Every year, I see someone recruiting new owners to their dynasty league. They will promise fun, engagement, community, and longevity—but what results instead is usually a poorly planned attempt that leaves owners frustrated and turned off to dynasty baseball. You see, the fantasy baseball landscape is littered with the dead and dying bodies of failed dynasty leagues for just that reason. The intentions are good, but the planning and prep work needed is rarely there.
If you aren’t super familiar with what a dynasty league is, then make sure you check out our other Fantasy 101 article “What is a Dynasty League.”
Whether you find yourself wanting to start your own dynasty league, or just join one, what follows is my advice for what would make up a successful and thriving league. Think of it as a primer for setup or maybe just the things you should be looking for in a potential league. The goal of your league is to last, and I believe if you take the proper steps it will.
Starting a Dynasty League
1. Find a Co-Commissioner
In my opinion, this is the first thing you need to do if you are going to start and run a dynasty league. Running a standard redraft fantasy baseball league in general is a lot of work, but now add to that the complexities of more owners, deeper player pools, more rules, and most likely a lot more transactions. Inevitably, there will be league disputes or some other unforeseen circumstances that will command your time and attention. Now add to this the fact that you probably have a life outside of playing fantasy baseball (right?). Finding someone to help shoulder the burden of running the league is incredibly wise and will create a much more active and enjoyable league for everyone involved.
Recently, my son was describing to me the regrettable experience he had at school in a group project. He was in a group with some kids who were fun and he liked, but no one wanted to do any work. So we all know what happened, because I’m sure we’ve all been there. He ended up doing a lion’s share of the work and resented being paired up with those kids.
Be very intentional and put some thought and care behind choosing who to partner with. Don’t just choose some random jabroni or a good buddy, but rather select someone you know will be responsible and helpful. You want to create a better experience not a worse one.
2. Draft a Constitution
I can not stress enough how important this step is. Before you even think of asking people to join your league, you must have rules and expectations firmly set in place or there will be chaos. If you decide to fill your league and then ask everyone’s opinions around potential rules, format, etc., then you are really going to hate yourself for not planning ahead. Everyone will have their own idea of how the league should be. The back-and-forth arguing that ensues will be more painful than watching the “Scott’s Tots” episode of The Office on repeat (which we can all agree is one of the most uncomfortable and cringe-inducing episodes).
You should be 95% set on how your league will function before you even ask a single person to join. If you aren’t sure where to start, or you simply feel overwhelmed at the thought of starting from scratch, just google “dynasty baseball constitution” and you will find a myriad of examples to use as a starting point. Craft your constitution, get your co-commish on the same page, and everything else will fall into place. Of course, you can still be open to ideas, suggestions, and potential rule changes down the road, but with a constitution set in stone you now have the luxury of time and an existing structure.
Within the bones of your constitution, make sure you thoroughly cover topics such as:
– Format and Scoring
– Initial Draft & Supplemental Drafts
– League Dues, Payment, and Payouts (Set firm dates on these and stick to them!)
There are a lot of other items to include as well, and that is where taking a peak at another league’s constitution can be helpful.
3. Vet Owners
The process of vetting potential owners might seem unnecessary to the rookie fantasy player, but anyone who has ever been in any fantasy league knows just how easy it can be for one person to completely submarine a league. It really only takes one rotten owner to ruin the experience for everyone else. If you are going to be playing in a league with people for a long time (which is sort of the point of dynasty), then make sure you are playing with people you enjoy talking to and who fit the DNA of your league. It might sound shallow to some, but league chemistry is important.
So, when you put out the cattle call for owners, tell them straight up that there will be an interview process. This will set the expectation at an appropriate place for hopeful owners and also give your newfound league some credibility as one that wants longevity. Take the time to develop thoughtful questions and get to know an incoming owner. Some basic questions I like to ask include: How long have you been playing fantasy baseball? Have you played in a dynasty league before? Do you enjoy trading/talking trade? Tell me about a trade you are particularly proud of. Who’s your favorite current MLB player?
Turnover is going to happen, but it is your job to curb it where you can. Vetting owners is not a suggestion for a healthy and thriving dynasty league, it is a necessity.
4. Choose the Right Platform
This is pretty easy. If you plan on playing with more than 12 teams, and you want minor league rosters, then both CBS and Fantrax have the deepest and most complete user experiences. My personal preference is Fantrax as its product gives more control and has a ridiculously deep player pool. User interface and an easy-to-use app might still be lagging behind for Fantrax in particular, but the product really is that much better that it’s worth it to me.
5. Trading and the Veto
A thriving trade market can be one of the most enjoyable parts of a dynasty league. You really want owners to be talking in and out of the regular season. There are always trades to be made and discussions brewing whether you have a team in the hunt or a rebuilding team. However, this is usually where the most drama and arguments erupt between leaguemates. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a trade go down and other owners belittle or condemn the parties involved in the trade.
Let’s look at some of the complaining owner’s greatest hits…
“I would have given you more for that guy.”
“Wow…That’s such an unfair trade.”
“You got worked over.”
“I can’t believe you did that. I wouldn’t have.”
