The draft, and all the strategizing, partying and trash talk that goes with it, is a key component of any fantasy football league. If you're a league founder or commissioner, hosting a successful draft is one of your most important duties. A good draft not only assures rough parity among teams, it also gives your league a solid foundation of camaraderie and competitiveness.
To run smoothly, a draft needs plenty of advanced planning and organization. Your approach will differ slightly depending on whether it's a keeper league, where some players carry over on the same team from year to year, or whether you're starting from scratch.
Most leagues use an online site as a base. Some of the most popular are CBS Sports Fantasy Football, Yahoo Sports Fantasy Football and MyFantasyLeague.com. For a fee, you use the site's software to score games and keep track of your league's stats. Establish your league on the Web in advance of your draft and it will make your job a lot easier.
Read on for tips that will help you host a top-shelf fantasy draft.
Choose Owners Carefully
The participants in your league -- they might be called owners, managers or coaches -- are the most critical factor in its success. You'll need at least eight and as many as 14 owners (an even number avoids bye weeks). You want owners who are likely to see the season through, not drop out in November.
The best rule is to pick people you know. If you include one jerk or hothead, it can spoil the fun for everybody. Watch out for pre-existing conflicts between potential owners. Remember, it's hard to get somebody out once you've gotten him or her in.
Make sure coaches are roughly equal in their expectations, their level of seriousness and their football savvy. Decide in advance whether this is going to be a casual league mostly for fun or a hardcore league for NFL junkies.
The owners you choose must know what fantasy football entails. They should understand the time commitment. And they should recognize that just knowing the NFL doesn't necessarily mean knowing the ins and outs of fantasy football.
Have several alternate owners in mind. Confirm participation a week ahead and be ready to recruit someone else if a perspective owner cancels.
Pick a Time and Place
Schedule your draft early. The typical time for drafts is around Labor Day as the exhibition games are winding down and the season is about to begin. It's a busy time. Not only are there a slew of end-of-summer and back-to-school activities, but you're also likely to come into conflict with the drafts of other fantasy leagues. Some of your owners may play in more than one league, remember.
You'll need a space with comfortable furniture and room for all your owners. You'll want to have an internet connection in order to keep abreast of injury reports and to give owners access to online player rankings. A large-screen television with sports subscription is a definite plus.
If you're holding the draft at your home, make sure everyone can fit into your living room, family room or finished basement. If the weather's good, a patio or deck is another option.
Many organizers schedule the draft at a local sports bar or restaurant. Plenty of venues offer package deals for fantasy football drafts, including deals on drinks and food and equipment like draft boards. Resorts and golf clubs have also gotten into the market. Some offer a full day of activities, including golf and an open bar.
Clarify the Rules
The last thing you want on draft day is a brouhaha over your league's rules. There are many scoring systems and nuances possible. You need to set your rules well in advance so that owners can base their draft picks on the scoring method you've chosen.
You should make sure owners are aware of the draft system. The serpentine (or snake) draft is the most popular. In this system, the order of the draft reverses with each round. The owner who drafts first in Round 1 drafts last in Round 2. Some leagues use this system, but reverse the order for the third round, so that the team picking first in the first round picks last in Rounds 2, 3 and 4, then first in Round 5. Some leagues use an auction draft in which players receive an imaginary budget and bid on each player proposed.
Owners should also be aware of:
- Trade policies
- All fees and prizes
- The Web site you will use and members' passwords
- Methods of settling any disputes that arise later
It's a good idea to make up a short rule book in advance and distribute copies to owners on draft day. One thing you should guard against is the temptation to change rules after the draft. Expect a lot of grief if you do.
Prepare for a Party
As the draft host, it's your responsibility to make the day into a real party. Owners expect it -- it's part of the tradition.
Refreshments are important. For a draft at home, you can provide food and drink yourself or ask your owners to bring what they prefer. Given how busy you are going to be with your other duties, it's often a good idea to have the whole thing catered. You can charge each owner a fee to cover the cost.
Because the draft is sure to last several hours minimum, you should consider serving "real" food, not just pizza, chips and wings. You might want to turn it into a barbecue, with grilled steaks and chicken. Or you may plan to have all the owners meet at a good restaurant when the draft is over to enjoy fine food and brag about their teams.
Another option is to expand the occasion to include activities like a poker tournament or a visit to a casino. Take advantage of the time together to really enjoy yourselves.
