Forget tweeting birds and budding tulips, nothing says spring like a deep discount on a three-pack of 409. We are in peak cleaning season! Don't limit yourself to the gutters and closets, though. Now is the time to freshen up anything that has gotten stale... including your fantasy league(s).
From online customizations to in-person parties, here are seven ways to spruce up your virtual sporting squad.
1. Discover new formats
Fantasy football has come a long way since ESPN's launch in 1996. While redraft remains the most popular way to play, league managers have been innovating alternatives to the gold standard. From best ball to dynasty and superflex to salary cap, an array of setups exist that satisfy all levels of commitment and creativity.
Two relatively new formats, however, have created quite a stir within the fantasy football community. Lauded for savagery and high stakes, Guillotine and Vampire formats are growing in popularity and turning commonplace strategy on its (welp) head.
Guillotine: Beginning with 18 teams -- one for each week of the NFL regular season -- a Guillotine League models an elimination setup. The objective is not to defeat a specific opponent in a head-to-head matchup, but rather to stay in the points. Each team's total points are calculated at the close of a week and the team with the lowest total is chopped from the competition. That team's players are then added to the league's waiver wire, allowing the remaining teams to bid on the growing free agency pool. Balancing one's budget in accordance with team needs becomes paramount, as managers are motivated to preserve funds until the end while also ensuring their rosters stay protected from the blade.
Vampire: Managing waivers is equally important in a Vampire League, but for different reasons. In this ghoulish format, all but one club (dubbed the "vampire") takes part in a draft. The Vampire team is then tasked with constructing its roster solely from the unselected players from the draft. Trades are not permitted and only the Vampire can perform free agent adds. It may seem an impossible task for the Vampire, however, as injuries mount the playing field is leveled. Furthermore, if a team falls to the Vampire's squad in its weekly matchup, then Dracula earns the right to steal a player from their opponent's starting lineup ... potentially forcing shorthanded clubs into an early Twilight.
2. Scoring tweaks
Even traditionalists have to admit that the non-PPR vs. PPR debate has long been settled. In fact, scoring for ESPN's game features one point per reception, making it the current "standard." That doesn't mean, however, that league managers can't modify scoring elements in an attempt to keep fellow aficionados on their toes. The possibilities are nearly limitless. Below are some of the most popular (and easy to implement) options:
On the heels of a Super Bowl that smashed the over by more than 20 points, it's fair to say that folks enjoy high-scoring affairs. That's part of why bonus scoring has grown in popularity among fantasy heads. Bonuses are generally awarded after a player reaches a milestone.
For example, if an RB reaches 100 yards rushing or a WR manages a catch of 25 yards or more they would earn extra points (the sum of which was predetermined by the commissioner). The same could be true of QBs. Some leagues offer bonuses for signal-callers that pass for 300, 400 or 500 yards. These tweaks add another level of strategy, as they could affect the values of various positions and players, increasing the importance of those with big-play ability in their athletic profiles.
Of course, what goes up can also come down. If bonus scoring highlights positive gains, then employing penalty points is a way to factor in negative plays. These are usually implemented to reflect a turnover, fumble or dropped pass. In some formats, a QB can lose six points if an INT turns into a defensive score. That would have significantly affected Matthew Stafford's scoring in 2021 (QB6), as he led the league in pick-sixes (four) that season.
Highlighting volatile positions is another fun way to add drama. Tight end premium scoring does this to a delicious degree. Because there's such a limited number of top-tier options, it could be argued that TE deserves to be weighted differently. Setting a scoring premium (1.5 points per reception for TEs only, for example) forces managers to embrace unpredictability and either prioritize elite talents or accept a matchup-inspired weekly working of the waiver wire.
3. Weekly bonuses
Full-season participation is key to maximum fantasy enjoyment. But sometimes -- especially after injuries and bye weeks pile up -- it's difficult to motivate non-contending squads. Weekly bonuses offer a potential solution to this all-too-common dilemma.
A weekly bonus is a prize that can be anything. Most leagues keep it simple, awarding the highest-scoring team with a specified dollar amount. But other operations have gotten creative. One Twitter follower shared that in their league the team with the highest score for the week gets to rename and reselect the logo of the team that had the fewest points for that week. Another fan suggested basing the prize on a different random achievement each week (highest-scoring running back, most receiving yards by a player, most team TDs, etc.).
Regardless of the route taken, season-long engagement is nearly guaranteed when leagues decide to celebrate all 18 weeks.
