Repeat after me: "Every fantasy football league is different."
The same set of rules that works perfectly for my league may not fit the bill for yours. After all, the collective personality of each league can vary greatly. Some leagues will be populated by troublemakers and require a constitution with more restrictions to close unwanted loopholes. Other leagues may have a few rebels who want to play the game with a scoring system that more "traditional leagues" may deem crazy.
As you put the finishing touches on the new edition of your league's constitution, you may wish to adopt one or more of the rules below. Certainly not all of these ideas will appeal to everybody who plays fantasy football, but who knows, you may find that one concept which your league has been missing.
Don't ever be afraid to think outside the box. It's your league, so play by the rules that work for you and your fellow owners. To paraphrase the great Ralph Tresvant, "If I like the rule, who cares what you like?"
Rule 1 -- The Window: One of most often-heard complaints after a trade goes through is, "I would have offered so much more for that guy." So why not force these Monday morning quarterbacks to put up or shut up? When a trade is agreed upon and reported to the league as a whole, instead of holding a veto vote, allow a window of time where other teams may make public counter offers to either side. After the window closes, if no other offers have been made, the trade goes through. If offers have been made, either owner (or perhaps even both) may pull out of the original deal in order to accept one of the counteroffers, which will immediately be binding.
Rule 2 -- The Neighbors: Worried about collusion? Make it impossible for poorly performing teams to all of a sudden have a huge impact on your playoffs. Don't allow the last-place team to send his studs to the first-place team in a lopsided deal that practically guarantees the championship trophy. Institute a rule stating that after a certain date in the season, trades may only be made among teams within three spots of each other in the overall standings.
Rule 3 -- The Playground Rule: One of the first concepts of game theory that children develop is the time-honored tradition of "no backsies." Many a league has been ruined when teams turn trades into library loans: for example, swapping players back and forth to help each other out during bye weeks. Even more egregious is the owner who hands over his top-10 backup quarterback to the signal-caller starved team playing his primary rival in a deal that gets made again in reverse two weeks later. One simple rule is all that is needed to ensure this never happens: "Teams may not make two trades in the same season involving the same player."
Rule 4 -- The Psychic: We all know that luck often plays a bigger part than skill in the end result of fantasy football games. An owner can correctly surmise that Team X will win big and choose to run the ball rather than pass, adjust his/her lineup accordingly and still watch in horror as an unexpected injury garners him a goose egg. Why not reward owners who correctly predict the outcome of games -- even if individual players might let them down -- by having each owner also play ESPN's Pigskin Pick 'Em and adding a scoring bonus based on how many games they get correct each week?
Rule 5 -- The Captain: Fantasy owners can't control which members of their team get the ball during the games, but that doesn't mean you can't artificially create your own game plan. Allow each owner to assign a team captain for the upcoming game. The team captain's fantasy points are then given a slight increase, say 20 percent, so if he scores 10 points in your standard scoring, it becomes 12. You can do the same thing defensively by having each owner identify a player to "key on," giving him an automatic 20 percent deduction.
Rule 6 -- The Boy Scout: As the motto says, "be prepared." No matter how elaborate the scoring system, you're bound to end up with a tie every now and again. While that's not a disaster in the regular season, in the playoffs it can cause a nuclear explosion of outrage if there's no plan in place to break the deadlock. While some leagues simply advance the higher seed, why not let the players settle it on the field? Each owner should name an overtime player prior to the game. In the event there is a tie, then the score of these extra players are added to the mix to try to tip the scales.
Rule 7 -- The Ping-Pong Rule: A very real and unfortunate byproduct of some keeper leagues is "tanking," where a team intentionally starts an inferior lineup in the hopes of losing games in order to get a better draft pick for the next season. The biggest problem with this comes when the tanking team's loss ends up "stealing" a playoff spot away from another team by simply handing a victory to his competition. If this is happening in your league, go the David Stern route and get yourself some ping-pong balls. A draft lottery may not eliminate all tanking, but it certainly makes it a lot less likely to occur.
Rule 8 -- The Boot: One of the most frustrating things for a commissioner is having an owner "quit" midseason when his/her team is losing by simply going through the motions and not really putting in any effort to improve. Sometimes it's hard to get rid of owners like this, especially if they've paid a form of league dues. Do you want to ensure people play the entire season no matter what? Take a page from the world of soccer and incorporate "relegation" into the mix. Whoever finishes last overall is out of the league for a year. If an owner truly cares about being in your league, you'll see a change in attitude when this rule gets added to the constitution.
Rule 9 -- The Gold Star: Another way to keep interest year-round is to offer up some consolation prizes that can be attained at any point in the season, even by the so-called bottom of the barrel. How about the top three scores in any single week getting acknowledged with a small percentage of the kitty? How about the winner of the consolation bracket (the playoffs of the non-playoff teams) getting a supplemental draft pick between Rounds 1 and 2 the following season? And as for the dreaded Week 17, when many fantasy leagues go dark, have each team other than the champion field a starting lineup. Give a small prize to the team that finishes with the median score for the week; in other words, in a 12-team league, the sixth-highest score wins. Trust me, there's a lot more strategy to this than it may appear.
Rule 10 -- The Tribe Has Spoken: For many years, my long-time keeper league had a parallel "Survivor" tournament running alongside our regular fantasy league. With divisions treated as "tribes," the highest score received "immunity" while the lowest score was "voted off the island." Eventually, the idea ran its course, but for several seasons, the extra competition was a fun in-season diversion. Don't be afraid to give something different a try. The results may surprise you.