By Jeff Melbostad (@Jeff_DFW)

If you’ve checked out the previous articles in our Dynasty 101 section you have a good idea of what dynasty is and some important things to consider before creating or joining a dynasty league.  The next step in the process is to actually do just that.   Get yourself motivated and actually take the leap.  This article will help you do so.

Since dynasty leagues are ongoing you really have two options for getting into the game.  You can join an existing dynasty league by taking over an existing team or joining a league as an expansion team.  The other option is to create your own league from scratch.  Both are good options and have their respective pluses and minuses.  Throughout the course of this article I’ll attempt to walk you through each option and throw out some other tidbits you can use along the way.

Option 1: Joining an existing league

Joining an existing dynasty league is just as easy as that.  Either find a group of friends that have a league going or find a good online league with a spot open.  If you’re looking for an online league feel free to use our forums to hook up with other owners and/or commishes who may have openings.  But not so fast.  There are a few things you’ll want to pay attention to before signing on the dotted line.  Here they are:

  • Make sure the league has an established and trustworthy commish.  The importance of a good commish cannot be overstated.  You need someone reliable and quick to respond at all times.  Someone who isn’t afraid to make tough decisions and who will be fair to all owners.  If you know the commish you likely have some idea already.  If you’re joining an online league seek opinions from others who have played in the commish’s leagues.  If you can’t find anyone who can give an opinion then that may be a red flag.
  • Check that the rules suit your fancy.  Not a fan of PPR?  Love start 2QB leagues?  Prefer leagues with IDP?  Finding a league that matches up with your preferred rule set is key.  You likely have a good idea of what you like from redraft leagues already.
  • Ensure there are active owners in the league.  If you don’t already know the owners do a bit of research before joining.  Browse the transactions log for the past year or so.  Make sure things are happening in the offseason.  Request an offseason schedule from the commish.  The last thing you want is to end up in a league where people disappear in the offseason.  Totally defeats the purpose of dynasty.
  • Verify the team you’re taking over has some potential.  Generally speaking the teams that become available in dynasty leagues are bottom feeders.  So you need to make sure that there is at least SOME hope for the future.  Maybe the team has a good bit of young talent, a number of solid draft picks, or some older guys who can fetch value on the trade market.  Regardless of what it is you need something to work with or you won’t be able to rebound.  Give the potential team a good look and make your decision from there.  Likewise if it’s an expansion draft ensure the rules for expansion give you enough decent players to compete either now or in the future.
  • Don’t blow all of your assets right away.  The first thing new dynasty owners want to do is blow up a team and make it theirs.  It’s a natural thing to do.  Just make sure you don’t over-do it.  Don’t trade away all of your vets and don’t trade away all of your picks.  Leave yourself a good mix so that you can compete for years to come and still build your team the way you want it.

That pretty much covers it from an existing league perspective.  Joining an existing dynasty league is probably the easiest approach to getting started with dynasty.  It is a good option for new dynasty leaguers and experienced ones alike.  It’s an easy way to get your feet wet and get a feel for the dynasty format.  Once you get that feel and determine your likes and dislikes you can start up a league of your own.  Just remember you’re in the league you just joined for the long haul.  So you’ll now be managing two teams.  Just an opportunity for twice the fun if you ask me.

Option 2: Create your own league

Starting a new dynasty league from scratch is a bit more complex than joining an existing one but also more satisfying since you can create it in your own image.  You create the rules, you call the shots, and you decide how things will be run.  Many of the same rules we covered for existing leagues also apply to creating a new league.  Let’s do a quick run down of the things you should consider:

