How to create a successful draft league

In light of the recent decision by a few of us APBA Soccer aficionados to start the first APBA Soccer draft league ever (see also this article), I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is that makes a league successful over the long term.

I’ve played in startup Strat-o-Matic baseball leagues, and in Strat-o-Matic leagues that had over 20 years of history.  I’ve played Fantasy Football all-NFL draft leagues and an AFC-only keeper league.  Each league has had a personality and a culture of its own, but there are commonalities among the best.  To capture what I think are the great underlying principles of any successful draft league, I’ve come up with this short document.  I call it The Draft League Manifesto (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Game)

The overarching goal of this manifesto is to define the successful qualities of a tabletop sports sim draft league, in any sport, with any game.  This is not a league constitution, nor is it a set of rules to follow.  However, it’s my opinion that every principle set forth in this manifesto is an absolute requirement for the success of any league.

I look forward to the discussion that follows.  Please, if you have anything to add, or if you disagree with anything here, I would greatly appreciate your input in the comments.  Our soon-to-be-created and as-yet-untitled APBA Soccer Draft League may be the first of its kind with its game, but in certain respects all leagues are the same.  If it helps, think of these as kind of “The Common Habits of Highly Successful Draft Leagues.”



I.  Why Have a League at all?

The primary ambition of any draft league should be to have an active and engaged group of managers, held together by the league’s fostering of comraderie, friendly competition, and the shared experience of playing a game that each individual manager in the league loves to play.

II.  Who Makes a League Successful?

There is no league, regardless of history or apparent strength, that is ever more than one awful season of disharmony away from collapse.  For any league to achieve success and longevity, every manager in the league must have a respect for and appreciation of the following:

  • that each manager in his league has a right to expect fair play and equal opportunity to pursue success within the parameters set forth in the league’s constitution
  • that the continued success of the league is dependent on his active and timely participation in all league activities – including but not limited to taking part in drafts, timely response to league correspondence, playing and submitting games on time and by the rules set forth in the constitution, paying dues and/or performing his duties as an officer or administrator of league affairs, as required
  • that competition and rivalry within the league are healthy and necessary aspects of any league, but that good sportsmanship and friendly play are equally incumbent upon him and all managers
  • that an ongoing study of and appreciation for the game he plays and the sport it simulates is a prime responsibility of each manager
  • that this season, his team, and his role in the league are merely moments-out-of-time in the league’s greater history and legacy
  • that, above all, the game is just a game and all managers merely men, and that some degree of error, or conflict, or clash of personalities is to be expected.  In such cases, above all else, each manager should value sportsmanship and look yield to the greater good of the league in times of dischord.

III.  What Are the Fundamental Components of a Draft League?

  • a game – version, game components (including player cards) and rules to be agreed upon by all members of the league.
  • a Constitution – fully ratified by all members of the league
  • a collection of managers– though individual games or a series of games may be played in solitaire (depending on league rules), league results and standings are a compilation of the results of gameplay between teams owned by separate and unique individuals
  • autonomy of roster management– though the term “Draft League” implies that an actual draft of talent be a requirement, this is not necessarily the case in all leagues.  The more important commonality is that each manager – according to the rules of his league – has ownership of and power to manipulate and determine his own team roster, either through draft, trade, waiver/free agent pickups, or other mechanism as defined in his league’s constitution.

IV.  When and Where Should League Action Take Place?

Because league success is directly proportional to the extent of participation by all managers, the league must make every effort to make participation in league activities – especially league-wide activities like drafts – as easy as possible for all managers.  That means making efficient and appropriate use of technology and considering the family, work and other obligations of every manager when creating league schedules.

V.  How Should the League be Run?

A Constitution defining  rules of game play, system of league government, and the responsibility of each manager is the foundation of every successful draft league.  It should be noted, that though it may be possible to run a successful draft league with another form of government, the common form of governance of practically every successful draft league is a form of democratic rule, with an elected commissioner and either elected or appointed administrative officers to handle other various league roles (e.g. statistics, treasury, league website, etc.).