Line Up Your Equipment
The most essential piece of equipment to have ready for draft day is the draft board. In its simplest form, this is a piece of poster board with room enough to make a 6-inch column for each team. At the top, write the team name. The rows below will represent the draft rounds. You can make up a deck of cards with the names of the eligible NFL players. These should be color-coded by position. As each owner selects a player, pin or tape the card under his team's name.
Keep the board up to date as the draft proceeds. If trades are made during the draft, make sure they appear on the board. Alternatively, you can use an erasable white board and write in the players' names. Boards are also available on the Internet already assembled, along with a set of player cards. Yet another possibility is to use a computer with an Excel spreadsheet to list the choices.
You should also have pens, paper, colored markers and clipboards available to make life easier for the owners who will be tracking the progress of the draft and updating their strategies throughout the process.
Keep It Moving
A successful fantasy draft always has an element of pressure. Owners would like more time to recalculate their draft strategy, but if you give it to them, your draft will become too long. You want the process to be exciting, not tedious. The draft is going to last several hours anyway, so delays should be held to a minimum.
A stopwatch or kitchen timer is a must to keep the draft moving. Some organizers give owners 90 seconds or two minutes for each pick. Others allow longer, say, five minutes, for the early picks and only one minute during later, less critical rounds.
You should also be sure to schedule breaks between at least some of the rounds. Your owners will need to move around, talk about the progress of the draft so far and rethink strategy. Bathroom breaks are also welcome.
Make It Fun
Your draft is a key time to build league camaraderie. Make sure everyone who attends is introduced to the other owners if they don't already know them. During the draft, you should encourage the boasts, jokes and smack talk that goes along with any NFL event.
If you hold the party at your home, put up some football-themed decorations. Get hold of DVDs of highlights from last year's top games or a compilation of bloopers and play them on a large-screen TV to set the mood. If you can, locate key plays by some of the players who'll be among the sought-after studs in the draft.
As the draft is winding down, ask owners to make predictions about the season and how they expect to line up against the competition. Encourage them to analyze the picks made by other owners. Who do they expect to be the league's most valuable players by season's end?
Enlist a Neutral Party
Don't try to run a draft all by yourself. Always try to recruit someone who's not going to be participating in the league to help out.
One of this person's duties will be to keep time, so that you can focus on tracking the progress of the draft, recording trades and taking care of your other duties as commissioner.
The neutral party can also be given the final say in settling disputes that might affect owners' results. The person can maintain the draft board and keep track of the order in which owners will make their picks on each round. The goal is not only to take the weight off your shoulders, but to remove the appearance of bias. Remember that you're not only the commissioner but one of the owners, with a vested interest in the draft outcome.
Confirm All Picks
Before your owners leave -- or before you move on to the serious partying -- make sure everyone is clear about the players they've drafted and the makeup of the other teams. If players have been traded, the team they ended up on should also be clear.
You'll want to make up a waiver list of the remaining available NFL players. Make sure everyone understands the deadline for filing each week's roster. If you've made up copies of the rule book, distribute them now. Make sure all fees have been paid. Some leagues appoint one owner as treasurer to handle the cash.
Set dates and announce plans for future gatherings. Some leagues get together regularly. Others only meet again at the end of the season. Make sure you have contact information for everyone. And as soon as you can after the draft, enter team information into the web site you're using.
Pay Attention to Your Own Team
As league organizer or commissioner, you'll have plenty to do on draft day. Don't let your duties interfere with your own draft strategy. You're there to do as well as you can in the draft and to build as strong a team as possible.
Every draft host should pay attention to the basics of fantasy football. Study player rankings and determine where you hope to score points. Prepare a strategy in advance.
During the draft, stay focused. The situation is always changing as players are taken and other teams accumulate rosters. You'll need to adjust your picks and priorities.
Other basics to keep in mind:
- Focus on running backs early. Running backs are going to be your key point scorers. Even quarterbacks are a lower priority in fantasy football.
- Research and target your sleepers. A lesser-known player who's primed to have a breakout year can be an asset that will take you to the championship of your fantasy league.
- Select backups for key positions. The NFL is a rough place. Don't let one player's injury or slump cut the heart out of your team.
- Keep an eye on bye weeks. You need to avoid a situation where one or more of your key players is not playing because his NFL team has a bye.
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