously, tearns like the '49ers and the Broncos, which have traditionally high-scoring totals, are worth taking a close lool at.

2. It's usually considered good strategy to get a strong "combo," something along the lines of Steve Young and Jerry Rice. A good combo can make your Fantasy season a success.

3. While picking an outstanding quarterback early makes sense, keep in mind that only nine NFL quarterbacks made it though the entire season without injury last season. A good backup may be as important as a great starter.

4. Because scoring by running backs was down last season (as was overall scoring), try to get a strong back early. The difference between one of the top scoring backs and the rest of the pack may be enough to give you the edge over your competition. Some suggestions: Players like Emmitt Smith, Ricky Watters, Barry Sanders and Jerome Bettis will set your team apart.

5. Kickers will follow the scoring pattern of the team they play for. In other words, do your homework. Find the higher scoring teams and draft a kicker from one of those teams.

6. Make draft night sobriety a key element of your overall strategy. Just like dealings with the opposite sex, drafting is best done on as few beers as possible.

7. Don't feel like you need to draft your players from the entire spectrum of NFL teams. Let's face it, some teams just don't score a lot of points. And some teams are weak at certain positions. The Browns are not known for their great stable of runningbacks, the Bears are not strong at wide receiver. It could be wise to pick backups from other teams ahead of starters on these examples.

8. You might want to avoid allowing married couples to own separate teams. This would dispel any hints of collusion that invariably emanate from that type of arrangement.

9. Even though there will be only one bye week for each team this season, as opposed to two bye weeks in '93, keep an eye on the situation come draft day. It's a horrible feeling to realize that you only have one running back to start one week of the season just because you didn't pay attention to the byes.

10. BE PREPARED! The folks who win at Fantasy Football generally share a common trait: They are information junkies who keep up with what's going on in the NFL. Star early. Order your pre-season Fantasy "cheat sheets" -- the more you get your hands on, the better off you are. Have full team rosters with you at the draft (and don't share them with the competition). Make lists of the players you would take before you leave for your draft. Go 20 deep at each position. Keep your favorite Fantasy magazines with you at the draft. You never know when you may have to dig up some background on players in the later rounds.

There you have it, folks. Now is the time to make your preparations. Set up your league and get the ball rolling. Prepare yourself to enjoy football in a way you never have before. You've already taken the first step by buying this fine publication. Now you can join the millions who have found that Fantasy Football is more than just a's a way of life!

Bob Harris is with TFL, which produces the TFL Report Newsletter and the Flash Update Fax. Visit the TFL Report at

Published in Fantasy Football Pro Forecast 1994
Fantasy Sports Publications, Inc. 1994

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