Commish HQ: Keeper League Basics

By Reginald James
Reginald James

There comes a time when a fantasy football commissioner’s fancy turns to doing something different for their league. They’ve made it through the early years where the flow of people coming and going has waned. They’ve finally reached a point where they actually like the crew that’s assembled to play fantasy football each year. Yes, the time comes when they decide to move to being a keeper league.


We’re going to discuss a basic framework for commissioners to consider. At the end of the day, what you decide is up to you.


Assess Your league: Are you ready?


I believe that a league is ready to move to being a keeper league when it has a stable set of players. This would include people who have shown that they like being part of the league and want to have a stake in keeping it going. That’s why I started off with mentioning a league getting past a point where people stop coming and going. One of the advantages of having a redraft league is that if people decide not to come back the following year, or if a commissioner decides not to invite someone back, it really doesn’t cause much upheaval in the league because everyone is starting off with a clean slate each year.


If you have a league that you feel isn’t quite settled yet, you may want to hold off for a bit longer before you make the conversion. The last thing you want to have to deal with as a commissioner, is trying to find someone to take over a team. Some folks are game to do that. They like the challenge of taking over a team that someone else has built. Sometimes the new manager gets lucky and inherits a good team. It can happen. However, often there’s a reason why some managers abandon their team: it’s usually because they did a bad job. Most people don’t want to enter an established keeper league with a bad team, where the best players are not up for redraft because they reside, and are going to remain on existing teams.


This is why you want to make an honest assessment of the people in your league. If you know you can trust them to be competitive, and not leave after a couple of bad seasons (someone has to have them) then you’re good. If not, one or two people taking their toys and going home can ruin it for everyone else in the league.


How many?


The main difference between a dynasty league and a keeper league, is a manager will keep their whole team if they’re in a dynasty league. The number of players managers can keep in a keeper league varies from league to league. In my league, we keep only one player. I’ve known other leagues to allow managers to keep three to four players.


chose the one-player option for my league because I thought it would be fun to reward managers who drafted well in the late rounds, or who built a good team working the waiver wire during the season. The player they keep would be their gift to themselves. However, I did not want the option of being able to keep more than one player because I still like that in a redraft league you can start fresh each year. If you have a bad season, it’s okay, you get an equal shot at the championship the following year.


Three or four players felt top heavy to me. A solid core of four players can potentially allow one team to dominate a league, even in a league with seasoned players. Do they deserve to dominate with a team they’ve built? Sure, but as a commissioner, you have to decide if that’s the possible scenario you want for your league. I didn’t want that. I liked the idea of a hybrid system that wasn’t “keeper heavy” so to speak.


How long?


How many years past a player’s initial draft year will managers be able to keep them? Again, this duration varies depending on which commissioner you talk to. Your personal playing style and your personal perspective of what you deem to be competitive will guide you.


Along the same lines as when I leaned toward the lesser side of how many players to keep, I chose to allow managers to keep a player for only one additional season. This results in managers being able to have a player on their team for a total of two years. On average, I would guess most leagues let managers keep players a bit longer than I allow in mine.


like to talk about fantasy commissioners wearing two hats. In the instance of deciding how many players to keep, as well as in the case of deciding how long to keep them, I had to recognize the distinction between my two roles.


As a fantasy player, I’m a hoarder of running backs. I would love being able to keep three or four running backs each year for a longer duration than one year. However, as a commissioner, I don’t like someone like me being able to do that. When I create rules, or make changes to the structure of my league, I do it while wearing the commissioner hat. There have been a number of changes that I’ve made in the past, that Reginald the player didn’t care for, but Reginald The Commish, felt such changes would make the league more fun, as well as more competitive for league members.


Round Restrictions


A round restriction determines what round you can draft your keeper the following season. Any player that remains on your team at the end of the season will have a designated round attached to them in some fashion.


Early-round restriction: For example, managers may be restricted from keeping a player who was drafted in the first two rounds.


At-large restriction: Most leagues will allow managers to redraft their keeper one round earlier than they did the previous season. For example, Dallas Clark is drafted in the 4th round in 2022. Billy makes him his keeper for the following season. Clark becomes Billy's 3rd round pick in 2023. I’ve also heard of some leagues with a two-round adjustment.


If a manager chooses an undrafted player as a keeper, they will usually be assigned a late draft round to reclaim them. For instance, in my league such a player will be the 15th round pick in the upcoming draft.


Your Choice


You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. The beautiful part, is that it’s up to you. Of course you can create a committee of sorts, or consult your Aunt Edna on building the framework for your future keeper league if you want. There are many features you can build into your keeper league structure. I’ve provided the very basic foundation. Coming up with what you want personally can be fun if you give yourself time and freedom to come up with whatever you desire.


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