21 tips for starting a dynasty league (or keeper league)

Are you starting a dynasty or keeper league for fantasy football? Looking for some tips for a successful operation? Here are some suggestions for a smooth flight.

Tip 1: Keep your keeper/dynasty league size to 10 or 12 teams
When starting a dynasty league, the first draft is of the utmost importance. One bad draft could take you years to dig out of. For that reason — and many others — it’s generally a good idea to keep your league size on the smaller end so that there is more talent for a bad team to acquire to try to dig itself out of a hole.

Tip 2: Don’t invite owners who perpetually have full calendars
This is a good rule of thumb for every type of league, but it’s especially important for year-round leagues like keeper and dynasty. You don’t want to have an owner who is difficult to get ahold of, makes it near impossible for you to schedule a draft date, or won’t show up on time or respond to league correspondence in a timely fashion.

Tip 3: Dorks make good dynasty league owners
Do you want a super helpful tip that will help you run a successful keeper or dynasty league? Find yourself some major dorks. All fantasy owners have some level of dorkdom. But the really nerdy ones are those that don’t have much of a social life, thus fantasy football will be at the top of their minds nearly year-round.

Tip 4: Single men are often good dynasty league owners
Walking down the aisle doesn’t necessarily mean a death-sentence for fantasy owners. It just means there is one more hurdle to overcome to run an unencumbered league. When you’re married, you have to think in terms of “we” instead of “me.” That means checking with the wife if she signed you guys up for a couples retreat during draft weekend in August.

Tip 5: Make owners pay the league entry fee two years in advance
The last thing you want to have happen is owners quit after one or two seasons in your dynasty league. You want owners who are in it for the long haul. By making your owners pay for two full seasons, they have incentive to remain in the league each offseason because they’ve already spent the money for the following year.

Tip 6: Recruit a third-party commissioner to run your league
I’ve been the commissioner of many leagues in the past while simultaneously owning a team. It’s sometimes a pain in the ass, I’ll be honest. But aside from the extra work involved, you don’t want your commissioner to have conflicting interests. Even a commissioner who is honorable, which I like to think I am, shouldn’t have to pull double duty.

Tip 7: Discuss rule changes at beginning of each offseason
Giving your league’s owners a vote in your league’s rules matters. It gives them a sense of ownership in the league, not just ownership in their teams. By holding offseason meetings to discuss rules, it ensures your league is a year-round venture and helps to keep your owners engaged and interested.

Tip 8: Have a salary cap league using auction results as salaries
Auctions are more intricate and fun than standard drafts. Owners have to strategize whether to load up on a few stars or spend evenly for depth. Additionally, in a dynasty league, the auction prices on players can be their salaries and ensures that owners can’t stockpile too much talent, thus making the league unbalanced.

Tip 9: Split player selection between draft and auction
How do you decide between a draft and auction if you enjoy both? Why not do both? I’d recommend you have a three- or four-round rookie draft each offseason followed by a veterans-only auction to fill out your rosters. It provides the best of both worlds.

Tip 10: Have deep benches and/or practice squads
Some leagues like to have smaller benches so that there are more free agents available during the season. For a more rich dynasty experience, I’d recommend having deeper benches or implementing a practice squad. Then, if some of your players get hurt or struggle, you have to rely on your depth to pull you out of it.

Tip 11: Start small and add an additional keeper each year
If you are thinking about taking the plunge and starting a keeper league, but you’re apprehensive about how it might go, why not start small? Begin by limiting your keepers to just three players after Year 1, four after Year 2, five after Year 3, and so on. It’ll give you a chance to see if you have the right owners for this type of league.

Tip 12: Implement a pseudo “expansion” draft to alleviate deserted teams
What happens if you have an owner who completely tanks a team and then deserts it? Finding a replacement owner for that team might be difficult. So maybe you institute a process where all teams “protect” their five best players. And the new owner will select five players from everyone else’s “unprotected” players. Once that owner selects a player from your team, you get to protect the rest, so that you only lose a maximum of one player.

Tip 13: Only drafted players can be kept
I’m not personally a fan of this rule, but I’m presenting it as an option for your consideration. Oftentimes, some owners are waiver wire and free agent hawks during the season and rack up a lot of talent that way. If you don’t like this, you can make a rule for your keeper league that only players who were selected during the draft can be kept the next year, and all players who were free agent pickups get thrown back into the pot.

Tip 14: Limit number of keepers for fairness reasons
Frankly, I’d rather recruit smart owners than put this kind of restriction into place, but I realize some leagues might not be able to find the right type of owners for keeper leagues. If you’re worried about fairness, you can limit the number of keepers that teams in your league can protect each season.

Tip 15: Make owners give up draft picks for keepers
If you’re worried about fairness in your keeper league and you don’t want the most intelligent owners having more keepers than others while starting the draft with the same number of picks, you could always deduct draft picks for each keeper that is held. Say you allow owners to keep up to three players, if a team kept all three, they wouldn’t have a draft pick in the first three rounds.

Tip 16: Offer “player realignment” with limited keeper protections
One fun way to run a keeper league but still allow player movement each offseason is to allow limited protection during the draft. Let’s say each team is only allowed to protect 3 of their players. Then, if one of your unprotected players gets drafted, you get to protect 3 more players from the previous year. And then if another of your players gets drafted, you get to protect another 3 players. This way, some players get to change teams, while the bulk of your players will ultimately be protected.

Tip 17: Use contracts to keep things fair and balanced
If you’re worried about some teams being too powerful and others being too weak, you can balance things out by limiting the amount of years you can protect players. You can make it so that teams can only sign players for up to a 3-year contract. After that, they are thrown back into the player selection pool.

Tip 18: Rotate divisions each year based on prior season’s results
If your league has division play and you want to try to keep things as competitive as possible, organize your divisions based on the previous year’s results. That way, the more competitive teams end up in one division and the weaker teams are lumped into another.

Tip 19: Incentivize teams against tanking
One of the big issues that dynasty leaguers face is tanking. Some owners choose to tank so that they get a better draft pick the following season. This is fine in theory, but can often lead to an unbalanced league. If you offer weekly contests for cash prizes or deduct a team’s draft lottery chances if they intentionally tank, that might mitigate intentional tanking.

Tip 20: Consolation bracket for draft order
Another way to help prevent tanking is to have a consolation playoff bracket for draft order. All teams that don’t make the playoffs will be thrown into a consolation bracket, where the winner will get the first pick in next year’s draft.

Tip 21: Use a lottery for draft order among non-playoff teams
Yet another way to deter potential tankers in your league is to hold a lottery to determine draft order, rather than award the first pick to the team with the worst record. You can still give more lottery balls to the worst team, but at least there is no guarantee that a tanker will get first pick.