"Pitchers and catchers report "
Those four words bring a smile to the face of many a baseball fan every year, as the arrival of players to training camps in Florida and Arizona signals that Opening Day is right around the corner.
Along with the casual baseball fan, you also have an ever-growing number of participants in fantasy baseball leagues. For them, the start of spring training is often accompanied by the creation of new leagues. Some new leagues are born as a result of "new blood," owners playing the game for the first time. Other leagues come into being because veteran players want to play by their own set of rules and not find their fantasy fate determined by the whims of others.
Whatever the reason, every new league should start the same way: with a written set of rules. Having a league constitution in place is essential to the success of even the most casual fantasy leagues. It heads off the vast majority of disputes and cuts down on most of the grief, making the overall experience more fun for all involved.
All leagues should have a constitution, but it's even more important for keeper or dynasty leagues, which allow owners to keep players from year to year. No pressure, right?
Don't be concerned if you don't know exactly where to begin. All you need to do is follow the steps outlined below, answer a few questions, fill in a few blanks and your league, regardless of format, is sure to start off on a path that would make Thomas Jefferson proud.
Question 1: Why are you playing fantasy baseball?
Is the primary purpose of this league to have fun? Is it to keep in touch with some college buddies? Is it to give you and your co-workers something to talk about away from the office? Is it to try to win a lot of money? Why did you start this league? Give your league a name and a brief mission statement.
For example: "This is the constitution of the (insert name here) Fantasy Baseball League. This league exists in order to add an extra element of fun to the daily drudgery of working for Really Lousy Co. Inc." Congratulations. You've just written the first section of your league constitution. Do your best to stick to the spirit of this opening salvo.
Question 2: Who will be playing with you?
If you're thinking about starting a league, you probably have a few folks in mind to play with you. How many? Who are they? That will give you an idea of how many teams you will have in your league. Remember, there's no need to go hunting around for warm bodies just to fulfill some preconceived quota. It's far better to start small with an intimate group of owners who are gung-ho about the idea of playing all season rather than loading up your league with people who will drop out just as soon as you ease up on the arm-twisting.
"The (insert name here) Fantasy Baseball League consists of 10 owners. For the 2013 season, these owners are Joe, Jim, Julie, Joanne, et al."
Question 3: What makes up a roster?
Will your league be AL-only? NL-only? Will it be made up of players from both leagues? How many players will each team draft? You can certainly limit your player pool to left-handers who were born in October, if you like; but remember, the more owners you have, the bigger a player pool you'll need to stock rosters.
If you're starting up a dynasty league, you're going to want to make sure you allow for plenty of room for the stashing away of prospects who might not reach the major leagues until a few seasons down the road.
"Each team in the (insert name here) Fantasy Baseball League will have 40 players on its roster, coming from any team in Major League Baseball or any of their minor league affiliates, as well as NCAA rosters, foreign-based professional leagues or any other level of organized baseball."
Question 4: How will you get that roster?
Do you pick names from a hat? Do you have a draft? Do you hold an auction? Do you keep the same players for life or do you plan on drafting from scratch each season? Remember to schedule this potentially time-consuming event sooner rather than later to increase the likelihood of finding a block of time that fits into each owner's calendar.
"Every year, the (insert name here) Fantasy Baseball League will hold its annual draft. This year the draft will be held at (insert time/date here). A draft order will be selected at random, and each team in turn will select players until its roster is complete. At the start of the next season, all teams will be allowed to protect as many players as they wish, returning those players they do not wish to retain to the available player pool. Teams will draft in reverse order of record, with each owner being allocated a number of draft picks that is equal to the numbers of players released in this fashion."
Question 5: How do we determine who wins?
