The verdict: Fantasy league commissioners deserve some love

With fantasy baseball draft season winding down, I wanted to dedicate this edition of “The Verdict” to the league commissioners who organize and administer the thousands upon thousands of fantasy baseball leagues. Whether your league is on CBS, ESPN, Yahoo, MyFantasyLeague, or any other website, most likely there is an individual in your league that takes the time and energy to put everything together.

From organizing the draft, inputting the league rules and settings, creating a schedule, approving trades, keeping the peace between league members, dealing with technological issues with the host site, the commissioner is responsible for quite a bit. Unfortunately, when things go wrong or issues arise, the commissioner is usually the first to be blamed. Anyone who is or has been a league commissioner will probably agree that it is a thankless job. But hey, someone has to do it.

Often a commissioner’s contributions to a fantasy league are taken for granted, minimized, and overlooked. When the commissioner has to do less, it means he is doing a good job. This is because the rules that he created and implemented are likely being adhered to without conflict or controversy. If the commissioner is not rejecting proposed trades, it possibly means he is surrounded by league members who understand the concepts of fairness and equity without the specter of collusion. But when the commissioner does have to get involved, he exposes himself to criticism and judgment because usually there will be one person not satisfied with the decision that has been rendered.

Once a commissioner makes a decision either based on the rules of the league or his own interpretation of what is in the league’s best interests, he must then remain consistent when dealing with the same issue down the road. Sure, there are extenuating circumstances that justify deviating from precedent. But generally speaking, once the commissioner has utilized his discretion in making a decision, he should abide by that ruling for all future scenarios of the same ilk.

A commissioner gets into real trouble when he contradicts himself. Not only does his inconsistency anger and frustrate paying league members, it also opens the door to questions and skepticism about potential improprieties and favoritism. This is not a road that the commissioner wants to travel down. Once your integrity and trust is questioned, then everything you do is viewed under a microscope.

So what can a commissioner do to effectively govern his fantasy baseball league? The first step is to author a league constitution that delineates every rule and guideline in the league, including scoring system, trades/transactions policy, roster submission requirements, etc. Of course there is the possibility that something will arise that has never happened before, so the commissioner should provide some safeguards and procedures for dealing with issues of first impression. If these procedures are explicitly written in the constitution, then the commissioner can make rulings on issues that do not appear in the governing document.

The second step is to invite people into your league that you trust or at least have a foundation for some sort of relationship. You may not know everyone in your league (especially if it is a public league). But the commissioner should try and establish a rapport with everyone in the league to help break down any possible barriers of communication. Also, the character of every league member should be scrutinized because you don’t want to invite someone into the league who has a history or reputation for colluding with other teams.

Finally, the commissioner should make his decisions with the utmost of confidence. These decisions may not always be popular, but if you feel it is the right decision and the best decision for the league, then defend it with vigor. On the same note, it is not wise to leave an issue open for interpretation. If people are left still scratching their heads as to what decision you have made, the ramifications could be far worse. That is not to say that you shouldn’t listen to opposing arguments and keep an open mind. It simply means that once you have made a decision based on all of the objective and subjective criteria available, then stand by it.

These recommendations come from over 15 years of experience being the commissioner of various fantasy baseball and fantasy football league. Specifically, my fantasy baseball league that has existed since 1999 has helped me grow as a person and as a commissioner. I wasn’t always keen on taking suggestions from my league members, but I have grown to learn that everyone else’s input is good knowledge to have and analyze. For example, my 18-team, H2H mixed league has had a fresh draft every year since 1999 without keepers. I heard from several of my league members that they really enjoy doing some keepers. So I broached the topic with my league and we may look into this starting in the 2012-2013 seasons. I have also learned from just being a participant in a league and watching how those commissioners operate. Some are very hands on and some are very hands off. It all depends on the individual

In the end, someone has to organize the league(s) you are in. While it may not seem like much of a big deal to you, I can assure you that your commissioner cares very deeply for that league and spends a lot of time in that capacity. The role of commissioner is not one that many people clamor to take. For those that do, they should be appreciated for their efforts in trying to make your fantasy baseball experience a little more fun and a lot less stressful. The verdict is that fantasy league commissioners deserve some love and their efforts should be appreciated as we embark on the 2011 fantasy baseball season. Play ball!

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