4. Weekly newsletter
Because whose inbox isn't full enough? In all seriousness, though, imagine receiving a newsletter written by an actual friend about something you're actively involved in and knowing that it won't extend into perpetuity. Or maybe take charge yourself, celebrating the wins while working out the bad beats in front of an intimate and safe group of eight to 11 buddies. The commissioner of my home league reguarly writes a fantastically witty run down of each team's showing. I genuinely look forward to reading and responding to his personally penned recap every Tuesday morning. And I'm not the only one. Kevin's rundowns tend to get the rest of our leaguemates riled up, creating a flurry of replies and activity that extends well into the weekend.
Newsletters and league blogs have become a hobby within a hobby. In fact, commissioners can now purchase fantasy football specific newsletter templates! Crafting a custom bulletin definitely requires extra time and patience, but the result is often a hyper-engaged league ... with a whole lot of trash talk.
5. Tie your draft order to specific events
Interest may wane at the end of a season, but it is always fully lit at the start. What better way to capitalize on that enthusiasm than going big on draft day. Take that energy a step further and try tying your draft order to a specific event. Here are a few ideas:
If your crew all lives locally, think about planning a field day. Gathering at a local park with cornhole and hot dogs is inexpensive and family-friendly. Plus, after a few hours of sack racing and limbo sticking the competitive juices should be flowing. Have a neutral party track the events, assigning points in descending order from first finisher to last place. Whoever closes out the games with the highest total will get their first choice of draft position. The second-place finisher will choose after that, and so on and so forth until the snake draft is full. (If Kyle Soppe's research is to be believed, the top-four spots will fill up fast.)
Maybe cardio and kids aren't your thing, though. In that case, consider a day at the track. Nothing says bonding like wagering on ponies and sipping bacon-topped bloody marys. And, the scoring is also easier with this option: whoever loses the least amount of money, gets first crack at the snake. To make things really interesting, go ahead and draft right from the Wi-Fi enabled grandstand.
Even if your league is scattered across the country and can't assemble in person, there are still ways to up the ante. March is a maddening time for sports enthusiasts. In fact, ESPN's Men's Tournament Challenge collected more than 20 million completed brackets. Meanwhile, the Women's tourney shattered sign-up and viewing records. Why not create a bracket group for your league? The results could determine the league's draft order a handful of months later. With a lull in the NFL action, it would be a good time to check in and remind yourself of the competition.
But if you want to wait until August, there's always Formula 1. The motorsport's popularity has exploded stateside with three American Grand Prixs now on the 2023 race calendar. Teams take a summer break at the end of July, but conveniently return with the Dutch GP on Aug. 27. To celebrate this epic timing, have each member of your league randomly select the name of a driver from a jar (there are 20 on the grid, two for each team in a 10-team league). Where that driver finishes on the grid is the order in which your league will select their draft positions.
6. Tie next year's draft order to current season results
Restarts aren't for everyone. Some folks enjoy the continuous movement of life, fastening one event to another. If that's your speed, establishing next year's draft order based on the current season's results might be an ideal enhancement to your virtual org.
The easiest way to do this is to follow the NFL's model and simply flip the final standings as a way to determine the coming year's draft order. In this situation, the championship team and all playoff-bound squads would go to the bottom of the snake (first place would earn the final pick of the first round) while the other half of the league filled the top (the last-place team would pick first next season).
Folding in consolation brackets is also an excellent way to keep everyone engaged. In some leagues there exists a Battle Royale for the non-playoff teams, which takes place over the final three weeks of the season. The total cumulative points then determines the draft for the following year. This helps to motivate losing squads while ensuring parity (particularly if keepers are involved).
If you're not interested in incorporating the consolation brackets but want to keep managers engaged throughout the regular season (and not reward tanking), your league could award the top pick in next year's draft to the team with the best record that missed the playoffs. For example, in a 12-team league in which six teams make the playoffs, the team that finishes seventh would get the No. 1 pick next season, followed by the eighth-place team, with the last-place team picking sixth. The rest of the draft order (seventh through 12th) would be in reverse order of standings -- with the league champion picking last.
Penalties don't always have to be punitive. Sometimes they can be fun ... and (perhaps, more importantly) entertaining.
From getting inked to serving time at a Waffle House, last-place punishments have gone viral within the fantasy football community. There are an infinite number of ways to publicly announce one #sucksatfantasyfootball. While standing on a street corner donning a boldly designed sandwich board is one way to go, I think taking out a billboard might be even cringier. Though, forcing the biggest loser to engage in a physical or emotional display of strength -- like a polar plunge or a stand-up comedy show -- is also equal parts humiliating and hilarious.
But torture doesn't always have to be the end result. Consider a twist on an idea popularized by NFL reporter Michael Gehlken. In this scenario, the two lowest-scoring teams duel in the season's final game and the loser donates a predetermined amount of money to the league champion's charity of choice. Now that's a way to feel good ... even when one's team is truly bad.
Follow Liz on Twitter @LizLoza_FF