This is the heart of any league's constitution. Are you playing rotisserie-style, head-to-head, points or some other system? What statistical categories are you going to use? Are you going with the standard 4x4 or 5x5 categories, or will you be including obscure statistics such as GIDP on Tuesdays? Does each team have to start its entire roster or is there a starting lineup (with or without a positional requirement) and a bench? This section could get extremely complicated, as you might imagine, but it can also be as simple as the following:
"Each team in the (insert name here) Fantasy Baseball League shall set its starting lineup every Monday. A starting lineup consists of one catcher, one first baseman, one second baseman, one shortstop, one third baseman, three outfielders and five pitchers. This lineup shall be compared in the following eight categories: batting average, home runs, runs batted in and stolen bases for hitters; and saves, ERA, strikeouts and wins for pitchers. If a team finishes first in a category, it gets 10 points. If it finishes last in a category, it gets one point. The team with the most points at the end of the season wins."
Question 6: What kind of changes to the roster can be made once the draft is over?
Can teams make trades? If so, will all trades be allowed or will there be some form of commissioner/peer review? If a player gets hurt, can he be replaced? Is there some sort of free-agent pool owners can choose from? If so, how? Is it first come first served, or is there a weekly bid? This is the section where most controversies arise, so it's important to be as specific as possible. If this is your first time as a league commissioner, you're bound to leave something out here, but that's OK. Part of building a league is building trust among your owners. A little conflict resolution can be a good thing, provided that your decisions never contradict what you've already written down here. Again, this section could grow to be pages long, but feel free to start with something simple, like this:
"Teams in the (insert name here) Fantasy Baseball League can make any trade they want until Aug. 1. After that, no trades will be allowed. Teams may drop a player from their roster at any time and replace him with any player who is not on another owner's team. This process is first come first served. Any team wishing to do so must send an email to the entire league, at which time the move becomes official. Teams may send only 20 such emails during a season. As this is a keeper league, future draft picks may be included in any deal, but at no time may any roster exceed the 40-man limit."
Question 7: What if you need to make a change in ownership?
If you're planning to keep a league going year after year, odds are that at some point an owner is going to want to move on, or perhaps you'll want to kick an inactive or shady owner out of the mix. Don't wait to be blindsided. Put a plan for such a situation in place before your dynasty league vanishes into the annals of history like the Ottoman Empire.
"If an owner decides he/she no longer wants to participate in the (insert name here) Fantasy Baseball League, that owner must notify the commissioner. The owner is encouraged to nominate a potential replacement owner, but the league is under no obligation to accept said nomination. Any new owner must be voted into place by a majority of the remaining owners in the league. Additionally, any owner who demonstrates continued inactivity, intentionally breaks league rules or misses deadlines may be subject to removal from the league by a unanimous league vote. Examples of behavior that may result in such a review include, but are not limited to: consistent failure to set lineups or replace injured players, participating in trades that prove to be collusive in nature, or ignoring or otherwise not responding to league correspondence in a reasonable amount of time."
Question 8: What does the winner receive?
The main reason to play fantasy baseball should be to win bragging rights over your fellow owners. Winning money should never be the main goal. Having said that, if your owners do embrace that basic philosophy, then there is nothing wrong with sweetening the pot a little. But be reasonable. If you're a bunch of college students, you shouldn't be playing for the same stakes as a bunch of big-shot lawyers. Keep it within your means. This will keep things fun and prevent people from taking the whole thing way too seriously.
"At the end of the season, the (insert name here) Fantasy Baseball League champion will be taken out to dinner by the rest of the owners in the league, to a restaurant of their choosing."
All done? Nice work. You now have laid the groundwork for your league's very first constitution. Show it to the people you were planning to invite to join your league. Have them read it. Ask them if they have any questions. They most likely will. In our example, somebody may read it and wonder, "What happens if two teams tie in a category?" Whoops! It might be implied, but it's not really covered, is it? There's your first addition to the constitution.
Once everyone has had a look at the rules and you've all signed off on them, you're ready for your league's first fantasy season. But your task is not yet over. In fact, a good commissioner knows that this task is never over. A league constitution will change over time as the league changes and new situations arise. The important thing is that these changes always come after discussion with, and input from, your fellow owners -- never in the middle of the season, unless the change is merely to provide clarification for an already existing rule.
If you follow this kind of approach, your league has a good chance of succeeding, not only today, but for many years to come, even if the team you drafted ends up not being so lucky.