Often times these are filled with much more colorful language, and they are almost always followed by someone crying “VETO” from the rooftop. Here’s the thing, though, every single person has their own valuation of a player’s perceived value. This is a normal thing to have. So it would only make sense that it would be incredibly rare that someone else’s values line up with your own.
Bad trades happen. Good trades happen. Allow people to manage their own teams and make their own mistakes. If someone really likes a player and wants to overpay for them, or really hates a player and wants to give them away, then that’s their problem. You can’t dictate the terms for every trade because you can’t manage someone else’s team for them. If that were the case then you might as well start a dynasty league where you manage every team yourself.
My point is this: Eliminate the league veto from the inception of the league. The only place for the veto is if there is clear collusion, which is nearly impossible to prove anyways. This is another reason why vetting owners is so important. If you have properly taken that step, then you shouldn’t have to worry as much about a trade being so awful that it upsets the balance of the league.
6. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
Should I say it again? Be transparent and be clear. One of my biggest issues, and the easiest way for me to unplug from a league, comes from a commish who is not open and honest about things. I’ve been in leagues where things just seem to happen out of the blue without any rhyme or reason. When I go to the commissioner to sort out what the heck is going on, and the lines for communication are limited or the commissioner doesn’t seem to care about their lack of communication, well then I am going to find a new league.
As the commissioner, it is your job to always hear someone out, help them re-engage with the league, and then move forward. Engage your league regularly, give updates, and promote conversation.
There is a super simple way to achieve this. Set up a league chat room on a messenger service like Whatsapp or FB Messenger. The leagues I enjoy the most aren’t necessarily the ones where my team is amazing, but rather the ones with the most camaraderie and engaging conversation. That’s the reason so many of us play fantasy sports anyways right? Winning is important, but making friends and having fun while doing it takes a good league and makes it a great one.
Your openness and ability to get people talking sets the tone for the league. Make it a priority and you will create a league that someone would absolutely love to be a part of.
I hope this was helpful and I would love to hear your feedback! Everyone has different preferences, but I think we can all agree that being in a well-run and fun league is the ideal.
Do you have any horror stories about bad league experiences? Are there things I missed that are imperative in your mind to a dynasty league? I’d love to hear from you if that’s the case. Moreover, I hope this was able to help you get a handle on what a dynasty league is and why they are so incredible. Feel free to leave comments here or hit me up on Twitter @gabezammit.
Graphic by Nathan Mills (@NathanMillsPL on Twitter)
I have a deep 18 team dynasty league with 90 man rosters (40 major, 50 minor) that aligns with all of the points in this article, including no vetoes. However, we have a serious issue – for the last several years, whenever we have owner turnover, the new owners are immediately besieged by one or two owners who are known to be sharks, and they end up making a trade that is not beneficial to them. This keeps the shark owners consistently successful because they bilk the new owners out of their best players and sets the new owners back right away, sometimes changing their window of contention by years because of the players they lose (often leading to more owner turnover). It almost makes me wish we did have vetoes. I go out of my way to warn new owners to beware of the sharks, but it keeps happening. Any suggestions on how to deal with this?
In my opinion, there really is no place for the veto in leagues….
However….. I have as the commissioner veto’ed trades that sound similar to what you are describing. I put a stipulation in our constitution that if a trade looks to severely alter the competitive balance of the league, then the commissioner can enact the veto. This does get a little tricky, and in 6 years and 3 leagues I commish, I have only done this twice. Both times it was with a new owner who really didn’t understand the value of players in our league setup and/or the ramifications to his team.
Since this is a slippery slope, I always ask the manager first how they feel the trade will benefit their team over keeping the player or shopping them around. Last year I had an owner who really wanted Luis Robert and was prepared to overpay for him significantly (he was not even a top 50 prospect at the time). He really believed Robert would be a top prospect and be on the 2020 opening day roster. Turns out, he was right! I still think he overpaid, but he had at least thought through his reasoning.
All this to say, we really don’t always know how trades will impact a league. I’ve seen “fair trades” completely destroy a league’s balance in the same way I’ve seen “unfair” ones turn out to be pretty even. I’ll also say making savvy trades is totally a part of the game. Some owners are great at identifying players who will shoot up the ranks before they do it, and they move quickly to acquire them. It sounds like this isn’t the case from what you are describing though.
My advice is first and foremost to really really vet your incoming owners. Ask them about some trades they’ve made. Suggest hypothetical trade scenarios and see how they respond. This might give you a better idea as to their trading acumen. Second, if a trade is so terrible that you are losing sleep (like Mookie Betts for some 3rd tier pitching prospects), then a commish veto might be called for.
It’s a tough situation, I hope you are able to have some good dialogue with your league mates and get it sorted out.
Something that our SOM league (16 teams, 40-man rosters, 25 keepers, began in the mid 1980s) has found effective, and I’m sure it could be implemented in any type of league, is to assign sponsors to new managers. A sponsor is typically the manager that recruited the new manager (but doesn’t have to be). The sponsor is responsible to ensure the new manager understands the rules, responsibilities, and procedures. He is also there for the new manager to vet trade proposals with before making a decision. The sponsor is not allowed to trade with his sponsored new manager for two years. Vetting trade proposals with other managers and/or co-commissioners really helps to curb shark trades.
That’s a really interesting idea Dave! Thanks for sharing!