Being a Fantasy Commissioner During a Pandemic

Bryan Sweet helps prepare fantasy commissioners for the unknown on the precipice of the most unique NFL season in history.

(Photo by Rich Graessle/PPI/Icon Sportswire)

If you’re a fantasy football commissioner you are acutely aware of how difficult the “job” can be when dealing with maintaining competitive balance and implementing rule changes, deciding payouts, and you get the idea.  Now, heading in the 2020 NFL season, commissioners everywhere are trying to navigate how to handle potential issues within their respective leagues that could arise as a result of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic that has paralyzed the world and changed the way most of us go about our day-to-day life.  It’s an unprecedented time for everybody and the thought of navigating through it in real-time is panic-inducing.  While we cannot prepare for every circumstance that might arise from the pandemic, we can have plans in place before the start of the season to mitigate as many problems as possible.

This document is going to try and bring to light some issues that might arise in fantasy leagues, along with potential solutions.  This will provide you with a reference point for your leagues. The parameters of this league before modifications for this season are as follows:

  • 12 teams
  • Start QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, WR, TE, QB/RB/WR/TE, K, DST
  • PPR scoring (0.5 for RB, 1.0 for WR, 1.25 for TE)
  • Keepers (4-round penalty)
  • Head-to-head competition with Victory Points
  • 17 total roster spots and 1 Injured Reserve (IR) spot
  • 13 regular season weeks – Playoffs run through week 16

I think that covers the basics, so let’s look at our first potential pitfall in dealing with COVID-19 and the 2020 season.


Handling Player Absences Due to COVID-19


It would be foolish of us to think NFL players won’t be affected by this virus and will likely be forced to miss time at some point during the season.  To see the havoc it can cause, just look at the number of players who contracted the illness on the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals during the early part of the MLB season.  Armed with the knowledge that no one is immune to the virus, how can we mitigate the issues when a player is declared out for a week or more as a result?

One potential solution is to increase the number of IR spots a team can utilize.  The addition/creation of IR spots would give fantasy managers an option to field a starting lineup without dropping a key member of their team.  The IR designation can be defined to only allow certain players who meet the criteria to minimize the opportunity for shrewd managers to turn it into an advantage.  Different hosts have different rules, so be sure to explore them before electing to go this route unless you want to put more work on yourself.  League sites such as have options to define who is eligible for the IR spot.  In my league, I am going to increase to 3 IR spots and players must be designated as “Out”, “IR” or “COVID” to be eligible.

If you do not like the idea of allowing injured players to be put on IR but still want to give managers some peace of mind for a COVID-19 outbreak, a COVID-only IR spot is a consideration.  Most hosting sites will have some protocols in place to differentiate players who are on the inactive list as a result of injury versus for Coronavirus.  You could then allow only players who are inactive due to Coronavirus be placed in this specialized spot.

Another option would be to increase the size of the bench.  This would give managers a larger pool of players to choose from in the event of an absence.  On the downside, this depletes the waiver pool considerably if multiple players miss time, and the replacement options are limited.  The negatives outweigh the positives in this solution and I would recommend either of the other two options before exploring this one.

You could always keep the status quo and have managers deal with this as they would any other situation, treating it similar to an in-game or pre-game injury.  There is nothing wrong with this approach, but it would probably be best reserved for leagues that tend to lean on the more competitive side.  It doesn’t allow for any manipulation of a new rule by a shrewd manager and the playing field is level for everyone.

One potentially unique idea is to enlist a “TEAM” option for a single-requirement position.  For example, instead of drafting individual kickers, you would draft an entire team’s kicker position.  Therefore, any kicking points accrued by that team, regardless of the individual that scored the kicking points, would be credited to the team.  You could technically apply the TEAM attribute to any position, but I would caution against using it too liberally.  A TEAM QB in leagues that only have one starting QB, but I wouldn’t advise allowing it to be used with RB, WR, or TE.


Handling a Shortened Season


The NFL and the NFLPA have made adjustments to the collective bargaining agreement in anticipation of the full 17-week season being played.  While the policies and protocols are in place, the league is attempting to minimize the impact of the virus but we need only to look back to early spring to see how this virus can disrupt a sport.  The NCAA basketball postseason was canceled and both the NBA and NHL had to suspend their seasons and postpone their playoffs for months.  How can we plan for a potentially interrupted or shortened season as it concerns our fantasy leagues?

The first step in determining how to approach all of the typical end-of-season items, is we need to decide how many weeks would have to be completed for it to be considered a season.  A season would consist of any number of the following: crowning a champion, paying out winnings, setting draft order for the following season, advancing contracts/keepers, etc.  For me, 10 completed weeks will constitute a full season.

Now that we have a determination on what constitutes a season, we can now turn our attention to how to handle all the things that entail a finish to a season.  Let’s start with how to crown a champion and/or determine final standings.  The most direct way to determine a champion in this scenario would be to look at each team’s overall record and then break any ties using your league’s typical tie-breaking rules. A modified version of this is what we will be using. The team with the most Victory Points will be considered the league champion and ties will be broken per our rules. 

Another possibility would be to retroactively figure out each team’s all-play record.  To accomplish this, you would rank all the teams in your league based on points scored for each week of the season.  For example, in a 12-team league for week one, the team with the most points scored that week would receive 11 points because that team would have beaten all 11 other teams.  The team with the second-most points would get 10 points and so on down the line.  The team with the lowest score would get 0 points for week one.  Continue this for each completed week of the season and then rank the teams in order of total points won.  This system eliminates the “bad beat” scenarios in which a team gets a loss because of an unfortunate matchup.

