If you are ready for a challenge and are bored with the typical re-draft fantasy league it’s time to step up to the big boy table and start a dynasty league. A friend and I started one almost 10 years ago and I thought I would share the trials and tribulations of starting a league from scratch. A league that was nothing like anything we had done before. I am going to outline how we started and include our thought process behind some of the rules and overall structure of the league.
Why start a new league?
I have been playing fantasy football since 1985. I was in 8th grade. My dad had been in a league for a few years through a buddy of his and he decided to start a one with a few families so the dads and sons could compete against each other. Based on today’s standards it was a fairly standard league that awarded for yards and touchdowns. One year of this and we were all hooked.
Fast Forward 15 years and the league was getting somewhat stale. All the franchises became set in their ways so we basically had a draft and then nothing as the season went along. Most of the managers have been in the league from the start as we have had very little turnover. It was a comfort league and one that everyone enjoyed but it was boring. There were very little in the way of trades or smack talk and it was at this point me and a friend decided we wanted to go deep and start a dynasty league that included everything we could think of.
First things first. We needed a cool name for the league. For this we went back to our early fantasy football days. In 1988 I introduced a friend to fantasy football. We had an opening in the league and he liked football so it was a match. This was the year that Gordie Lockbaum was drafted by the Steelers. He had just come off a highly touted season of doing everything in college and finished 3rd in the Heisman race. Well, my friend (not knowing anything about fantasy football) thought he would be clever and get the guy that does it all. He drafted Gordie Lockbaum in our fantasy draft that year. Lockbaum never even played a down in the NFL. Every year whenever someone makes a boneheaded pick in that original league we always bring up the Gordie pick. So we agreed, the name for this league is the Gordie Lockbaum Football League (GLFL).
Structure of the league:
We wanted it to be a serious league that tried to mimic owning a real NFL franchise. We wanted to use individual defensive players (IDP). We wanted a salary cap. We wanted contracts. We wanted punters – yes you read that right – we wanted punters! We wanted to be able to keep a large part of our core players from year to year.
Our main goal was to create a league that made every position equal in terms of value so that you could build a team any way you liked and still be able to compete. We didn’t like that most leagues at the time (early 2000’s) were very running back dependent that every team had to draft a RB in the first round. We wanted everyone to have options. If you wanted to take a kicker in the first round you could and it wouldn’t kill you. Flexibility for roster construction was an important factor. We also wanted to incorporate IDP’s since we had hated the team defense concept of most leagues. We wanted to build our own defense.
First things first: Identify the starting lineup requirements. We decided that more players in the starting lineup minimized the “LaDanian Tomlinson Affect” (LDA). The LDA is where one absolute monster player would win you virtually every week because he was so dominant compared to everyone else. We also wanted offense and defense to be of equal value so they had to have the same number of starters. We decided on the following:
- Offense: QB, RB(2), WR(2), TE, K, Flex (QB/RB/WR/TE)
- Defense: DL (2), LB(2), DB(2), Punter, Flex (DL/LB/DB)
The next idea was to make each position as equal in value as possible. The key to this was to come up with a scoring system that leveled out the tiers across positions. Easy, right? This turned out to be a huge challenge and difficult process. The biggest obstacle was smoothing out the difference between end of year total points scored and week to week variances. For example, we are a “big play” based defensive scoring system. An IDP gets 8 points per sack and 1 point per tackle. We originally decided on this base structure because we compared defensive lineman (DL) and linebackers (LB) for total points scored for the previous few years. This allowed for what appeared to be a relatively even distribution of points across those positions. However, what it didn’t account for was the large week-to-week fluctuations. The way I have accounted for this is to mix in big play players with consistent tackle players in my roster construction.
Start the league:
We had our league name. We had the basis for the rules. We had an initial scoring/roster structure. Now we needed owners. We put out feelers and everyone seemed interested but we couldn’t get anyone to commit. After about 5 years of looking for owners to commit (and not having any luck) we finally decided to just start the league regardless of how many teams we could sign up. That was just the ticket. The first year we were able to get 8 teams signed up. Now we had to figure out the fairest way to begin a dynasty league. The answer was simple: auction and draft – the best of both worlds.
We decided that we were going to keep 15 players from year to year – basically a starting lineup. This setup leads to a natural auction start to give everyone equal chance to build their team around any player they wanted. We settled on a salary cap of $250 and decided we would follow the auction with a 25 round draft to speed up the process a bit since nobody involved had ever done an auction league prior to this experience. We set the draft order based on the team that had the most salary cap space left after acquiring their 15 auction players. This system worked out perfectly, we had the best of all drafting worlds.
The auction served two purposes. It allowed each team to acquire any player they wanted plus it set the salary for each of these players at a “market value.” The winning bid became that players salary. We then assigned a dollar value to each round of the draft so that every player had an associated salary. The salary cap is only in affect at the beginning of each new year for the purposes of keeping your 15 players. During the season there is no cap concern so it does not hinder trading (which is one of the best things about fantasy football).
Salary cap/contract length:
It was decided that we didn’t want to have unlimited keepers and that players should be entitled to more money if they performed at a high level. Basically we wanted it to be like the real world – players that performed were able to get more money if it was deemed they earned it. We capped the contract length to a maximum of 3 years to allow for escalations to salary if performance warranted an increase. However, we did not limit the number of contracts or total years you were able to award. If you wanted to award 30 contracts you just had to be aware that you would need to cut 15 of those contracts next year and take the cap hit associated with cutting all those deals.
