Intro to Fantasy Football Tutorial

101. Introduction To Fantasy Football

Welcome to MFL University. Over the years fantasy football has grown from a small hobby a few decades ago to it’s own industry with a variety of products and companies all working to help you have a more enjoyable experience. Here at, our goal is to help you and your league-mates to get the best overall experience and have the most fun. After all, fantasy football should be about having a good time with your friends, family, and co-workers.

This first class, 101 – Introduction to Fantasy Football will take you through the basics of fantasy football. While it’s designed for the uninitiated, it should prove to be a good refresher for anyone.

What is Fantasy Football?
Fantasy football is an entertainment experience shared by a group of individuals – commonly friends, family, and/or co-workers – that allow them to emulate running a professional football team. One person acts as the league “commissioner” to setup the league and manage it throughout the season. Fortunately sites like exist to make this job much easier. In addition, a number of other individuals take on the role of “owners” (the commissioner is also often one owner in the league).

Each owner selects players before the start of the season from the overall pool of NFL players to build up a fantasy “roster”. One key difference between fantasy football and pro football is that in the fantasy world, an owner’s team is comprised of players from different pro teams. For example, an owner’s QB might be from the Bills, but his RB from the 49ers. Through the course of the season, each owner “starts” a subset of players on his/her fantasy roster corresponding each week of the NFL season. As the actual NFL players accrue statistics, each fantasy league’s scoring rules translate these into “fantasy points” for each owner. At the end of each week’s games on Monday night, an owner’s fantasy point total is calculated by adding up the points from each starter on his/her fantasy team.

As the season progresses, invariably some players will perform better than expected and others worse than expected (especially if they’ve been injured). To account for this, leagues allow fantasy players to be added, dropped, and traded from a fantasy roster. Through the combination of building the best fantasy roster and starting the best fantasy lineup each week, the goal of a fantasy owner is to score the most points each week.

Most leagues operate on a “head-to-head” format whereby two owners will play against one another in a given week – much like two NFL teams playing against one another during the NFL season. As a result, each owner can pick up a fantasy win or fantasy loss to his/her fantasy “standings” record. Some leagues, however, prefer to skip this head-to-head format and instead allow owners to cumulatively add their weekly points together in a “total points” format. At the end of the fantasy season, the team with the highest total points wins. Of course, fantasy football offers fantasy leagues flexibility, so many leagues combine the head-to-head and total points formats.

At the end of the fantasy “regular” season, it’s also not uncommon to have a “fantasy playoff” where the top few fantasy teams in a league play in a single-elimination, bracket-format to advance to the league’s championship.

A Brief History
The first recorded fantasy football league started more than 40 years ago by a group of sports writers and employees from the Oakland Raiders. The Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League (GOPPPL) was started in 1963 as a way to gauge the expertise of these football aficionados through bragging rights as well as cash awards. It was also thought that this would increase the aptitude of all members beyond the Oakland Raiders franchise to help gain a better understanding of players from other teams. As is common today, the league started with a preseason draft and culminated with an awards dinner.

While much of the allure of fantasy football is in the camaraderie among league-mates, it’s safe to say that for the active fantasy participant – like the GOPPPPL owners – it helps to give a better understanding and appreciation for players outside of your favorite team, division, or conference.

You can read more about the history, league types, the draft, scoring and more at Wikipedia.

102. Setting Up A Fantasy Football League

  1. Planning the structure.  The first step in creating any fantasy football league is to define it’s overall structure. Answers to the following questions will help make the league setup process run more smoothly.
    1. How many teams (owners) will participate?  Most leagues include between 8-12 owners, but some operate with as few as 4 while others use up to 64. Once you get beyond 16, it’s common to use multiple “player pools” as the top NFL talent is otherwise spread too thin. Also, as the number of teams increases, it’s a good idea to break into multiple divisions or even multiple conferences (whereby each conference has multiple divisions).
    2. Will the format be head-to-head (H2H), total points, or something other?  In H2H play, teams are paired up for each weekly matchup so a fantasy schedule must be created. If H2H play is desired and you have an odd number of teams, the extra team can either play against the league average or take a bye (a week off).
    3. How long will the season last?  The regular NFL season runs for 17 weeks with each team getting one bye. Most H2H fantasy leagues start along with the NFL’s week 1, run through weeks 13-15, and then offer fantasy playoffs for the latter weeks. Most total points leagues run through weeks 16-17. A common debate is whether or not to include week 17 with roughly half of fantasy leagues playing through week 17. The crux of the issue is that many playoff-bound pro teams will bench their best players to give them an extra week of rest and prevent them from getting injured just prior to the NFL playoffs.
    4. Will there be any fantasy playoffs?  Regardless of whether your league uses H2H, total points, or any other format, you can optionally define fantasy playoffs for the latter weeks of your overall season.
    5. Which positions will your league support?  Most leagues include support for quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, place kickers, and team defenses (the cumulative stats of a pro team’s defensive and special teams players), but includes support for 28 different positions.
  2. Populating initial rosters.  While most leagues get together to hold a preseason fantasy draft (arguably one of the most fun parts of the entire season), some leagues prefer to auction off players, while others have the system select the initial fantasy rosters. supports all of these options regardless of whether some or all owners are at the same place.
  3. Submitting weekly lineups.  Prior to kickoff each week, owners are required to submit their starting lineup. This subset of players on each roster is used when calculating fantasy points. These player’s stats will be counted in the weekly total while the non-starters (also known as bench players) points are not tabulated. A common starting lineup consists of 1 quarterback, 2 running backs, 2 wide receivers, 1 tight end, 1 place kicker, and 1 team defense (the cumulative stats of a pro team’s defensive and special teams players).
  4. Player moves.  During the course of the season, owners will find the need to replace some of their roster players with others. This is typically done when a player is under-performing, has been injured, or is on a team with an upcoming NFL bye week. In the system, player adds and drops are called “waivers”. There are several types of waivers, but the two most common are First-Come-First-Served (FCFS) and Waiver Requests. FCFS moves allow owners to immediately add and drop players as needed while waiver requests are made by owners early in the fantasy week and queued up for a few days. At the end of an agreed-upon time, these requests are prioritized based on league-specific criteria and subsequently awarded to the fantasy teams.
  5. Trading.  A slightly more advanced method of changing roster players is to perform a trade between two fantasy owners. One common problem with trading is that a more knowledgeable owner might be able to take advantage of another. Or two owners might collude to unfairly stack the talent of one team. In either case, it’s not uncommon for leagues to either have owners vote on each trade or require commissioner approval.
  6. Scoring rules.  One of the best ways to demonstrate how fantasy football is extremely flexible is in each league’s ability to define it’s own, customized set of scoring rules. While most leagues award points for a QB throwing a touchdown pass, some get as detailed as awarding points for a pass defensed by a cornerback. The benefit to a simpler set of rules is that it’s easier to get a feel for your score while focusing on watching the games. Regardless of the level of scoring depth your league desires, offers a number of predefined sets of scoring rules as well as more than 130 different rule categories to accommodate your needs.
  7. Have fun!  We know firsthand that fantasy football is supposed to be fun so we continue to work year-round to enhance the experience. The following list contains just a few of the many ways you can make your league more enjoyable.
    1. League appearance. offers several dozen skins that can update your league’s overall look and feel with a few mouse clicks. More computer savvy commissioners can also programmatically use HTML/CSS to customize virtually any aspect of a league.
    2. League chat.  Much of the fun of fantasy football is in the form of trash-talking with your league-mates. Each league offers a chat room where owners can converse in real time.
    3. Message board.  Similar to the chat, the league message boards allow owners to submit message posts that will be archived. This is best suited for league communication that’s not real time in nature.
    4. League polls.  Use these to gauge your league’s feelings on everything football (Which owner had the best fantasy draft?) to non-football (Which Survivor contestant will win this year?).
    5. League articles.  Many leagues with creative owners use these to define periodic, satirical stories regarding the league owners. You are limited only by your imagination and writing skill.
    6. Audio sound-bytes.  Using the site’s online live draft as well as the MFL GameDay program for live scoring, you can hear the names of each player along with other related information. This is especially nice if your computer is not located near your television on game days as you can hear updates announced while focusing on watching the game.