We are living in uncertain times. The coronavirus pandemic has altered the entire world’s plans for 2020 and likely beyond…
None of us will ever forget where we were when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, setting off a tidal wave of shutdowns in our daily lives, from sports to schools to travel to entire countries. I can only speak for myself, but I wasn’t prepared for everything that a global pandemic would bring forth – including seeing close family members be stricken with the virus.
As scary and unsettled as these times are, we would be remiss if we also didn’t realize the incredible adaptation of our fellow man. People across seven continents have learned how to adhere to new and ever-changing guidelines. We have learned how to perform our work in creative but effective ways. We have found ways to stay informed, engaged, and entertained despite outbreaks in our countries, cities, and neighborhoods. While COVID-19 may have taken our security, it hasn’t taken away the human spirit. I’m more certain now than ever that nothing can.
Among all of the adversities we have faced this year, fantasy football surely isn’t among the top of our priorities. But we’ve never needed a distraction more than we do right now. The NFL, like every other professional sport, is persevering through uncharted waters in order to keep thousands of Americans employed, and millions of others entertained this fall.
This will be my 31st season playing fantasy football and my 16th covering it professionally. I had thought that I’d seen everything until this pandemic. There were serious questions on whether the NFL would push back the free agency period; it didn’t. The 2020 NFL Draft was in danger of being postponed or cancelled; it went on as scheduled using telecommunications including Microsoft Teams software. Mini-camps and organized team activities were cancelled, as were all preseason games. But training camps are ongoing and teams are aggressively pursuing the 2020 NFL regular season. In the fantasy community, we are doing the same.
There is no doubt that the 2020 season will be unlike any other. The NFL has implemented strict protocols that include testing, social distancing, and GPS contact tracing. Players have and will continue to opt-out. There will be positive tests for COVID-19. Star players that we are used to counting on in fantasy football may be forced into sitting out for several weeks at a time.
It is crucial that we set up our leagues in a way that will allow us the flexibility we need during what will be a turbulent season.
With that, I present you with 10 ways to COVID-proof your fantasy football league:
1) Zoom Your Draft
One of the best parts of a fantasy football draft is congregating with our friends, family, co-workers, and fellow league mates. Cook up some delicious food, order pizza, select your favorite cocktails, set up the draft board, and heckle one another about each pick relentlessly. Nearly 40% of all fantasy football drafts are held in person, the highest among any fantasy sport. But this year, unless you either live with your entire league, or want to stand at the door with a thermometer, a live draft poses an unnecessary risk. Fortunately, 99% of all fantasy football leagues are hosted online anyways so this shouldn’t be an obstacle whatsoever.
But, whether it was the making fun of one another’s picks, talking strategy with fellow owners, or just catching up with old friends, there is something magical about a live draft. Just because we aren’t in the same room doesn’t mean this has to end. One of the better things to come out of the pandemic is our familiarity with communication software and services. I mean, is there anyone out there that still hasn’t used Zoom either for a get together, holiday celebration, or just to see a friend or relative? Well programs like Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and others make it easy for us to gather without increasing our risk of spreading the virus. While we make our selections through commissioner software such as MyFantasyLeague, ESPN, CBS, Yahoo, or Fantrax, we can still see one another, catch up on how we are doing, and heckle one another’s draft picks.
2) Expand Rosters
Even though the NFL has implemented very intricate and robust COVID-19 education, testing, and quarantine procedures; it is inevitable that the unexpected will happen. The good news is that NFL players were already allowed to opt-out of the season if they wanted, meaning the ones who are playing are choosing to do so in spite of any risks. But positive tests will happen, and that will cause some fantasy relevant players to be unavailable for a period of time. We have to build our teams in preparation for this, and thus, we will need to have more players on our team in total.
