OpinionSeptember 5, 2010

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How to be a Successful Commissioner


Every successful fantasy league has one thing in common: a solid and confident commissioner. If you are the commissioner of your league, are interested in becoming one, or are just curious as to what goes on “behind the curtain”, then this article is for you.

Additionally, please check out the “Commissioner’s Corner” forum here at the Café for more information, resources, help, and advice.

Putting together an “ABC’s of the Commissioner” was difficult; I got to the letter “Q” and was stuck. So, I’ll stick with the letter “C”, as in commissioner. At the end of the article, I will add a few examples of what I do as the commissioner of my fantasy league.

Constitution - The rules of your league should be made available to all league participants prior to the draft. They should be made available upon request. Hand it out in person at the draft, e-mail it to everyone, post it on the league’s website, etc. The constitution should not be set in stone; when needed it should be changed and adjusted. Most importantly, the method for how and when it is changed should also be part of the constitution.

Change - As discussed above, the constitution will change. Other aspects of the league, including league members and the website you use to host the league may also change over time. The commissioner should lead the way through these changes and, in some cases, should be ahead of the curve. If you are a stagnant commissioner afraid to adapt, then you run the risk of having a league that never advances and falls behind. One important aspect to be aware of is the ever-changing technology in our lives, and how this could positively or negatively affect a fantasy league.

Communication – This is key in everything from work, relationships, and fantasy leagues. From the commissioner’s perspective, proper (and sometimes repeated) communication is key. Importantly, and often-overlooked, is the method of communication. For instance, every league member does things differently. Some may check their e-mail more often than others and some may check the message boards while others may not know where it is. Find out what works best for your league. Often, sending the same exact message via e-mail and the message board is fine. For league-member-to-league-member, communication it is helpful to pass out a contact sheet to all league members on draft day. Have everyone fill out a form with his or her preferred method of communication (i.e. cell phone, text, e-mail, etc.) and then distribute that form to everyone. This way, all members know how to contact each other.

Clarity - Make sure everything you do (from the constitution, making changes, communications, etc.) is clear and concise. If you can say something in 5 words, don’t use 6. (In other words: Make sure you do the opposite of what this article looks like)

Connections - If you are running a live draft (i.e. in person) at someone’s house, the library, or at a bar, it is your job as commissioner (or someone else’s if you designate that job) to make sure that there are enough connections for everyone’s laptops, internet devices, etc. Make sure you have enough power outlets, internet connectivity, etc.

Committee - Decide in advance if you will be the authority for the league or if you will run the league by committee. This includes deciding on rule changes, questionable, and the date and location of the draft.

Consistency - If you make a decision (say, on a veto of a trade) for one reason, make sure you are consistent when that issue comes up again whether it is next week or years from now. You must be as un-biased and impartial as possible when making decisions. Most decisions should be made after saying something like “According to our Constitution…” and if it doesn’t make sure that you put that new issue into the next version of the Constitution.

Coffee Beans – If your league requires an entry fee (say, 10 coffee beans) make sure you understand when coffee beans must be collected. If someone is late in providing their coffee beans, make sure you are consistent in your response to that situation. Make sure that the league knows who is holding the coffee beans for safe-keeping over the season. Finally, and most importantly, make sure that everyone knows how the coffee beans will be re-distributed at the end of the season.

Confidentiality - If someone asks you something or tells you something that seems private (i.e. “I think Mr. Joe is cheating”) then you must keep that confidential when exploring the issue.

Compassion - We are all human beings. If someone can’t make a draft for some reason you should be able to adapt. If someone can’t part with coffee beans, you should be able to adapt. As a commissioner, you should be clear, concise, and strong-willed with a touch of heart mixed in.

Crossing The Line - If you are a commissioner of a league there is a strong chance that you are a member of that league as well. Don’t cross the line, so to speak, by taking advantage of rules, decisions, private conversations, etc. as commissioner when dealing with your team.

These are just some examples from SKIP’s league…

Constitution – The rules are clear and concise. I e-mail them to everyone whenever there is any change (with the version and date clearly marked at the top of every page). I also hand them out at the draft.

Change – Anytime someone suggests something during the year (i.e. rule change) I write it down. Even though they are often discussed and argued about during the year we rarely make in-season rule changes. At the end of the season I send out an e-mail with all of the suggestions over the year and we spend the off-season deciding what to change or leave alone.

Communication – I used to post all messages (i.e. “Don’t forget the trade deadline is next week”) on the league’s message board. One irate league-member called me after the trade deadline thinking he could make a trade. I found out that he didn’t even know the message board exists. Now, I send the same message out via e-mail, message board, and a social networking website that most are part of… the same exact message, at the same exact time, to everyone.

Committee – I make the decisions after hearing from the league; no votes on anything. After a decade, this has worked better than voting: Simple majority or two-thirds? Do you have to hunt down voters? What if people are away at the time of the vote? Has voting over the years caused animosity towards someone? If you have a history of being reasonable, understanding, and co-operative then your league will appreciate a strong commissioner.

Coffee Beans – The draft is always held at someone’s house (every year for the past decade). At the draft we all put the coffee beans into a coffee jar (it is literally a coffee jar). At next year’s draft we distribute last year’s coffee beans.

Compassion – We have one league member who is a tax accountant and can never make the baseball draft. Some league members want him kicked out because he doesn’t make the draft in person. In truth, this accountant loves the league, loves baseball, and loves the rest of the league members. Why kick someone like that out of your league? We deal with the situation by getting a list of players from him prior to the draft. This list is known to everyone so one person is not privy to this sensitive information by themselves. He doesn’t care who he gets on his team, as long as he gets a team.

I have been participating in fantasy sports since the good old days (paper, pencil, box scores in newspapers, etc.). Basketball and baseball are my favorites though I've dabbled (without success) in football and hockey. You name it, I've done it (standard/custom, serpentine/auction, live/computer/message board, public/private/winners, etc.).
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