Fantasy Football Rules

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Introducing both basic and advanced fantasy football rules for you to consider implementing in your fantasy league. Entertain yourself with the good, the bad, and the ugly (or intriguing) rules.

Without law, there is chaos. Rules were made to be broken. Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.

These are all famous quotes that you may have heard before. And whatever side of the fence you might sit on — a rule breaker or law abider — rules govern just about everything we do in life and require your attention.

In fantasy football, it’s no different. There are rules set up to form your league and ensure competitive balance and fair play. But if you’re one of those shysters who finds loopholes in rules and exploits them to your benefit, well … more power to you.

Although perception of rules is all relative to each individual, here are some of the good, bad, and ugly (or intriguing) fantasy football rules that you might run into while playing the game.

The Good

Institute a trade deadline prior to the playoff push: In fantasy sports, the temptation for teams to tank and collude with other owners to form a mega-team is all too real. Your league needs to have a trade deadline -- somewhere around Week 9, but open to your owners’ preferences -- that will prevent stockpiling and collusion.

Teams cannot trade the same player twice in one season: Another rule that protects against collusion, teams should not be able to trade the same player back and forth more than once in a season. Such a move is tantamount to “renting” a player and should be forbidden.

Draft a head coach: If you’re looking for ways to add dimension to your league’s scoring system without getting too outlandish, consider drafting a head coach. When that coach’s NFL team wins, you get points.

Use the serpentine draft order: Most standard fantasy football leagues use the serpentine draft order, but I’ve seen enough not use it in order to write about it. A serpentine draft order is one in which the draft order goes from A-Z in odd rounds and Z-A in even rounds (basically, reversing the draft order each round).

Draft complete offensive lines: Another way to fluff up your league’s scoring rules is to draft a complete NFL offensive line. And why not? Most leagues draft complete defenses. The way your offensive line can earn points is by how many rushing yards they help their NFL team generate, how few sacks they allow, etc.

Offer incentives and bonuses throughout the season: A lot of leagues distribute prize money to the first-, second-, and third-place finishers, which is fine at its face value. But I also like awarding money to the team that scores the most points (because, in theory, they truly have the “best” team). But one way to keep interest throughout the season is to award a weekly prize, which even the worst teams who have no shot at winning the championship can still attain.

Diversify kicker scoring to make them relevant: In the vast majority of fantasy football leagues, kickers have little value and are usually selected in the final rounds of drafts. This is not because they don’t score enough, rather, they’re all interchangeable and hardly separate themselves. Why not shake it up and create separation between the best kicker and the worst? Award bonus points for kickers that can hit longer field goals, subtract points for missed extra points and field goals, give points for touchbacks, etc. By creating separation between kickers, you inherently increase the value of the position and suddenly add a dimension of strategy on draft day.

Increase defensive scoring opportunities: The old adage “defenses win championships” should be amended with “...except in fantasy football leagues.” Why are defenses so valuable in real life but not in fantasy football? Bump up points for defenses and make them just as valuable as any other position.

Employ multiple flex positions: With the exception of allowing multiple quarterbacks (which you can read in “The Bad” section), kickers or defenses, your league should allow you the flexibility to play a variety of different lineups with two flex positions. This creates better competitive balance and increases draft and lineup strategy. If you miss out on some of the top running backs in the draft, you should be able to load up on receivers and tight ends and play those guys in the flex position. Similarly, if you wind up with little depth at wide receiver, having a strong running back position should allow you the flexibility at the two flex positions.

Charge money per player acquisition: Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Your opponent’s roster for Week 12 looks awfully different than the one he left with from your draft day party in August. And it’s drastically different because every week he hit the waiver wire and completely unloaded his roster in favor of what he considered “better” options. In fantasy football, this is called “streaming” -- which means selecting players on a weekly basis based on favorable matchups for the upcoming week. While the streaming strategy is not inherently bad -- who wouldn’t want players who get to play against the Browns, Jaguars, and 49ers each week? -- it strays far away from the “reality” aspect of team management and too far into the “fantasy” of the game. Why not at least charge owners money for every waiver move they make, which can be thrown into a pool and distributed with the prize money at the end of the season?

The Bad

Starting two quarterbacks: Really? I mean, seriously. I’m all for having flex positions (read about it in “The Good” section), but there is no such thing as having two quarterbacks on the field at the same time in the NFL, and thus, no fantasy football league that I participate in includes two quarterbacks standing side by side, both sticking their hands underneath the rear end of the center.