A standard fantasy football team is comprised of 16 players, made up of quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, kickers, and defense/special teams. Of those 16 players, 9-10 are usually starters while 6-7 are bench players. This season we should really consider adding a couple more roster spaces to every league in order to better insulate us from any COVID-related surprises during the season. We should be allowing 2-4 more roster slots for each team this season. We are going to need to cover ourselves in case of a late week post-waiver positive test result from one of our players. By expanding the rosters, we allow fantasy owners to properly insure themselves no matter what the world throws at them in 2020.
3) Team Quarterback/Kicker
One way to trim down the number of players we will need in fantasy football this year is to bring back an old school philosophy of team QB and/or team K. Because most fantasy leagues only require one of each position to start, it is easy to migrate from individual QB’s and K’s to the team use. This way, if a kicker or quarterback winds up testing positive for COVID-19 or any other late week injury, owners won’t have to use free agent acquisition budget (FAAB) or waiver priority to acquire a replacement.
If you are in a two-QB league, consider pivoting to a SuperFlex position in place of that second QB spot. Because there will always only be 32 viable QB’s, that is not enough in a 12-team league for each to have three. This way, each team can still have two QB’s while those that don’t secure a third can start a RB/WR/TE instead. Team kicker is a no-brainer because in the age of the coronavirus, nobody should be spending FAAB on kickers.
4) Injured Reserve (IR) Spots
It’s genuinely amazing that the majority of fantasy football leagues don’t already have at least one IR spot, but unfortunately that is the case. The good news is that most commissioner services do offer IR spots for us to implement. Whether you choose to expand your rosters or not, IR spots will allow you more roster flexibility.
These IR spots would only be for players that are placed on the NFL’s official Injured Reserve or Injured Reserve/COVID list. You could choose to allow any player listed as “out” on the official Friday injury report to be placed in those IR spots, but that could lead to owners churning players. The ability to retain our key players if they come down with COVID-19 is critical to being successful in fantasy football this season. By placing a player on IR, fantasy owners would then be able to pick up a replacement player off of waivers and keep him on the active roster until it was time to activate the injured or positive-testing player.
5) Practice Squads
This is a unique concept that I have been advocating for for the last few years, that would work perfectly here in 2020. Allowing each team in your league to have a practice squad would solve both the roster maintenance issue and keep the free agent pool rich with viable talent.
Here is how it works. Each team in your league would protect 3-5 players on their practice squad. A simple method would require each squad to consist of one QB, RB, WR & TE. This would allow each owner to target a few players that they could promote in case of emergency as late as gameday. This transaction would take place instantly and not be subject to FAAB or waiver priority. Of course, you could spice up your league by charging a nominal fee such as 1-5% of FAAB or waiver priority. You could also specify that practice squad players can only be promoted if an active player was placed on IR or the IR/COVID list.
All players placed on practice squads would still be designated as free agents in terms of the league, meaning other teams could bid on them in free agency from week to week. This would keep the free agent pool deep and keep teams from hoarding talented players. This is a method that the NFL has used since the 1940’s and have expanded here for 2020. Most commissioner software has this feature built in, but refer to it as a “taxi squad” instead.
6) First Come, First Serve Add/Drops
No matter what you wind up doing in terms of free agency, waivers, or add/drops; you absolutely must open up first come, first service pickups for as late as 90 minutes before gametime on Sunday. The NFL is allowing teams to make roster decisions all the way up until the inactive report is announced 90 minutes before games, and thus, fantasy football leagues must follow suit.
Most leagues will have a waiver or FAAB bidding period early in the week, most often on Tuesday or Wednesday nights. It is totally fine to keep this process in place, but be sure to click on the “allow first come first served add/drops” option in your league settings. You can enforce a rule that owners can only pick up players if one of theirs are either ruled out on the Friday injury report, placed on IR, or placed on IR/COVID list. This once again would help to prevent people from taking advantage of the rule to churn through players.
7) Average Point Rule
So, what happens if even despite expanded rosters, IR spots, and easier access to free agents, we still run into a situation in which a player in our lineup doesn’t suit up unexpectedly? Enter the “average point rule”. The average point rule protects us in case of an emergency cancellation or positive COVID-19 test from a player that doesn’t allow a fantasy owner time to swap out. Instead of taking a zero, the team is awarded the to-date per-game average point total of that player.
Now, this is not meant to reward lazy or inattentive owners, so it is important to be very clear that only players that were deemed inactive or whose game was cancelled 90 minutes or less before the scheduled time would be eligible. Owners could not use the average point rule for bye weeks, regular injuries, or any other reason other than a COVID-related inactivity.
8) Total Points League
This is a really easy format to pivot to in the age of COVID-19. At this point, even the most pessimistic football fan knows that the season will likely start on time on September 10. But what those folks are most worried about now is a possible cancellation or postponement during the season. That is where a total points format would come in handy.
Run everything as you normally would in your league, but instead of implementing a head to head schedule for every week of the NFL regular season, simply keep track of overall points. This format would allow us to crown a champion even if the regular season is cut short for any reason. If the season goes all 17 weeks, the winner is whoever has the most total fantasy points at the end of week 17. The top three or four scoring teams win part of the overall prize pool, which keeps more teams interested in case one team runs away with the top spot.
9) Run a Best Ball League
One of the fastest growing forms of fantasy football are best ball leagues. Best ball fantasy football is a league setup in which you draft your team and watch it play out. Every week of the season your starting lineup is automatically chosen based on how each player on your team performed. The highest possible point total is then added to your season total, and the team with the most total points at the end of the season wins the championship.
Not only do you not have to set your lineup, but there are no waiver moves or trades to make. The players that each team drafted are all that will be in play. In a best ball league, teams draft more players than they would in a regular format. Drafts usually consist of between 20-30 rounds. In this format, how many players you select at each position is the most important strategy. Most best ball leagues do not use kickers and defense/special teams, though you could definitely choose to play with those positions if you prefer.
The good thing about a best ball format is that everybody in the league will be on the same level all season long. Whoever drafts the best team, likely with the most depth given the obstacles in our way, will win. Given that there are no roster moves to make, this league setup will give each owner the peace of mind that no matter what happens to the league, teams, or players; we are covered.
10) Weekly Lineups/DFS Setup
If you’ve never played daily fantasy football, than you have really been missing out. Sites like DraftKings, FanDuel, and offer the ability to build a fantasy football lineup out of every skill position player in the NFL. Each player is given a salary or cost for the week depending on skill, expected volume, and matchup. Our job is to build the best possible lineup out of the allotted amount of salary we are given. The highest score each week wins the designated prize pool.
This format allows us a ton of flexibility, which we could surely use during this season. The way it would work in a season long competition is like this: Each week of the NFL regular season, the members of your league would join a private contest on one of the DFS sites. In this format, you could technically have as many league members as you want. The weekly entry fee would remain the same – I would suggest an amount of between $5-$25 per week. Each league member will set a lineup for each week and the highest point totals win the weekly payout.
In a seasonal format, each league participant would pay a league entry fee at the beginning of the season. This fee can again be anything your league wants to play for in the overall format. Then, each week the commissioner would keep track of the total points scored by each team and keep a running tally. At the end of the NFL regular season, the owner that has scored the most total points wins the overall prize.
What if your league mates don’t want to continue with your home fantasy football league? Well, there are plenty of options for you and others like you, too…
11) Join a New League
We hope that the above advice will allow you to continue your normal league with friends and family that you love, though we know that many leagues have already cancelled. If you are one of the many people that want to continue to play fantasy football, but don’t think you have a place to play this season; there is good news.
There are many places to play online in the format of your choosing with people from all over the country. One place that we recommend is the FFPC has games in all formats, at all budgets, to allow you to continue playing the game that you love, even if your league has been cancelled.
There you have it, 10+ ways to ensure that your fantasy football league won’t fall apart, no matter what the coronavirus has in store for us this fall. If you have any questions about setting up or adjusting your leagues this season, please visit us at Fantasy Guru and talk to our team of award-winning analysts.