How to handle your fantasy football league in midst of COVID-19

Andy Behrens
·6 mins read

Football is happening, good people.

You may have doubted it — or ignored it altogether — but it is definitely happening. Next Thursday, the Houston Texans will face the Kansas City Chiefs in primetime, marking the beginning of the regular season. At that point, professional football will be officially and irrevocably back.

If the season kinda snuck up on you ... well, you are not alone. This year's sports calendar is clearly a mess. Under normal circumstances, when the baseball season is only six weeks old and the NBA playoffs are entering the second round, it's early May. The NFL is a far-off thing. Preseason games are months away. Fantasy preview mags haven't reached store shelves.

And yet, here we are. September is upon us, weirdly enough. Summer happened. Preseason football was scrapped, but the real thing begins soon. Those glossy fantasy previews? Yup, they're out there, sitting on magazine racks.

It's possible your fantasy league didn't relaunch at its typical time, because, at some level, all the usual distractions seem inappropriate in 2020 — sports included. Events are unfolding in society from which none of us should turn away. Within the context of this particular year, sports (and their fantasy offshoots) may seem less consequential than ever.

But fantasy leagues also function as social networks, and a little connectedness can go a long way right now. So if you were waffling about bringing back, say, that longtime league filled with friends who shared a dorm floor in 1998 (or even a famous TV show), I am encouraging you to put things in motion.

Yes, the upcoming NFL season may end up being just as bizarre and unpredictable and occasionally hellish as everything else about 2020, but it's happening nevertheless. And fantasy football is here as well.

To help navigate the months ahead in your fantasy life, today we offer a few recommended private league settings for commissioners, in a season unlike any we've experienced before ...

Add a few bench and IR spots

If we've learned anything at all from fantasy baseball's abbreviated season, it's this: You can't possibly have too much depth, not this year. Nearly all of my baseball leagues decided to add one or two IL slots to whatever we'd previously allowed. After roughly two weeks, pretty much all of mine were filled. COVID-19 has hit a few MLB franchises particularly hard, plus we've had all the usual sprains, strains and tears. It's been messy. Each day offers new roster management headaches. Postponements have been commonplace. Deep benches and positional flexibility have been key.

Yahoo's default settings for public football leagues have changed, with IR spots increasing from one to two. The maximum allowed for private leagues has been increased from five to ten. Eligibility for these slots requires an official designation of "out," IR or PUP. Again, I'd urge you to not only expand your injured reserve capacity but also to deepen your league's benches. There's no need to make these changes permanent, but they're certainly appropriate for 2020.

Fantasy football isn't much fun when we find ourselves taking zeroes at active roster spots, or when we're forced to drop useful players to cover unforeseen injuries.

Ease restrictions on transactions

In all likelihood, we're going to see an unusual number of surprise game-day inactives this season. The NFL itself has adjusted its rules regarding the window in which teams can promote players from practice squads in 2020. If the league recognizes the need to make these transactions on short notice, fantasy commissioners should follow. I have no interest in managing a team this season in any league that uses harsh transaction limits. This is not the year to restrict adding and dropping; managers will need to regularly make same-day roster changes.

Also, if you've traditionally used a multi-day trade review process with league-vote vetoes, it's time to finally ditch that terrible arrangement. This season, we're all going to need to make the occasional desperation deal on a Sunday morning or a Monday night. Let's ease the process. Commissioners, you need to take over trade approvals this season — and as long as all parties are honestly acting in what they believe to be the best interests of their teams, let the deals fly.

Trading is fun, dammit. Let's have more of it. Let's reject next-to-nothing.

If we're being honest, almost no league actually uses trade vetoes for the purpose they were intended. Typically, managers simply act in their own self-interest, without regard to the fairness of proposed deals. Vetoes are the worst. End 'em.

Decide today how to proceed if season is interrupted

Commissioners should hope for the best this season, obviously, but we need to prepare for problems in 2020. No one can say exactly what the public health landscape is going to look like in October or November. Hopefully, things are rosy and our biggest worries relate to Will Fuller's hamstrings (in keeping with tradition). But, again, this is no typical year. A few temporary tweaks to your league rules won't make our game any less entertaining.

Before the season kicks off, have a conversation with your league about payouts in case the season is delayed, interrupted or somehow incomplete. You don’t want arguments or proposed changes down the line that would benefit one player over another, so avoid all that by figuring it out now. Each of my leagues seems to have a different contingency plan, but the best commissioners have all proposed something. A partial payout to the league leaders (50-75 percent) in the event of a shortened season is perfectly reasonable. It's also fair to say that as long as the NFL makes it to a certain date without cancellations or interruptions, the season will be considered complete for fantasy purposes and payouts will be made in full. Just please develop a plan for the worst-case scenario, then let's hope we never have to speak of it again.

Even if you can't have an in-person draft, you can still do it live

At this point in post-quarantine American life, we are probably all exceedingly familiar with various video-conference platforms. Choose your favorite, then set up a get-together for the league on draft night. It may not be quite as satisfying to trash-talk your league members on a Zoom call instead of at the bar, but it beats not seeing them at all. I have not yet regretted any league’s in-draft video chat, and I've experienced several (with another on deck this week).

Ultimately, very few of us are playing fantasy football strictly for the profit potential. We're doing it because we have a connection to our leagues based on years of shared experience. Some of us are doing it because we need to annually remind the manager of Team Cheese Curds (sup, John) that, yes, he once really did draft Tim Biakabutuka in the first round. We're often doing it for reasons that are barely tied to football.

So, if you haven't done so already, reassemble the crew.

Set a draft date — we still have one last long weekend ahead before the NFL season kicks.

Fantasy leagues clearly need to adapt to the realities of 2020, but we can play on. Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes get us started next week.

The fan experience is a whole lot more satisfying when one of those magicians is contributing to your fantasy life.

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