Commissioner wields power to veto trades: I’m a man of democratic principles, not dictatorship. I do not want my league’s commissioner -- even if it is me -- to have the power to rule with an iron fist and bang the gavel on any trade he might deem unfair. Yes, trades should be up for veto if they seem unfair, but they should be voted upon by all league owners and vetoed by a two-thirds or three-fourths majority.

Huge deductions for turnovers or poor play: I kind of contradict myself on this one because I mention the positives of unconventional scoring rules in both “The Good” and “The Ugly” sections of these rules, but you have to use your best judgement. I once played in a league that deducted the same amount of points for quarterback interceptions as it awarded for passing touchdowns. While someone can make the case for interceptions being huge, game-changing plays, that’s just not how I want to play fantasy football.

Points for “home-field advantage”: In one league in which I play, I grit my teeth and bear with the the rule we have in place that awards points to teams that have a “home” game. While I enjoy some level of “realism” in my fantasy sports, trying to recreate the homefield advantage in a fantasy setting is just a bit of a stretch.

Waiver Wire order assigned by worst record: To some extent, I can see the advantage of giving the worst teams the first opportunity at players on the waiver wire in order to give them the chance to get better and create more competitive balance. But on the other hand, why should they have the privilege of getting first crack at every player that hits the waiver wire? No, there should be a continuously scrolling list for the waiver wire order.

Eliminate last-place team from next year’s league: Also known as a “survivor” league, the concept behind this rule is that by instilling fear in owners that they might be kicked out of the league for a year if they finish in last place, they’re more likely to stay engaged in the league to the very end and keep the league as competitive as possible. I don’t like that idea and you’re likely to harbor a lot of resentment amongst friends and/or family with such a rule.

Automatic handcuffing of backup quarterbacks: While I agree with this concept for fantasy playoff leagues due to the lack of available quarterbacks and the short duration of the league, I don’t think teams should be able to draft a “team” quarterback. It adds a level of strategy that if a team’s star quarterback goes down, a different team can swoop in and pick up the backup and shift the balance of power in the league.

No waiver wire/all free agents: For leagues that do not use the waiver wire, they instead institute a free-for-all, 24/7 free agency period where it’s always first-come, first-serve. I don’t like this rule because in the real world, people have jobs and can’t monitor the league’s transaction wire all day. Maybe Joe Blow from your league lives in his mother’s basement and is up at 3:00 in the morning picking up the Browns’ fourth-string wide receiver who had 6 catches for 100 yards last week. Why should an owner like that be rewarded for being a loser?

Too deep, or too shallow roster benches: When setting your league rules, always keep the roster length to a reasonable limit. If your rosters are 18-20 players deep, you’ll never be able to find a suitable free agent available in the event of injury because those players will be stashed at the bottom of somebody else’s roster. On the flip side, if your rosters are only 10-12 players deep, you’ll be forced to cut a good player when someone is on a bye because you don’t have the room to add a free agent. Keep roster lengths to about 16 players.

No PPR and no fractional scoring leagues: Each one of these can be a separate rule, but I’m combining them both for the sake of saving space -- and because I’m in a league that is guilty of both. PPR (or point per reception) leagues are a must these days. In an era where offenses are pass-heavy, you need to reward receivers who play an integral role in their offenses by catching a lot of passes. And as for fractional scoring, if one of your players falls a yard short of a 10- or 20-yard threshold, why should they be penalized a full point for that. For instance, if one of your receivers has 19 yards and your opponent’s has 20 yards, why should that be a full-point difference? There’s barely a discrepancy. Instead, award 0.1 points per yard and then you have a difference of 1.9 points versus 2.0 points.

The Ugly (or Intriguing)

Allow trade window for counter offers: Why not spice up the trading in your league by allowing owners to negotiate better deals after a trade is completed? The way it works is, after two teams complete a trade and it passes the veto window, other owners can then offer a better deal to either of the original two teams and see if the original teams want to take the new offer instead.

Play against every team every week: Have you ever been victim of the “I had the absolute worst matchup of the week” syndrome? It goes something like this: you’re watching your team kick butt and light the fantasy world on fire. Your quarterback is playing out of his mind, your running back just scored his third touchdown of the week, and your receiver just surpassed the 10-catch mark. You’re headed for a “W”, right? Wrong. You may have scored the second-most points in the league that week, but you had the misfortune of playing the highest-scoring team. Doesn’t seem fair, does it? Why not play against every team in the league every week? That way, if you’re in a 12-team league and you scored the second-most points, you finish with a 10-1 record for the week because you beat all but one of the teams in your league.

