Commish HQ: Be Clear with Your Expectations

By Reginald James
Reginald James

I recently responded to a question for Ask The Commish where a commissioner was disappointed that a member of their league was not as social as the commissioner had hoped they would be during the season.


I’m going to call the commissioner who wrote me, “Rider.” Rider wanted advice on how to tell someone that they didn’t want a member to return to the league next season. It wasn’t because the manager had done anything wrong, or that they were a bad league mate in any way. It was simply because they didn’t participate in the league chat room as much as the commissioner would’ve liked. For that, they wanted to remove someone they called a friend, from of league. There were a number of things that I found problematic with the situation, but I’m going to focus and expand on one issue: the commissioner had certain expectations for their league, and they experienced some disappointment when those expectations were not met.


If you have a fantasy league, or are thinking about starting one, be sure you are honest with yourself about what kind of league you want. Then proceed to bring people into your league who can help you achieve that goal. Furthermore, be sure that you are upfront with them about what your specific expectations are. They can then decide if they want to be part of what you’re trying to create.


I am not talking about simply telling someone that you’re creating a keeper league, for example. I’m talking about telling them the type of player you’re looking for, or if there is some type of commitment that goes beyond basic participation in a fantasy league. This also bleeds into the type of rules you might set up that deals specifically with what type of behavior will not be tolerated i.e., the use of foul language duriing league interactions. Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about office leagues that you inherit. I’m talking about leagues that someone starts on their own for reasons that only matter to them.


Let’s say you want to start a super competitive league for people who are really into football, the super fans, but you also want to include you brother who isn’t a big football guy. In spite of the fact that you know your brother isn’t going to be as gung-ho as you and the rest of the bunch, you still intend to include him anyway because you really want to have some family fun together with him. I would suggest not bringing him into the league. Go bike riding with him. Go bird watching. Expectations. Honor your own expectations.


Rider said that they created the league as a social activity for them and their friends. This was the very first year of the league and Rider’s first time serving as a commissioner of a fantasy league. I don’t know under what premises Rider invited them. Perhaps assembling her friends around an activity, was more important to Rider that the actual activity itself. Apparently, Rider expected everyone to spend ample time in the league chat room. I’m going to assume Rider didn’t express this specifically to everyone. I’m also going to bet they thought everyone would match their desire to be as social as they wanted to be. Things might have turned out differently if Rider was upfront about what they expected from themselves as the creator of their own league, and what they then expected from league members, 


Questions and Answers


The following are examples of questions you can pose to yourself when starting a league. They don’t have to be specifically what I suggest. Ask whatever questions you need to. I just want you to put yourself in the headspace where you’ve actually taken the time to know what your expectations are, and how you are going to go about honoring them.


1) Why are you starting a league?


2) Is playing fantasy football a way to further express your fandom for the NFL? Is it okay if members in your league feel differently? Can they instead approach fantasy football as just another game i.e., Monopoly, Spades, pickup basketball, that they want to play and win and nothing more than that?


3) Is there a particular type of player you want in your league? What kind of playing style would you prefer?


4) How competitive do you want the league to be? Will the league be more social than competitive? Which aspect is more important?


5) Will you play for money?


6) Do you care if the league members are new to fantasy sports? New to fantasy football? New to the actual sport of football?


7) Are you willing to make allowances for beginners to have growing pains and make mistakes? How strict or lenient do you want to be?


Now, let’s see how considering some of the above questions can help a new commissioner go through the process of really establishing their own expectations, which can go a long way in starting things off right:


Friends and Family Leagues: Be careful when bringing together people for this type of league, especially if the makeup is predominately or all family. There are internal dynamics already at play before members of this group come together. Old grudges and rivalries for example, that have nothing to do with fantasy football, can quickly seep into league interactions. Expect that some members may ask for allowances and expect you, the commissioner, to give in because, well, you’re family. For example, if they are going to be late with league dues, will you be able to enforce a No Pay, No Play policy, or will you be lenient? What if other family members find out you gave cousins Rex a pass and carry foul?


The Crazy “AlternativeLeagues: These are leagues that have crazy rules, like whoever wins the season can kick whoever they want out of the league, or the winner gets to change or add one rule for the following season. These are real examples! These types of leagues require folks who are looking for something different. That's all well and good, but if you are going to start a league like this, you need to make sure everyone in the league knows exactly what they are getting into. They need to fully buy into the crazy. I have read about people angrily leaving leagues because of rules like this. Is it because they didn’t know about them when they joined? Is it because they always thought they’d do well and wouldn’t fall victim the Winner’s Axe? There was a disconnect somewhere. Personally, I would not want to be in a league that had either one of those rules. I would be most appreciative if the commissioner made a point of fully communicating what their league was all about at the invitation stage, rather than me discovering surprises along the way.


Any League that Involves Money: Money changes people. It often changes people in the worst of ways. People get stupid over money in general, and super-sized stupid when it comes to trying to win it. An otherwise fun-loving player can suddenly morph into a ruthless villain. Hunters looking to exploit loop holes in rules, or poorly set up rules will sometimes mysteriously spawn in money leagues.


If you start your own league, you owe it to yourself to know exactly what you want, and make sure everyone else knows too. Be honest with yourself, so you can be honest and upfront with all the people you bring together to play the game. The beginning of your journey as a new fantasy commissioner has the potential to start off a little less bumpy. You and all involved will be much happier in the long run.


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