Otherwise, every league in existence has a constitution unique to its game, style of play, and culture of managers.  There is no right or wrong way to draft a constitution; the important guideline is that every manager in the league must agree to abide by each line of it, as long as it is the rule of the league.  Capacity for amendment and evolution is a hallmark of a good constitution, too, but successful leagues have a democratic process for change, never unilateral power granted to any individual.

VI.  In Conclusion:

These general principles of success apply to any league, playing any game, with any reasonable number of managers, in which the primary purpose of the league is to enjoy a common hobby.  If these principles are kept in the forefront of the founder’s minds when drafting a constitution and recruiting and retaining managers, there is no doubt as to the future success of the league.

Paul Dylan


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  1. Hello! Just want to say thank you for this interesting article! =) Peace, Joy.

  2. David Troppens

    I’ve only bee part of one league and I found it a ton of fun. It was the Any Game League. Mark Miller started it up, and what we had were eight “league” owners that owned one of the NL teams from the 1950 season. We never played each other. Instead we all played 10 games against each AL squad, making up an 80-game season. We had “deadlines” when some games had to be completed, but the beauty of this system was we were able to play our games (for the most part) at our pace and USE THE GAME OF OUR PREFERENCE during the replay. Some of us used Replay, APBA and I think another game or two may have been represented. We based the “winner” on the person that did the best vs. the team’s actual win percentage. I had the Reds. They started hot for about 10 games and then tanked. But it was a ton of fun. I got my games done, followed what others did and never was tied down waiting for someone else to finish games.

    If I was going to do a league again, that’s probably how I’d want to do it.

    In terms of a “true” draft league, I go a bit deeper what I’d want. I’d want a draft league that allows for a few different strategies. Baseball works beautifully because you have pitching, power, speed, high average guys etc. Sure some people are gimmies. Maybe the top 10 are close to gimmies (figure about 14 people will always be among the top 10), but beyond that, you can create a team of what you want the image to be. For soccer, I’d want to be able to do that as well.

    I think if you had a league using an EPL season, I think 15+ goal scorers would have to be your first selections in the draft. That’s probably 6-10 players any given season. The highest goal scorer, or one of the top 2 usually have 20+ goals so they’d be easy first selections. There’s no getting around that.

    However, beyond that, I’d want to see people selecting diverse strategies in the second to 10th rounds – and to be doing so in a way that makes sense so that the person can be successful.

    I’d probably cap the teams to no more than 12. Make it two divisions. Play every team in your division twice and the other teams once.
    That would make a 12-team league a 16-game season. A 10-team league would be 13 games.

    I’d try to make some sort of cap so that the league doesn’t become ridiculously an all-star team. Maybe do something like this.

    After the second round, take the top two players from each team based on games started and eliminate them from the draft.

    After the fourth round, do the same, eliminating the next two players from each team based on games started out of the draft.

    After the 12th round (14th round for a 20-player team), take all of the players remaining who have started at least eight games or played at least 13 games and put them in position piles – forwards, midfielders, defenders. Pile them up and put them face down. When it is your time to select, you pick based on position without knowing who you are selecting. Each team gets one “mulligan” until the draft is over. If you don’t like a selection, you can use it and re-select another player from the pile.

    This will assure that while the league will be pretty darn good, there will be depth issues for some teams in some areas.

  3. David Troppens

    I guess I didn’t put it in. I’d think either 18 players or 20 players would work best for the teams as well. 16 position players plus two keepers or 18 position players plus two keepers. Keep the rosters reasonably small so that it’s easier to follow each team.

  4. Great comments, David. Your first example sounds like a “community project” more than a “league.” I’ve been involved in community projects before, too, and they are great fun. In fact, I’ve been leaning toward putting together a 2011-12 EPL Community Project instead of doing the draft league lately, precisely for the reason you cite: all members involved could use the game of their choice. We’d pick a team (I’d have Arsenal, naturally), and then play out the schedule, tracking basic stats like Goals, Assists, Cards, maybe even shots/shots on goal if it were possible.

    Dang, what am I waiting for? I’ve been thinking about this for awhile.

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