Commish HQ: Should You Change Rules Once the Season Begins?

By Reginald James
Reginald James

Commissioners changing rules once the season begins is a common transgression that I hear about often. In my opinion, actions like this should be avoided at all costs. League managers, those that actually read the rules in the first place, have drafted, have made other team-building decisions, and have based future plans on the rules already established.


For the most part, I don’t believe that the league should have a say in everything you choose to do as commissioner, especially if you are the one that started the league. There are certain traits you want your league to have, for example, and you have the right to ensure that it's modeled in the fashion you desire. However, when it comes to an in-season rule change, sometimes a commissioner feels they don’t have a choice, but to do it. If this occurs, then whatever ideas they have in mind, or whatever the decision is that they've made, should be presented to the league before any official action takes place. 


In the rare instance you feel the need to change a rule - once the season begins, it's no longer about whether you should never do it or not. It comes down to how a commissioner chooses to carry out the decision. I beleive it is not up to a fantasy commissioner to make the decision on their own, and then simply tell the league about it. There will also be times when you will have to act against your own self-interest as a player (unlike the other members of the league) when making decisions as a commissioner.


I’m going to share a personal story to help illustrate what I’m talking about. Hopefully, it will provides some insight, giving you some possible ideas to consider if something similar happens to you in the future.




Years ago, I was writing a column exactly like Ask The Commish for another site. I was answering a question someone had about whether or not a particular rule was being applied properly. As I was formulating my answer, I decided to check the platform that I use for my league. I was curious what language they used by comparison. As I was reading the rule, I realized that it had been modified from the previous season.


Uh oh, that wasn’t good. We were already two weeks into the season.


Two things immediately went through my mind. The first was, I couldn’t believe I missed that there was a new rule. How did I miss that? I take pride in keeping the league informed. I always check the “What’s New?” section as soon as I open the league. Should league members check the “What’s New” list every season? Yes, they should. That goes for me too, as a player. Well, I didn’t do it as a player, and I didn’t do it as a commissioner either. That’s the biggest gaffe - the commissioner miss.


The second thought was that playing by the old rule would benefit me as a league manager. If I brought the league up to speed on the rule change, I would lose a strategic advantage that I felt I had at the moment.


When a person is conflicted, having a hard time making a choice in either the movies or on television, you’ll often see the common trope of two miniaturized versions of that person perched on opposite shoulders. The most common duality is the “good” version, who appears angelic with a halo floating above their head, usually adorned in white, versus the “bad” version of the person, usually represented with a spiked tail and horns sprouting from their head, dressed in red and holding a pitchfork.


I was having a similar moment.


Blue or Red Pill


As far as I could tell, no one had noticed that the rule had changed and should have been applied. I could just let things stand. As a player, surely I could justify not saying anything, “Well if they didn’t take the time to check out what was new in the league this year, too bad, I can’t help it if they weren’t paying attention.”


However, as the commissioner, I knew that as a player, I was breaking the rules. The new rule allowed by the platform (Yahoo!) was not the rule that was put forth for the league prior to the start of the season. So as commissioner, I had to alert the league of the rule change. I couldn’t allow Reginald, the player, to do what he was doing. That would make me a shady commissioner.


As commissioner, I thought that we should play by the new version of the rule, not the old rule. I could’ve just told everyone that we were no longer going to follow this particular rule that we started the season with. That, going forward, they’d have to adhere to the new rule, and to adjust their rosters if necessary.


A lot of commissioners would’ve done just that. Made the change, then informed the league. I don’t think that’s a good way to go about league business. I chose to talk to the league first. Next, I had to decide that when I did, would I tell them what I was going to do, or let them have a say in what we did going forward? I chose the latter.


Two Hats


Because I am league commissioner, I can’t be just another player. I have to be very self-aware of my two roles, that of a manager and that of being the commissioner. There’s a different set of actions and expectations that come with each. I wear two hats, so to speak. I’m a firm believer that the two roles should never be intermingled - you can’t wear both hats at the same time.


In the letter I sent to the league, I explained my oversight. I told them what I discovered. I then presented the full language of the old rule, and then the full language of the new rule. I told them I wanted a league vote on the matter. I gave them two options. The first, was to decide whether to continue to using the rule that we started the season with. The second choice was to choose to follow the new rule that was modified by Yahoo going forward. The vote took place. The majority of the voters chose to adopt the new Yahoo rule.


Practice What You Preach


I behaved in a manner that I always suggest to fantasy commissioners. I was transparent in my actions. I chose to hold myself to a higher standard, as opposed to turning things my way for personal benefit. My job as commissioner is to facilitate official league business, to settle disputes if they come up, and to then get out of the way. I’m not supposed to be the one creating chaos or mistrust.


Remember, this wasn’t an issue where I was purposefully manipulating a rule or a setting to my advantage all along. I discovered something that I could possibly benefit from as a player, which would’ve been fine if I wasn’t the owner of that comfy commissioner’s hat.


Send your questions to The Commish: