SFL announces Season 23 Rule Changes

by Cameron Irvine

The Simulation Football League has spent months crafting rule changes for Season 23. Entering our third season of the SFL4K23 era, it's important to take steps forward from what we've learned over the first two seasons, but it's also important to only change the most important variables to understand what is working and what isn't when it comes to adjustments. Changing too many variables can cause further disruption to our gameplay and the league is cognizant of that. These rule adjustments and the careful considerations on which variables were selected for adjustment were based on customer feedback, team and league testing, player portal ability, time necessary to implement, the pending improvements and flexibility of player progression and for minimal disruptions to business operations. 

LEADERSHIP attribute

A topic that dominated the landscape of 'fairness' in Season 22 was the Leadership attribute. For context, the SFL's APF era, Leadership could be progressed as an "animation", not as an attribute. With no prior history with the attribute, the league set the minimum and maximum for all positions based on the game's initial roster construction where all non-QBs were at the minimum and allowed all players to progress the attribute as they saw fit. Quarterbacks were put under a microscope during testing before switching games because there was a noticeable ability by a quarterback with high leadership to lead game-winning drives, compared to quarterbacks with low Leadership - the minimum threshold was raised to 60 to give every quarterback in the league at least a small opportunity to achieve this if given the opportunity and, in testing, 60 was the magic minimum to make that happen.

It is clear that after two seasons in the 4K23 era, it was a mistake for the league to set everyone at such a low Leadership minimum and it was a mistake by teams not to invest in it while it was at its cheapest. Having such a low minimum made the attribute extremely cheap for an extremely long time, allowing whole teams to max out their entire rosters in the attribute. In the initial game, teams only have a handful of players with high Leadership, limiting its capabilities, but throughout the season it became clear through testing that teams with extreme numbers of high Leadership were making the attribute far more valuable than any one attribute should be when weighted amongst the other attributes and factors that go into winning or losing a game.

There are many ways - and have been many public suggestions - on how to address this problem:

  • Limit high Leadership to only a certain number of customers
  • Limit the total amount of Leadership that a team can achieve
  • Raise the floor of Leadership for all players to close the gap
  • Cap Leadership for players at a certain number
  • No longer allow Leadership to be progressed 
  • Or simply do nothing because eventually the problem will correct itself

The league experimented with the Leadership attribute in a number of ways throughout the season during testing. Our testing showed that having more Leadership was more valuable then it was a hindrance to have less leadership and that raising the floor of Leadership would not only raise the attribute's price, but not showcase improvements in the attribute's performance overall. This is what the league ultimately hoped would be a solution, but ultimately proved fruitless.

While the game only has a certain number of players with high Leadership, our business model does not limit your ability to progress an attribute based on team and does not allow teams to select which players might get certain attributes and which might not. Consequently, our player portal's code is not set up to lock players from achieving an attribute if they have the funds for it, nor does it cap teams from adding too much of any one specific attribute. The amount of time and resources it would have taken to even attempt to implement these changes could have delayed the season and had larger ramifications on the league than one attribute deserves.

Leadership is a functioning attribute just like anything else in the game. It can be useful, but given too much power, it can also be exploited. It was clear throughout Season 22 that Leadership was never the sole reason for wins and losses, but lowering it had an effect on wins and losses, just like if you would lower any other attribute, swap out a different gameplan, or anything else that factors into the competitive balance of the game. The league does not see elimination of Leadership as a realistic option, especially after so many players have spent so many weeks progressing it from its minimums.

While the league could allow this to be resolved in time, perhaps, it's clear from customer surveys, DMs, gameday chatter, show conversations and locker room discussions that the issue is too big of a distraction and moral dump for the league to take no action. The action we are taking is viewed as a good solution, but not the best solution. What is viewed as the best solution is to reach new custom minimums and maximums for every position that allows the Leadership attribute to be marginally impactful at its minimum and majorly impactful at its maximum, but not so much so that it becomes an overpowering advantage. Sadly, that challenge is extreme given the lack of tangibility and visual identity of the attribute and the time people have invested in the attribute. With how a lower ceiling and higher floor would impact attribute pricing, this may take many more months or years to achieve and we don't have that type of time if we want to continue providing a high-quality football competition.

Starting in Season 23, the SFL will be capping the Leadership attribute for all non-QB positions at 75.

With the maximum being lowered to 75, this will inflate contract values as players who did not reach the old maximums in Leadership will see their contract values against the cap become higher than they were at the end of the season. The league has calculated the average inflation for each team and will increase the Season 23 salary cap for each team by this average to $37,281,557.17 to accommodate increased contract value. With this, teams who were affected by the Leadership attribute the least in Season 22 will have more cap space to develop their players, while teams who were most affected by the Leadership attribute will potentially receive larger payouts for salary pay cuts. Reimbursement for the loss in leadership will be found in these salary cuts as they are worth more than the current market price for a point of Leadership.

The value of 75 was selected based on a number of factors, including gameplay competitive imbalance disparity and impacts to number of customers. We will continue to evaluate the Leadership attribute in the seasons to come to better understand its abilities, but in the short term this change will allow our league to resume conversations that surround the game of football, rather than the 1s and 0s of which are not our focal mission.


Last season, one of the few rule changes came in the form of lowering the Stamina attribute on ball carriers to 0. Stamina gave ball carriers an unrealistic number of carries in past seasons and caused an unrealistic amount of broken tackles and big-gain running plays. Once quarterbacks and 4K23 draft picks were taken out of the equation, ball carriers with 0 stamina averaged 3.68 yards per carry this season, about 0.5 yards per carry under the NFL average. We've taken steps already to help new and incoming backs into the SFL and are eager to see what edits to the progression system can do to help fine-tune run games around the league and get us closer to that target number.

A threat to that is teams putting players with the Stamina attribute in as ball-carriers in offensive formation substitutions, such as wide receivers and tight ends. While this did not end up being a large focus of conversation in Season 22, it has the potential to be after our most recent championship game and the shown benefits of handing it off to a ball carrier with Stamina. We as a league do not want to go backwards and want to continue to bring value to the halfback and fullbacks of the league, but the league also appreciates creativity in offense and getting as many players involved as possible. When people are given power, it sadly will be abused if not mandated.

Effective in Season 23 and beyond, teams can only have NON-RB/FB ball carriers in the RB/FB positions a maximum of 10 carries per game - collectively as a team. If teams go beyond 10 carries in a game to NON-RB/FB players, the coaching staff will receive a two-game suspension and their playbook for those two weeks can only come from previous submitted gameplans not in violation of this rule. If suspensions impact the postseason, they will impact the entirety of the team's postseason run that season. If this occurs in a Championship Game, the team's staff will serve a six-game suspension the following season. The suspensions double after each offense. This rule will ensure that anyone who attempts to diversify their backfield will be doing so in an extremely careful and responsible way. Coaches don't like a loss of control, even though the SFL has always stood as a controllerless competition. This is a compromise from the league to its coaches that allows them the creative freedom to move around personnel if they so choose, but ensures a high-quality product league-wide. This rule would have impacted less than 0.006% of gameplans submitted last season. The number of games that would have been lost to unrealistic non RB/FB ball carrier numbers without this rule would have far exceeded .0006% of gameplans in Season 23 without the rule in place.