Ask The Commish: I Need Tips to Help Fill My League

By Reginald James
Reginald James

I’d like to start my own league next year. I’m not new to fantasy football, but this will be my first time running any kind of league. I’ve played long enough to know what I like and don’t like so I want this league to represent what I’ve learned along the way.


My ideal size is 12. The problem is I don’t know enough people or a lot of people, who I’d want or trust, who I can fill up a league with. I don’t have a lot of friends. That’s not as bad a it may sound. It just means I don’t have a big gang of friends who can give me an instant league, and I don’t want to invite people I don’t know just to fill the holes.


I’m starting now, so I have lots of time to see what I can do, but for me this might be an obstacle. Any suggestions or do you have any “recruiting” tips? Are there any pitfalls that I should lookout for? Thanks in advance.


Congrats! Maybe I should wait until you complete your first official draft, eh? I will congratulate you nonetheless, because it’s a big deal to start your own league. It also seems that you’ve put a lot of thought into want you want already. That’s a good thing.


Let’s first address the size of your league, which seems to be your main concern. Your league doesn’t have to have 12 members. That’s your ideal size, but where’s the rule that says you can’t start with ten or eight? In my opinion, I don’t think there’d be anything wrong with starting with eight members, and eventually growing your league to the size that you desire.


Granted, eight-team leagues generally tend not to be that competitive. There are ways to help with that, but that’s a topic for another day. Frankly, I’d rather start off small, gathering and starting with people that I like and can trust. If that’s not a lot people to begin with, so be it. You already mentioned that you do not want to invite people you don’t know, so don’t. I’ve been there, and it didn’t work out well. Your instincts are correct on this matter.


If you accept the premise that you can now reduce your hit list by two or even four names, you’ll feel less pressure to rush into building your league. It may take a bit longer to get where you want to be, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, you’ll be running a league for the first time. A smaller league might be perfect for a first-time commissioner, who will be learning on-the-fly, how to write rules, apply rules, enforce rules, collect money, and all the other things that come with running a fantasy league. Things will pop up that unexpectedly will shape your league going forward. For instance, there may be features that right now you’re totally convinced that you want, but once the league is up and running, you might change your mind. You’ll adapt, and the league will grow with you.


The first recruiting tip I would offer to you, is to take your time in your search. You indicated you’re not new to playing fantasy football. I’m sure you’ve thought of this, but was there anyone in the leagues that you’ve played in before that would be a good fit for your league? That’s not too insightful, I know, but I had to ask.


Next, do you know people who may casually watch football, but who aren’t running around wearing Brady jerseys everyday? Don’t discount them. We fantasy players don’t necessarily have to be super fans.


Speaking of which, don’t overlook non-football fans. Seriously. Who are the people you know who are passionate about other things? Do you know any gamers? For instance, do you know any folks who can tell you all about solving Pyro Torches, or who can identify a bear in Skyrim simply by the sound of its growl? Do you know people who are really into Catan, who will play all night? Sometimes people who aren’t really into football, but like to play games, strategize, solve puzzles, and who are otherwise competitive, can make great fantasy players. They approach the game of fantasy football a little differently than those of us fantasy players who deem ourselves to be “know-it-all” football fans.


Fantasy football is simply another game to these types. It’s just another puzzle for them to solve. The strategy is more pure and less encumbered. They don’t get wrapped up into the fandom of it all, letting a bias towards a certain player or a team affect their decision-making process. Dalvin Cook is just another Eula (Genshin Impact) to wield in their quest for dominance, nothing more.


I have someone in my league like that. They didn’t do sports growing up and didn’t really care about the NFL, but they kept hearing me and their other cousin talking incessantly about it every year. One day, they wanted in on playing this game called fantasy football. That was over 20 years ago. They’re one of the best players in our league and have multiple championships under his belt.


Finally, make sure that you know everyone that you bring into the league. Make sure you know them personally in some way. Out of all of the “tips” that I can think of, this is the most important advice I feel that I can give to you.


Everyone else in the league doesn’t necessarily have to know each other. They don’t have to be drinking buddies, but they all have to be connected to you. You’re the link. No one will have a more vested interest in the success of the league than you. However, each person should have a personal interest in doing right, or behaving, because of their relationship, to one degree or another, with you.


I would also suggest no referrals before their time. Meaning, I would avoid bringing in a “friend of a friend” during the early years. For me, a referral has to come from someone I really trust. During the first number of years, you’ll be working on building a sense of trust with your league mates. Once they know you’re not one of those awful commissioners that they’ve heard (and who people write to me) about, they will trust you as their commissioner. You’re different, not like the others. They will respect you. They will also respect the league that you’ve built, the league that they’ve come to enjoy playing in every year.


One would hope that all these comfy feelings also results in a kindred sense of ownership in the league. In other words, they will have a common desire for the league’s continued success, just like you. Hopefully, the last thing any of them would want to do, would be to undermine the league by bringing in a time bomb who could destroy your league with interpersonal nonsense and drama. Your league mates will want to protect the league along with you. So, in year six for example, when you announce that you’re ready to expand, the potential candidates that someone might suggest will hopefully come with some pre-vetting.


I know what I just described sounds a bit “kumbaya-ish,” but watch, you’ll see. It happens. It can happen if as commissioner, you operate with the best of intentions. You build it, and build it well, they’ll come, and will want to stay.


Please keep in touch. Let me know how it works out.


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