  • Make sure you have a good commish.  This was my first point for joining an existing league and it’s just as important (probably more-so) with a brand new dynasty.  Whether it is you or someone you deem worthy the commish is the lynchpin to a successful dynasty startup.  The commish must be reliable, prompt, and most importantly know the rules like the back of his hand.  With a new league and a dynasty league in general there will be lots of questions.  The commish needs to be the expert and make sure everyone understands what is going on.  The offseason is a particularly confusing time for new dynasty leaguers and one that is often neglected by commissioners.  A dynasty commish needs to be committed and available year round since the league is always running.
  • Make sure your rules are clear.  From our respective experiences in redraft leagues we all know we need to have clear rules on league scoring, free agency, playoff format, and payouts so I won’t cover those here. Later in the article I will specifically touch on the rules surrounding the startup draft and the offseason since those are the two main differences when creating rules for a dynasty league.
  • Make sure owners are committed for the long term.  I’ve said it many times in my dynasty 101 articles but nothing ends a dynasty league faster than owner turnover.  You want to make sure your new baby lasts.  As such seek out owners that will stay with the league through thick and thin.  You want owners who will be active and competitive regardless of how their team is performing or if the chips are down.  For this reason it is often best to stick with friends or acquaintances you know well.  They are generally more reliable and committed but it isn’t always easy to find enough locals that are interested in the extra effort that dynasty requires.  You can achieve the same results by recruiting online but it’s much more difficult and you may go through a few owners before landing on the right one(s).
  • Recruit active owners.  You want owners who will be active in trading, free agency, and trash talking.   Dynasty leagues thrive on an active trading market since it’s the only real way to change your team makeup significantly.  If you have a few owners who don’t like to trade it means that not only will their teams go stagnant but it will be that much harder to keep your team from going stagnant as well.  Find the most active owners you know to ensure a ton of fun for years to come.
  • Be sure to consider ways to keep your owners engaged all year round.  Obviously the best way to do this is the aforementioned bullet of recruiting active owners.  Other good ways involve breaking up the offseason in some fashion or another.  Consider having an NFL playoff contest.  Get together for the NFL draft (if local owners exist).  Hold your rookie draft shortly after the NFL draft for something to do in the spring.   Keep waivers running after the rookie draft until the season starts and watch everyone jump on guys as NFL news trickles out.  There are many things you can do to ensure year round fun so be creative.
  • Don’t set the entry fee too high.  If you’re in this hobby to make money that is all well and good but many are not.  A higher entry fee means people are less apt to re-up for another year with a crappy team.  An entry fee of $30, for example, ensures even the most cash-strapped competitors will return with a team down on it’s luck with the hope of rebuilding.
  • Make sure everyone understands the concept of youth and rookie draft picks.  Make sure they don’t overvalue either.  The two big dangers of a dynasty startup are people selling out for youth (or rookie picks) and people going all-in with aging studs.  These two strategies have their place but more than likely shouldn’t be used in a startup league.  Make sure to level set on the value and importance of having both youth and production for those new to the dynasty format.

The all-important dynasty rules

Now as promised I’ll cover some of the finer points to consider when crafting your dynasty rules.  The two things I feel are most important for starting a dynasty league are the startup draft and offseason rules so let’s hit those up first and foremost.

Regarding the initial draft you first need to decide what draft format to go with.   I’m not just talking about whether it’s an auction, serpentine, or 3rd round reversal format although that too is important.  For dynasty the startup draft is the mother of all events.  This is what gets the whole league kicked off and can make or break your team for years to come.  Remember the players that owners draft here will remain with them for good.  As the initiator of a new league and it’s startup draft you need to decide the following:

  • Will rookies be included in your startup draft?  Some dynasty leagues include rookies and some hold a separate rookie draft in the initial year.  If you decide to hold a separate draft you can either draft the rookie pick slots in your veteran startup draft (1.01, 1.02, etc.) or you can decide rookie draft pick order by some other means.  Some ideas I’ve seen for this are reversal of the original draft order or another random draw.   I personally would recommend including rookies or draft slots in the initial vet draft but do as you see fit.  Remember this is your league.
  • Will trades be allowed in your startup draft?  In many redraft leagues I see no trading allowed in the initial draft.  In dynasty it is ofttimes a legit strategy to trade throughout the initial draft to try and get a core you build around.  Startup draft picks are far more valuable than rookie picks so now is the time to make bold moves if you do decide to allow trading.
  • In that vein will you allow future draft pick trades in the startup draft?  One of the most difficult things to do is gauge future rookie draft pick value versus startup draft picks.  I can tell you that the value outside the first couple picks is almost nonexistent in a startup draft.  There is just too much variance there.  You have no idea how good the team you’re trading with will be (and thus how early a future pick they will have) until after the draft and you have no real idea what those future rookie picks will turn into as far as players.  For this reason I recommend not allowing future draft pick trades in the startup draft.  Once the draft completes you can open up the trading of those future picks because then rosters are set and finalized.  Since it is your league you, of course, can do whatever you like but based on my experience this opens a can of worms that can doom a team from the very start.
  • Last but not least decide when you will hold the startup draft.  Most startups I’ve seen prefer to do so in the spring or summer.  This allows you something to do in those months and player values are a bit more consistent than they are during the ups and downs of the NFL preseason.  Others like to hold the startup draft just as they would a redraft in August or early September.  This gives you a better idea for how players will perform in the initial season.  Whatever decision you make will likely have some impact on whether or not you include rookies in your startup draft as well.  If you hold the startup before the NFL draft you likely want to have a separate rookie draft.  If you hold it closer to the NFL season you’ll want to draft rookies for sure.

In addition to draft differences there is also much to consider when crafting your offseason rules.  This is an area where dynasty becomes a bit less straightforward because there is no such thing as an offseason in redraft leagues.  Once the season ends so does your league.  Not so in dynasty.  Because of this offseason rules are new to everyone not familiar with the dynasty concept.  Here are some things you’ll need to include:

  • Determine what to do with veterans in the offseason.  Many leagues lock down waivers as soon as the regular season is over.  The reason for this is that they include free agent veterans in the rookie draft.  While this is the approach I prefer you could also leave waivers open for free agent vets all offseason.  That way you aren’t stuck with just trading from February until April.  If you decide to go that route you’ll need to determine what type of waiver system to use during the offseason.  I’ll cover these options in a later bullet.
  • Figure out when you want to hold your rookie draft.  The biggest and most enjoyable offseason activity in all dynasty leagues is the rookie draft.  This is where you’ll reload your roster.  It is the equivalent of the initial draft you’re so accustomed to in redraft leagues.  Almost all dynasty leagues hold their rookie draft after the NFL draft has completed.  That way you get a feel for player values based on the team they went to.  Some leagues hold the rookie draft before the NFL draft so that players values are based more on talent and skill evaluations than on landing spots.  While that isn’t something I prefer it is a viable option.  Most leagues hold the rookie draft sometime in May, June, or July.  Smack dab in the middle of the offseason to keep everyone interested and excited all year long.
  • Determine how many rounds your rookie draft will be.  Depending on the makeup of your league this can vary from 4 rounds on up to 8 or 10.  Obviously if you include IDP the rounds should also increase.  If you decide on extra deep rosters the rounds will likely increase as well.  There is a fine line here because you still want to leave enough players available to make waivers interesting as the season approaches.  But you don’t want to leave good talent out there in limbo either.  Decide what is right for your league.  You can adjust in future years (via league vote) if you find that what you decided is too much or too little.
  • Decide what to do with rosters in the offseason.  Most leagues increase roster size during the offseason period.  The reason for this is you need additional room to draft your rookies.  Because rookie picks can be traded you can end up with any number of additional young players on your roster.  Increasing roster size by the number of rookie draft rounds (maybe plus a couple) and doing away with positional limits in the offseason makes sense to me.  Then as the season approaches have a bone-a-fide cut period where people need to pare back down to the in-season limits just as NFL teams do.  The approach is yours to determine.
  • Always keep trading open.  As I said before trading is key to a dynasty league.  Trading should be open all offseason and for most if not the entire regular season as well.
  • Figure out how to handle waivers in the offseason.  As I stated earlier you can have waivers run prior to the rookie draft or you can start them up afterward.  I most commonly see the rookie and veteran FA drafts combined and waivers locked until the rookie draft is over.  Somewhere around that time you’ll want to open waivers so people can acquire guys during the offseason as they see fit.  You can do blind bidding waivers with an offseason cap, round robin waivers, or even first-come-first-serve.  The choice is up to you.
  • Have a period where you vote on rule changes.  Dynasty leagues last a long time so they need to evolve like anything else.  If you set aside a time each offseason where owners vote on potential rule changes you can make sure your league is keeping with the times.  A good rule of thumb is to require a unanimous vote for scoring, lineup, and roster related changes since they can affect how specific owners were building their team.  A simple majority or 2/3 vote should suffice for most other league decisions.

