Tips for a successful fantasy football league
People who don't play fantasy football – remarkably, there are still some of them out there – think it's a dorky game of numbers and ownership of a pretend football team.
And while we fantasy football players of the world can't exactly argue it isn't that, we all know that fantasy football isn't so much about the game itself as it is the personality of the league and the people in it.
There are fun leagues, there are boring leagues and there are leagues that are actually just a nuisance. Here is how to ensure your fantasy football league strikes the right balance.
You need continuity of membership.
A fantasy football league is very much like a TV show. You need the characters to keep coming back season after season, and you need a backstory to develop to the point that specific words and phrases mean something within the context of the league that they don't mean anywhere else. In my league, for example, there is something called a "Denver Hamlet," which is something I would in no way be allowed to describe in this space.
Obviously, characters are going to come and go over time, but you need to maintain a core group that can show the noobs how it is done, and you need to make sure that at all times you have at least one of the following:
1) The Attorney
When I say "attorney," I don't literally mean a practicioner of the law (though there is a good chance The Attorney in your league will be an attorney in real life), I mean the guy who is constantly offering you three nickels for a quarter and then making a complicated argument as to why you would be better off with Marshawn Lynch, Matt Cassell and some tight end than you would be with Arian Foster.
Having The Attorney around is great because every other person in the league gets to laugh at his trade proposals and gang up on him with jokes about what his sex life with his wife must be like. Careful, though, because there's a good chance this guy is going to end up winning the league, all because of …
2) The Distracted Idiot/Punching bag
This is the guy who joined the league because some of his friends are in it, but maybe has a couple of kids and a time-consuming job and is really more interested in Dragon Ball Z than football in the first place. Best case scenario is that he updates his roster just in time for kickoff on Sunday.
The Attorney will sniff out this guy immediately and just bombard him with trade proposals until he's too exhausted to say no. Most leagues should have in place a system of vetoing comically one-sided trades, but that can be hard to judge if it's a keeper league (which it should be).
Soon The Distracted Idiot's team will represent an easy win for everybody in the league, and because The Distracted Idiot spends hardly any time on the league Web site, everyone in the league has total freedom to Photoshop his head into compromising situations with no repercussive action on his part.
This guy will just take insult after insult, acting as a catharsis dump for everyone else.
3) The Obsessive Geek
This is the guy who has very little autonomy at his job, so he takes it out on the league, obsessing over the smallest rules and procedural details.
This guy can be incredibly annoying, but he's good to have around because if there are any inefficiencies or imbalances whatsoever, he will root them out, resulting in a better experience for everybody.
His rosters, however, will be overanalyzed to the point of detriment. This dude will talk himself into weird strategies, like carrying two defenses or something and will never win the championship.
4) The Know-It-All Jackass
Because when this guy is wrong, it is DELICIOUS.
Most of this guy's sentences begin with, "Actually …" and he'll be happy to tell you what a crappy deal you got on your house if you ever bring it up.
If you're sneaky enough you can sabotage this guy by tricking him into defending something he said earlier in the year. He'll want to prove himself right and will hang on to, say, Michael Crabtree for far too long.
You need to foster an environment of nearly anarchical freedom of speech.
No personal insult is too devastating. Nothing is politically incorrect. Everybody knows that nothing said within the context of the league's imaginary walls is 100 percent serious, so anything goes. It's like being at a roast.
This is a tough trick to pull off, but it is another reason why continuity is so important. Eventually everybody gets a feel for the way people talk to each other in the league, and once you have an established culture, that culture is self-perpetuating.
Speaking of which, everybody in the league needs to be of comparable intelligence and similar age. That way people can play off each other in a way that works. You don't want your Skrillex haircut references to be lost on someone who stopped listening to new music when Kurt Cobain died. And if, say, your league's Distracted Idiot doesn't understand your subtle humor, it's not going to be any fun to needle him.
You need a czar running the league.
It has to be someone everybody respects, and it can't be somebody on a power trip, but you need somebody who is comfortable making executive decisions.
People will clamor if you change something in a way they hate, so you don't need to worry about polling everybody about every little decision. They'll mostly just get annoyed at you for your inability to make a decision. Half of them won't even notice, anyway.
The owner also needs to be committed to updating the league's Web site with posts, message board topics, polls, etc. That way people drop in even when they don't have anything they need to do to their team.
It should be a keeper league.
This seems obvious, but there are so many advantages to this that I feel they need to be pointed out. The biggest is that it creates a sense of continuity. Your team's name may change from "Dexter McLackLuster" to "Mike Vick in a Box," but there is still some sense that this is the same franchise.
Furthermore, it adds intrigue to the end of a season for teams that have been eliminated from the playoffs. Let's say your team stinks, but your running back is Adrian Peterson and he is healthy (this, I remind you, is purely hypothetical).
Now let's say there is a contender whose starting quarterback is Drew Brees. But he drafted Andrew Luck in the fifth round and is just stashing him on the bench. You could offer Peterson in exchange for Luck. You probably name Luck one of his keepers as you plan for the future, and he improves his shot at winning right away.
This hypothetical trade would make no sense in a non-keeper league.
A keeper league keeps everybody interested until the very end. It also makes personnel strategies more diverse. When some people are playing for the present and some are building for the future, the league is more realistic and more interesting.
It should be a money league.
Unfortunately, gambling is illegal. So, you know, don't do that.
You should (probably) not be in a league with your spouse.
Don't read this to say women shouldn't be in fantasy football leagues. Read this to say that, whether you are a man or a woman, you are inviting all kinds of problems by participating in a fantasy league with your spouse, when something is at stake.
First of all, any time there is a transaction involving your team and your spouse's team, you're going to hear about it endlessly from the rest of the league. The accusations of collusion will be non-stop, especially if it's a money league (which, you know, isn't allowed by law).
Also, you may find out pretty quickly just how badly your spouse wants to humiliate you. And you need to ask yourself, Is this something I really want to know?
You should not allow team names that aren't funny or cleverly offensive.
The "Houston Traffic Jams," for example, sounds like grandma humor. You need to dig a little deeper, and you need to force this upon everybody. The best thing to do is identify the biggest, most controversial or most embarrassing stories from the NFL offseason, and build your team name around that.
Naming your fantasy football team and choosing your Halloween costume are practically the same thing. Same thought process, same goal.
You should have a championship trophy, and it should be a totem of some kind that gets passed around.
Ideally, it works something like the Stanley Cup. The champion gets to write his name on the trophy, or otherwise deface it in some identifying way, and keep it until someone wins the next championship.
Bonus points if it's something hideous that must be displayed on the mantle, next to the family photos.
And finally, everybody in the league should have everybody else's cell phone number.
Because the possibilities are endless.