Use a ping pong ball draft lottery to prevent tanking: If you are participating in a dynasty or keeper league and you don’t want your owners purposely tanking so that they can get a higher draft pick the following season, consider using a ping pong ball draft lottery to determine the order the following season. The way it works is, if you’re in a 12-team league, the team that finishes 12th will get 12 ping pong balls thrown into the raffle drum. The team that finishes first will receive just one ball. Then, the drum is spun and a ball will randomly be drawn to determine the draft order. This way, the bad teams still have the best odds of getting a high draft pick, but there is no guarantee they do. It is used by the NBA to help discourage tanking and it can help your league, too.

Institute punishment for owner who finishes last: While I’m against “survivor” leagues that kick the last-place team out of the league the following season, I do think there are ways to instill fear in owners from tanking the season. Maybe the loser has to host the draft the following season. Maybe he has to buy beer for everybody. Maybe he automatically gets the last pick. Maybe he has to dress as a clown and serve everybody food and drinks like a waiter. Whatever the case may be, pick something that is some form of punishment and instill it.

Use a hybrid auction-draft combination: The first time I heard of this strange rule, I was a little bit skeptical that such a thing would work, but we tried it once and it really did seem enjoyable. Some fantasy football owners like to draft players. Others like to auction players. Why not do both? You can start with a five-round auction. If you have 12 players in your league, that means 60 players would get auctioned off. After that period is over, you then switch to doing a draft. The draft order would be determined by available salary, with the team that has the most money available drafting first and the team that spent the most in the auction would draft last.

Use complex statistical ranking system instead of standings: All too often, the best team does not always win due to a number of unfortunate twists and turns. Be it weather, injuries, or just freak performances, the best fantasy football team in any given league can sometimes find itself somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of win percentage. Another unique rule to combat that element of luck is by using a statistical ranking system instead of pure win-loss standings. You can combine win percentage with total points scored, strength of schedule, player rankings, etc. You can get as nerdy as you want with it, but the more factors you employ, the more accurate the rankings are likely to be in determining the best teams.

Award compensatory draft picks in dynasty leagues to compensate injuries: In recent years, there have been several high profile players that have gone down with injury early in the season. And if you were one of the unfortunate souls to draft said players, you likely kissed your championship aspirations goodbye. But if you are in a dynasty league, you might consider giving relief to those teams who suffered catastrophic injuries. For example, maybe you award an extra third-round pick to a team who lost its first-round pick the prior year for at least six games. Maybe you give a seventh-round pick if a team lost its third- or fourth-round pick the previous year for more than six games. You can play around with the formula however you want, but in essence it gives a morale boost to the teams who had to suffer through a painfully disappointing and boring season the year prior.

Radicalize scoring system to make all positions about equal value: I’m a traditionalist, so I will never abandon the kicker position as some leagues are now doing out there. But in most fantasy drafts, smart owners will wait til the last few rounds to take their kickers. And why? Because kickers are interchangeable and dispensable. Likewise, defenses are usually taken in the mid-to-late rounds. Only a few quarterbacks and tight ends are taken early. What do you see in the first three rounds? An avalanche of running backs and wide receivers come flying off the board. One novel idea is to tweak the scoring rules in a manner that puts the best quarterback on par with the best running back, wide receiver, tight end, kicker and defense. Could you imagine a kicker being taken in the first round (if you’re a Raiders fan, of course you can)? It seems outlandish, but if you tweak the scoring rules enough, it could actually be good strategy.

Institute a college feeder system: For the really ambitious fantasy owners out there, instead of drafting rookies onto your active roster each year, why not consider having a separate college football draft immediately after the bowl season? It’ll give you something fun to do in the dog days of winter and it’ll create a farm system (or feeder system) from which you can pull when you’re ready. Basically, you draft any college player you want who is not already in one of your team’s farm system. Then, when they declare for the draft and get signed by an NFL team, you then have to make the decision whether you activate them to your active roster, or you cut them and they become free agents.

Combine daily/weekly fantasy sports with head-to-head leagues: Some fantasy owners really enjoy the latest craze of daily, or -- in the case of football -- weekly fantasy leagues. You get to select a whole new lineup each week so you aren’t stuck with an underperforming roster for 13 weeks. Other fantasy owners prefer the traditional league types where you draft a team in August and play a different opponent each week throughout the season. Why not combine both concepts? You still create a schedule where you compete against one other owner each week of your season, but now you get the fun of selecting a whole new team each week.