In order to deter frivolous contract awards we also required that any cut salary would count against your cap the year you dumped the contract. For example, what if you had Tiki Barber signed to a 3-year contract at $30 per year, and he retired from the NFL after the first year of the contract? You would decided not to freeze him since he was no longer playing football. It would cost you $60 ($30 x 2 years remaining on the contract) not to keep him. That means instead of $250 to freeze your 15 players you would only have $190. Ouch. This actually happened to one of the franchises in this league. In addition, only players acquired via draft/auction at the beginning of each year are eligible for contract awards. We require all contracts to be awarded prior to the 4th week of the NFL season.
Another idea that has worked out better than expected was the concept of escalating salaries for players once their contracts have expired. I had seen leagues that had just standard increases to salary – a flat $10 every year. We wanted the increase to be based on performance. We came up with an increase based on final point totals in the contract year. The escalation added either a dollar value or percentage increase based on the final ranking in points per each position. After the first few years we realized that these escalations for inexpensive players was minor so we decided to set a minimum raise for those players finishing in the top five at their position. For those players the minimum escalation was the average of the top five salaries at that position. This ended up being more in line with performance and really made franchises think prior to automatically keeping players every year with minimum escalations.
The escalation system has worked well and has kept stud players from being monopolized without paying a lot to do so.
Restricted free agents:
After the first year we all realized that we wanted to keep more than 15 players, so one of the league members came up with the idea of having restricted free agents (RFA). Everyone thought that was great idea we needed a system to allow the RFA’s to test the market. We decided prior to the rookie/free agent draft that we would have an auction where teams could bid on RFA’s if they had enough cap room after freezing their 15 players. The system we settled on allowed any team to bid on an RFA (only players on a GLFL roster the prior year were eligible for the auction – no rookies or players that never made into a roster the previous season). Another twist is that we require the bidding team to use a draft pick for every player acquired in this way. Essentially the player they win in the bid is placed in that draft slot. The eligible picks that can be used are any in the first five rounds of the draft starting with the latest pick available. For example, if you have one pick in every round and signe two RFA’s through the auction they would count as your 5th and 4th round picks. This auction also helped keep market value on players by assigning their contract value as the winning bid.
Now to the restricted part. If you owned the “rights” to the player, you could match the winning bid and take the player away from the winning team if you had enough salary cap space and a valid draft pick. You own the rights to any player that is on your roster at the time freezes are announced (two weeks prior to the auction/draft). Typically there are anywhere between 15 and 25 players auctioned off every year. This essentially means that rounds 4 and 5 of our draft are taken up with auction players. I highly recommend trying to incorporate some sort of RFA auction if possible. It adds a depth of strategy and gives you a chance to get any player if you plan properly without relying on the draft.
Rookie/free agent draft:
Once the RFA auction is completed by everyone running out of cap space and eligible picks to use, the draft begins. The draft order is just like in the NFL – the last place team from the year before gets the first pick in each round and continues as the reverse of the standings until the champion gets the last pick (we don’t complete a playoff and play all 17 weeks with best record taking the trophy). The salary assigned to the draft is based on round. The structure is as follows:
- Round 1/2: $10
- Round 3-5: $7
- Round 6-10: $5
- Round 11-15: $3
- Round 16-25: $1
This structure allows for certain rounds to have a higher perceived value which helps in trade negotiations.
Since this draft is for rookies and any other player not frozen there is a nice mix of strategies which allow teams to build their roster in a variety of ways. The maximum contract length of 3 years makes investing in a questionable rookie early a gamble as it may cost you a valuable freeze spot and salary cap for a player that you may not develop in the 3 years you own him. In many other dynasty formats there is only a rookie draft so everyone usually is taking the same strategy. This allows for some diversification in team structure which is nice so everyone isn’t cookie cutter.
Other points of interest:
I mentioned that we have included punters as a starting spot. This has been an interesting addition. Their scoring is based on punts inside the 20 yard line and average punt distance for the game. There is nothing quite like needing three points to win a game on Monday night and your punter lines up for a punt at his own 40 yard line. The kick is launched and you pray that the coverage will hold the returner inside the 20 for that important four points and the win. A good punter can put 4 punts inside the 20 for a score of 16 which is equivalent to a QB throwing for 3 TD, 2 INT and 248 yards. A good punter can be a difference maker.
We do not have playoffs. The best representation of a quality team is being dominant for the whole season. Getting knocked out of a playoff game because someone gets injured early or a backup running back happens to go off for 3 TD just sucks. Playoffs in fantasy football increase the luck factor so we wanted to minimize that. To get the trophy you have to dominate for 17 weeks. One of the wrinkles we have for the schedule is to have two “position” weeks. A position week is a one where first place plays second place, third plays fourth, etc. We space them out to weeks that have minimum byes (usually weeks 8 through 10) and then later in the season (week 15) prior to the possibility that players on playoff teams will be rested.
We have two separate ways to acquire free agents. We have the typical waiver wire system based on the inverse order of the standings. We award players on the day before the first game of the week. You can acquire as many players as you want and we associate a real dollar cost to the transaction ($5). The second way to acquire is what we call “insta-claim.” This is done on a first-come first-serve basis between the end of the waiver award and the start of the first games on a Sunday. This allows owners to replace any surprise inactives before the games go live. The real dollar cost for this transaction is double the waiver claims ($10). As you can imagine, some teams can rack up a hefty tab by season’s end.
I have been participating in fantasy leagues for almost 30 years and have seen the transformation of this industry from hand calculating final results and mailing them out each Tuesday morning to live scoring on websites. Each league I have ever been in has been fun but nothing has been as challenging as this dynasty league that gets very involved. It is not for the faint of heart but I highly recommend taking the plunge if you are looking for a challenge. We have developed up the by-laws and if you are interested in getting a copy I would be happy to send them to you and answer any questions you may have about starting up a league like this. It is rewarding and extremely fun but it will take up a lot of your free time.
Shane Gallimore is a fantasy football contributor for The Sports Script. Follow him on Twitter @Gally4!