A third option would involve a power rank system that most league hosting sites have as an option.  It is a complex algorithm that I won’t pretend to understand but it involves a team’s all-play record, starters vs. bench points, and other factors.  It’s not something I would recommend if your hosting site doesn’t offer it as an option and would be a distant third to the options presented above for me.

If you are involved in a league that awards prizes, that is another scenario in which we need to plan for a potentially shortened season.  Is the prize money distributed 100% or does some carry forward to next season?  What about a partial refund of the entry fee instead of a carryover?  This is a situation in which I would value the input from my league-mates as it is likely to create the most animosity if handled improperly.

Since we’ve decided on the minimum number of weeks that have to be completed for a shortened season to be considered a season, I would use that as a starting point.  Assuming the NFL meets the predetermined number of weeks, payouts will be paid in full as if the season concluded normally.  You can then put rules in place for what happens to the entry fees and prize money if the season is shorter than 10 (or whatever number you decided on) weeks.

In my league, we have weekly prizes along with end-of-season prizes, so we are instituting a policy that if any weeks are not played, those weekly prizes will be refunded equally to all managers.  Also, if the NFL does not complete 10 weeks the end-of-season prizes will be refunded equally to each manager.  NOTE: If you adopt a similar rule and utilize a league hosting service that charges, find out what their policy is concerning a full season and how payments are applied/refunded in the event of a shortened season and adjust your rule accordingly.

You can also designate certain thresholds and define your payouts as those thresholds are met.  Maybe if four weeks are completed, 25% of the prize money will be paid out, six completed weeks will result in 50% paid out with eight weeks hitting the 75% threshold.  The remainder can be refunded or carried over to the following season, creating an even larger pool for what we hope will be a “normal” season. For our league, 10 or more completed weeks will result in 100% of prizes being paid out. If the NFL completes 7-9 weeks, the prize fund will be paid out at 50%. Six weeks or less and the season will be declared null and all entry fees refunded. 


Handling Cancelled and Rescheduled Games


While a premature end to the season is the worst-case scenario for fantasy leagues, single-game cancellations or postponements could be a more problematic issue for managers.  However, we have experience with a rescheduled game as it has happened before – and relatively recently.

In the last 10 years, the NFL has rescheduled four games due to weather-related concerns.  However, only once (Miami vs. Tampa Bay on 9/10/2017) during that time was the game rescheduled to a different week, thus affecting fantasy football leagues.  As commissioners, the rescheduling of a game within the same NFL week (before the Thursday game that kicks off the next NFL week) is a non-issue other than standings, and wins/losses are delayed until the game is completed.  In the event a game is moved to a different NFL week, players in the game(s) involved would accrue no points in the originally scheduled week but would be available during the week the game is officially played.  It is just a case of bad luck for any manager who has a player involved in that situation.

As commissioner, you could elect to retroactively apply the statistics from the rescheduled game to the week the game was originally scheduled, but that would likely create more problems and I would not advise going down this path unless you’re prepared for even more headaches.


Handling Next Season


You may be thinking, “Why do I have to look past this season?  If this happens again, I’ll be ready with all the stipulations I’ve put in place this year.”  We’re all hoping this is a one-time thing and the world will be better prepared in 2021, but this section is more about how this season affects your league for next season.

Many leagues use the results from the previous season to determine the draft order for the following season in some form or fashion.  How do we determine the draft order for next season if we don’t meet the criteria for a full season?  For keeper or dynasty leagues, do the players maintain their draft or contract status or is everything pushed back one year?  How will funds that are carried over going to be allocated at the conclusion of next season?  Not all leagues will have to handle all these questions, but I’m sure there will be some sort of impact on next season if this season is truncated.

For my league, our annual draft is scheduled for August 30th with the assumption a full season will be played.  Once the draft is complete, regardless of how many games are played, those players will maintain their draft status heading into next season for keeper purposes.  You may elect to declare the draft results null and void if a full season isn’t completed and rosters will remain unchanged from the end of the 2019 season in your keeper/dynasty league.

Our draft order will be determined based on the final standings assuming at least 10 weeks are completed.  If fewer than 10 weeks are completed, we will use a weighted lottery system to determine draft order based on standings as of the cancelation date of the remainder of the NFL season.  If the season is shortened, it might be a good idea to wait and see how the NFL handles where teams will pick in its annual draft and come up with a similar plan.

If some or all of your entry fees are pushed to the following season, it’s probably a good idea to decide now how those additional funds will be distributed.  Is it all going to the first place team for weathering the 2020 storm and dominating 2021?  Is it going to be equally distributed based on your normal prize distribution rules?  Is it going to be a separate pot to be paid out in a fun or unique way?  All these options, along with many others, are on the table and only you and your league members can decide the best way to appropriate them.


Final Thoughts


This is not intended to be an all-inclusive guide to how to handle an uncertain situation, but hopefully, it addresses some of the important issues your leagues may face.  Feel free to drop a note in the comments about a situation I neglected to cover or a unique circumstance to your league that all of us here at QB List would be glad to help with.  You’re a fantasy football commissioner because you got several managers to trust you to make the tough calls when needed.  This might be the toughest year for all of us, but we’ll get through it and be better as a result.

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