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How to play fantasy football during a pandemic

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Due coronavirus pandemic, the NFL season may not happen as planned. It is still on schedule for now, but games may be delayed and the season may be shortened or interrupted. In fantasy football, you are lucky enough to develop real players for your team, and your success is determined by how well they actually play in real life. If the season does not happen, the imagination does not correspond either.

The uncertainty can have major consequences for a league that I have built with nine friends (including my colleague CNETer Ry Crist) for a decade, but we will continue anyway. Here are some ways we prepare for the uncertainty of the 2020 NFL season, while still planning to have fun and play our game together.

Step 1
: Communicate and win

In my long-standing league, called Mash Tun after the ship used in the first stage of beer brewing, we have a system for planning ahead for the season and making all the desired rule changes. Since our members live all over the country, we meet online during the summer at an event that we double the summit. Imagine three hours of giant football nerds drinking craft beer and teasing each other, apart with hyper-serious debates about the minutiae rules that can feel like litigation.

This year, our summit provided a good forum for discussing contingency plans in case the season is delayed, shortened or interrupted. If you have a long-standing league, you can try meeting group chat tools online Google Meet or Zoom. I use free Doodle surveys to find a time that works for everyone. Getting everyone in the same place at once is the most effective way to make sure everyone is on board with any contingency plans you may come up with.

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Google Meet and Zoom provides easy ways to meet while keeping your distance.


Even if you only use email, make sure you communicate with your league if you are the commissioner or main organizer of the league. If you are not the commissioner, you can try to reach out and get the ball rolling yourself. The team may have very well thought out plans for what happens to the NFL season, but if all your league members do not know about these plans, they can be interpreted as unfair when you start playing and have to make sudden changes.

I am the Commissioner for Mash Tun, but the summit meant that I did not have to address every contingency plan myself. Make the process democratic, and you will have an easier time thinking through all potential variables.

Step 2: And talk about plans, have one

Given the uncertainty surrounding the season and the many ways it can change, you may be tempted to throw your hands in the air and adjust as you move when something changes. It’s hard to know the details, but getting your league on board with some form of plan will be much fairer for everyone in the long run, especially if you play in a competitive league with money on the line. Here are some suggested plans in each case and what we decided to do in Mash Tun.

If it’s delayed, push back your fantasy draft if you haven’t already. Try to schedule your draft as late as possible to reduce the risk of a delay being announced between the draft and the start of the season. NFL players can get COVID or decide during a delay not to play this year. League owners will have a better time if they can all throw out with the same info about who is actually playing this season.

Mash Tun will prepare on Labor Day weekend, just a few days before the season starts the following Thursday. Unfortunately, we will work remotely through another online meeting. Normally we all travel to a rotating list of cities for the draft and share craft keels personally, but not this year because of all the extra risk. I’m bummed, but we’ll set aside the money we would have spent this season to make next year’s draft party so much better.


We always bring a lot of beer for the weekend. The biggest loser from last year has to drink generic things.

Andrew Gebhart / CNET

If you have already prepared or a delay is announced after your draft, you can leave the draft and leave the exception thread open so that the owners can continuously adjust their list to try to keep up with changes. This is what we do in Mash Tun if a delay occurs after our draft. You can also redo the draft or freeze your league completely until it reopens. Again, just communicate this plan with your league members in advance.

When it comes to a shortened season, Mash Tun follows the lead NBA and that NHL and jump straight to a tournament. All our ten teams will play instead of our usual four-team playoffs. The seeds of the tournament are decided randomly if the shortened season is announced before we have played any games. It will be subject to the current ranking if it is shortened halfway through the season.

When it comes to an interrupted season, the biggest questions are what to do with purchase money and what to do with older elements as players you can keep from year to year. If the NFL season is interrupted, we will simply donate our pot to charity.

This will probably be especially tough for our first team at that time, but that’s what we agreed on in advance and the first hall will choose the charity. You can also return the money to the owners or hand out a percentage reward based on how far into the season you do it before they are canceled. The most important thing is that the members of your league agree on what to do with the purchase money before the season starts.

When it comes to animal keepers, we make it easy for ourselves by calling this year a recovery year regardless. We have not had a new draft for a while where all owners came in at the same time – usually some have the advantage of large housekeepers. In our league, if you have a player who performed really well one season, you can hang on to that player for next season as well, so that he does not return to the pool with options we choose from on the draft. The reset gives us a chance to update the league and start again.

Other options include keeping players off the 2019 schedules in the event of a 2020 cancellation – a full freeze on this year’s assets. Most holders have a cost, so you may need to set aside your third choice in a draft to reserve your player. From year to year, depending on your fantasy league settings, that cost may increase from your third choice to your second so it costs more to keep a player longer. If so, you should also decide if this value will freeze in the event of a cancellation or progress 2020 normally.

Step 3: I / R slots and honors system

In Mash Tun, we are also adding five damaged spare seats to our playing fields. These normally allow you to remove injured players so that you can find a healthy free agent as a replacement without exceeding the maximum number of players you can have.

League members of Mash Tun will only be allowed to add players to these slots if they have COVID – the site we play on does not force this, but we all agreed to follow this rule to give us extra flexibility. If league members have more than five players affected by COVID (as of July 28, 21 have already tested positive), they will have to release these players with the understanding that no one else can pick them up.


I have not won the Mash Tun championship since 2017. I hope I get the chance to change that this year. We call our trophy Stein.

Andrew Gebhart / CNET

Not every league has this level of trust among the members, but again, solutions with increased understanding and flexibility are possible as long as you communicate about all your options and get all the members of your league on board.

Maybe the NFL season will take place as usual and all this preparation will be unnecessary. It would be wonderful. If something goes wrong, Mash Tun will be willing to give all its members a chance to adapt and keep the game fair. Yes, all our planning time is lost, but in all the leagues you care about, it’s much better to have plans and not use them than to need them and not have them.

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