That covers the offseason rules.  Now let’s move on to a few tidbits on the regular season.  Since in-season play operates very much like a redraft league I’m not going to touch on a whole lot here.   If you have additional questions or want to discuss things further feel free to hit me up via twitteremail, or in the forums.  At any rate here are a few topics dynasty leagues should consider in-season:

  • Figure out how to determine the order of your upcoming rookie draft.  This order is usually determined by finish the previous season and is not a serpentine draft but rather the same draft order in every round.  Just like in the real NFL draft the purpose of this is to give the worse teams the better picks so that they can improve and compete.  Parity in a dynasty league is good for everyone.   Now you don’t necessarily want to base the draft order solely on the worst in-season record.  You need to prevent the opportunity for tanking to get a better pick.  I suggest using potential points (the amount of points a team would score if they had started their best lineup) on the season to determine draft order for the bottom teams.  This ensures the real worst team gets the best pick rather than whoever tanked at the end of the season the best.  The top teams can be ordered by reverse order of finish with the championship team picking last.
  • Consider larger rosters.  In dynasty leagues youth is at a premium.  You want young up and comers and you want to identify them before your opponents do.  In order to accomplish this you need more space.  Many of these prospects won’t contribute right away so you need to stash them.  Larger roster sizes allow you to do this without having to cut guys that perform now.  From my experience decent roster sizes for non-IDP leagues are anywhere from 20 to 30 whereas IDP league are generally 40-50 players deep.
  • Think about a taxi squad.  I just mentioned having a place on your roster to stash young potential and the perfect solution to that is a taxi (or practice) squad.  These are additional roster spots that don’t count toward your roster total and are generally restricted by rules about youth.  Oftentimes a taxi squad can contain only first or second year players but you can customize that as you see fit.  The main idea is to give people a place to put young guys who won’t contribute yet but will at some point in the future.
  • Decide if you want Injured Reserve.  When a player is injured in dynasty that doesn’t spell the end of him on your team like it does in redraft.  Players will go down with season ending injuries.  You still need these guys for next year and beyond so you need a spot to stash them.  Injured reserve gives dynasty leaguers a bit of a reprieve from the reality of injuries in the NFL.  You can put a player on IR and not have to eat up a precious dynasty roster spot.  Then take him off the following year to contribute again.  You just need to decide what the IR rules will be.  Many leagues only allow players on the actual NFL IR or PUP but some allow players listed as Questionable, Doubtful, Out as well during the season.
  • Consider having no trade deadline or a very lenient one.  Dynasty leagues require trading.  Especially as playoff time approaches.  Teams will trade heaps of young talent for older guys producing now in an attempt to win now.  This is a great time for those winning teams and the losing teams alike because value will often be given up for a shot to win it all.  You want to encourage this as much as possible so I recommend eliminating a trade deadline or at the very least only having it only applied during the actual fantasy playoffs.
  • Choose a league hosting website.  Decide what best suits your league needs and rules.  I recommend or MFL’s site is highly customizable and supports all of the dynasty specific concepts I’ve mentioned throughout the article.  Fleaflicker also supports tons of dynasty options and is a little more intuitive.  You can use any hosting site though so long as they fulfill your needs.

So that is it.  All of this is a little bit of information overload I know.  If you’ve made it this far you’re definitely ready to get started with a dynasty league.  Now it’s up to you to get things going and have a blast doing it.  If you need any additional help in getting things started feel free to contact me via emailtwitterfacebook, or hit up the forums.  We’re all experienced dynasty commishes and/or owners here at DFW and are always willing to give advice.  So if you need an example set of dynasty rules, some advice on taking over a team, or just general help give any of us a holler.  Most important of all though enjoy your new dynasty league.  Once you get hooked you’ll most likely never turn back.