Covid Conundrums: Managing your fantasy league through the chaos

August 4, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly affected our daily lives, and the virus’s impact has now spread into the Fantasy Football realm. With many NFL players being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, some opting out this year, and the entire 2020 season in question, fantasy commissioners are facing a conundrum: How do I handle these issues in my league? In this article, I will tackle the top challenges facing leagues for the upcoming season. My recommendations are based on my opinion as a commissioner compiled with the top suggestions made by industry leaders. Dynasty / keeper leagues will be the focus, but other league types could benefit from this article as well.

Adopt a contingency plan before the season starts

This is first and foremost and I can’t stress it enough. The sooner you adopt a contingency plan, the better. Transparency is key as a commissioner and you don’t want to create a new rule after the season starts as it can be perceived as being added to benefit your own team. Having said that, since we’re dealing with a lot of the unknown; there needs to be some flexibility, so make it clear that your contingency plans are subject to change and that you reserve the right to make changes based on the best interest of the league.

What constitutes a season for your league?

The 2020 NFL season could end up being canceled, played as normal, shortened, delayed or interrupted (like the NBA). Basically, a decision has to be made regarding the minimum number of weeks the NFL has to play in order for your league to crown a champion and make pay-outs. If the NFL revises its schedule to an abbreviated one before the season begins, I would adopt it in my leagues. Otherwise, I’m discovering that most leagues are choosing to either:

  1. Not honor the season at all if a full NFL season isn’t played
  2. Go with the industry consensus of a seven-week minimum the NFL must complete for a fantasy season to be valid

Seven weeks makes sense as it is the halfway point of a regular season for leagues that play 16 weeks.

Prize Pool Distribution

In a dynasty league, if there is no season, any fees paid should just be rolled over to the following year. Please note: Regardless of what the NFL does, if your league normally donates a portion of its fees, it should still make a donation to charity this year. Charities will continue to operate in 2020 even if the NFL doesn’t, and they are particularly in need of money due to the pandemic.

If your league meets the minimum week criteria set to constitute a season, I would suggest crowning a champion and disbursing payouts to the highest-scoring teams (most points for). I feel this is fairer than awarding teams with the best records in the absence of a full round-robin as those teams may have benefitted from having a soft early-season schedule. Payouts can be evenly split or made in predetermined amounts based on finish.

Player Availability

Player availability is an unprecedented issue we’ll be dealing with this year due to the number of players that will land on the Reserve/COVID-19 list at some point.

In dynasty / keeper leagues, I’m in favor of increasing the number of IR spots versus increasing roster size. Either will basically provide the same benefit, but by having more IR spots, players will end up being dropped incrementally rather than en masse when rosters are cut back to normal.

The additional IR spots should be earmarked for opted out or Reserve/COVID-19 designated players only. Since players can land on the Reserve/COVID-19 list simply by coming in close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, having an unlimited number of these spots is not unfathomable. However, if you opt for unlimited COVID IR spots, what will stop someone from grabbing a bunch of eligible players off the waiver wire and placing them directly on IR? Monitoring player eligibility for these IR spots could also become a nightmare unless your league hosting site incorporates these spots along with Covid-19 designations. The hosting platform, My Fantasy League, already has these in place.

Also, leagues that don’t already do so, should have a weekly free-for-all waiver wire period once the season begins. This period should open after regular waivers run, and stay open through the start of the Monday night games. This will allow fantasy owners to freely pick up players before the start of their individual games in case players end up on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on game days.

Another way to help with player availability is to have fewer designated starting spots and more flexes. For example, instead of requiring starting 1 QB-2 RBs-3 WRs-1 TE-2 Flex, make it 1 QB-1 RB-1 WR-O TE and 6 Flex spots (RB/WR/TE). You could also utilize Team QB, but in deeper leagues, an NFL team’s starting and backup QBs could already be on two different fantasy teams, e.g. Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky.

2021 Rookie Drafts

Perhaps the most highly debated issue is how to determine the 2021 rookie draft order if the NFL cancels or halts the season. In the absence of a 2020 season, you can wait and mimic how the NFL handles their rookie draft order. However, you should still have a contingency plan in place in case this is not feasible for your league.

Probably the two fairest ways of the simpler solutions I’ve found to determine the 2021 draft order are:

  1. Utilize a Fantasy Football Team Analyzer to rank your teams
  2. Weight and randomize the draft picks using 2019 or combine 2019 and 2020 point standings if some games are played

There are a few Internet platforms that have a tool that rates fantasy teams based on the strength of their rosters. You can use this tool to get a rating for each team in your league and assign draft order by ranking the lowest to the highest-rated teams with the lowest-rated team drafting first. Several site options will come up if you do a Google search for “fantasy football team analyzer.”

The other option is to weight and then partially randomize the draft picks by using the 2019 points standings or combining the 2019 and the 2020 points standings if some weeks are played. In a 12-team league, you would randomize picks 1-4, and then separately randomize the 5-8 and the 9-12 picks. Underperforming teams would be guaranteed a pick no lower than four, and on the flip side, a team won’t automatically be handed the 1.01 pick in back to back seasons. In addition, you could also snake the draft or do a third or middle round reversal.

www.100yardrush.com

To randomize the picks, I would suggest using www.100yardrush.com where league members can watch themselves virtually race into the end zone for draft position. It’s simple to use, fair, fun, and it’s free (although donations are appreciated).

Final Thoughts

You should determine whether all or some solutions should be put up for a league vote or if the commissioner should just decide on them. Either way, some of the issues may warrant a league discussion beforehand. Who gets the final say depends on factors such as how your league is structured, how much money is involved, and whether you are playing with a group of people you trust or a bunch of strangers. Every league is different and, as a commissioner, no one knows your league and team owners better than you.