Five rule changes to improve your league

by on January 22, 2010 @ 00:00:00 PDT


Most Rotisserie leagues have a winter meeting written into their Constitutions or bylaws. Your league should have one, too, because this is a perfect opportunity to wake up all those hibernating teams, to reacquaint yourselves with your fellow owners, and to get the blood pumping with some early trade talks.

Most importantly, your winter meeting is the time to discuss your league rules with an eye toward improving them.

First, an overall comment: We all agree that the rules should be aimed at maximizing the amount of fun that everybody gets to have. There should be a second principle: to maximize the rewards for those who put in the most effort.

With that in mind, here are five rules changes your league might want to consider:

1. If your league has a minor league draft, amend the draft order to reward teams that keep trying. The usual format for the minor league draft is a straight 12th-place through first-place - but that punishes a hustling owner who works hard to improve from, say, seventh place to sixth place and rewards owners who throw in the towel in July and let their teams limp into the cellar.

Instead, change the draft order so that out-of-the-money teams pick in position order, with the money teams going in reverse. So in a 12-team league, with money for first through fourth, the draft order would be 5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-4-3-2-1. Instant incentive to keep trying. Expansion teams should pick between the non-money teams and the money teams.

2. Institute a cash bonus "lottery" system. This is a simple scheme, but it really works. At the start of the year, charge each team a "lottery deposit" appropriate for your league's fee structure. At the end of the year, you refund the deposit to all except the bottom two teams. Then you just draw for the money, with this wrinkle: In keeping with the "reward effort" theme, give the fifth place team eight chances in the draw, the sixth-place team seven chances and so on down to a single chance for the cellar-dweller. Money teams don't participate in the lottery draw.

You want to see some furious competition, wait until the last few weeks when two or three clubs are scrambling to stay out of the 11th and 12th spots! An additional plus: Because the deposit is relatively small, you can ask teams to leave it in the league account until next year, which commits them to coming back.

3. Pay a cash prize or prizes for the team(s) that improve the most in the second half. Like the previous measures, this one is designed to deal with the longstanding problem of also-rans folding their tents at the All-Star Break. There are some leagues that actually award cash for weekly improvements, which is fine, if a little cumbersome.

4. Abandon transaction fees in favor of a flat rate for playing. This has three advantages, which apply variously depending on how leagues are governed and administered.

First, it simplifies the bookkeeping, and relieves someone of the task of keeping track of all the moves.

Second, it stabilizes both the costs and the prize pool at predictable levels, so that everyone knows the risks and the rewards.

Third, and most important, it helps keep the also-rans competing. In many leagues, second-division clubs stop working their rosters because they don't see the sense in throwing good money toward a poor finish. Now, before you ask, "Who cares?", it's worth considering that every free agent ignored by a seventh-place team is a free agent made available higher up the standings, which has implications for the race.

5. Hire or otherwise arrange an independent commissioner. Your commissioner has not only to be impartial, but like Caesar's wife, has to be seen to be impartial - especially in leagues that allow their commissioners to "veto" contentious trades or otherwise interfere in other teams' operations. Also, an independent Commish can act as an impartial auctioneer during your draft, and, as the chair of your league meetings, can keep the lid on arguments and let cooler heads prevail.

This leaves the question as to where you recruit someone. The handiest way is to make a "swap" with another league, whereby you supply them with a commissioner and they supply you with one.

Finally, a word about process: Different leagues have different processes by which they amend their rules (and it should be difficult). But don't have proposals for rule changes be introduced, debated and voted at the same meeting; that's a recipe for a long and frustrating meeting.

A better way is to set your league's winter meeting in early February, about four weeks before the start of Spring Training and to have owners introduce proposed changes as far before as you can - right after the season, if you can set it up. That way, the shortcomings of the rules are fresher in everyone's minds, but the animated discussions can take place over a longer time. Passions can cool, and the votes can proceed briskly at the winter meeting - leaving more time to talk ball and swing that offseason deal.

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Ron Shandler began publishing statistical reports for baseball analysts and fantasy leaguers in 1986. Since then, his enterprise has grown into one of the largest information providers in the industry, producing quality products continuously and over a longer period than any other fantasy baseball company.

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