Last season I
wrote about giving fantasy advice to a friend who was playing
in an 8-team league. I couldn’t believe how loaded he was
at every position, but I realized (over the course of the season)
that operating from a position of abundance can present challenges
every bit as interesting as operating from a position of scarcity.
I later heard from a reader named Brian about the numerous charms
of playing in small leagues. His thoughts reached me too late to
influence my column on the subject, so I’m pleased to share
them with readers now:
I’ve been the commissioner of an 8-man league for 19 years
and love every minute of it. Here are the main advantages:
1. As you mentioned in your article, EVERY owner should have a “stacked”
roster. If not, it’s their fault!
2. The waiver wire is always deeper in an 8-man league. At the beginning
of the season, many players [who will end up] on final rosters aren’t
even drafted. I don’t know if that is bad drafting or not,
but back in the old days it didn’t seem like we did as many
drop/adds…? But then came daily fantasy football, which turned
regular fantasy football owners/managers into “What have you
done for me lately?”-style GMs for their own teams and rosters.
I make more in-season moves now, so it’s nice to have more
players to choose from the waiver wire if you [acquire players aggressively].
I make at least one change a week to my 16-man roster on average.
3. The teams in an 8-man league play each other twice in the regular
season, which is a lot [fairer/more intuitive than the scheduling
of a] 10/12-man league, and it’s much easier to determine
who goes to the playoffs than trying to determine 10/12-man tiebreakers.
The schedules in bigger leagues vary from owner to owner; no [two
teams have] the same schedule. However, all 8 teams in my league
face the same opponents the same number of times. If your team loses
the first regular season game to someone, you can still eliminate
the tie breaker they have over you by beating them in the second
4. In an 8-man league, teams are more evenly balanced, so it’s
very competitive week to week. Close-scoring matchups are the norm
5. It’s easier to maintain a league of 8 people than 10-12!
I have been lucky to have the same six out of eight owners for over
15 years in a row.
6. The 8-man draft goes quicker. A 12-man draft lasts at least an
hour longer. If a league has 16-slot rosters, an 8-man league drafts
128 players, whereas a 12-man league drafts 192 players. That’s
64 more players off the waiver wire to begin the season.
I want to thank Brian for taking the time to articulate his thoughts
in such detail. His third point (concerning tiebreakers) is subtle,
but accurate. I can’t remember how many times my seeding in
the playoffs has come down to whether I won or lost a single game
against another team in my league. I always get two games against
my divisional opponents, so a fluke injury in the first quarter
is unlikely to be the end of the tiebreaker story between my team
and any other team in my division. But such flukes routinely can
be (and presumably are) the basis of determining which team advances
to the playoffs in 12-team leagues.
Brian’s point about the value of keeping 6 out of 8 slots
filled every year is also important. If you pull off that level
of retention in a 12-man league, you’re looking at a turnover
rate of 1 in 2 vs. 1 in 4 in Brian’s league. That’s
a whole different level of carryover chemistry that you can expect
in terms of league rivalry/camaraderie.
I suspect that Brian also has a lot more fun as a commissioner of
an 8-team league than he would as the commish of a 12-team league.
There’s just so much less to keep track of, so many fewer
moving parts to monitor. I doubt many 12-team commissioners attempt
to put together playoff brackets without a spreadsheet, whereas
8-team commissioners might not need paper at all, as a quick glance
at the standings will tell them everything they need to know.
But small leagues also have their critics, including a reader named
Smaller leagues are great for new players and people with a small
group of friends having fun. However, as a long-time player, they
are not nearly as much fun for me. There is always talent available
on the waiver wire, so injuries do not present a challenge. Drafting
is not as crucial because a bust can be dropped and replaced without
much concern. Trading is less frequent because people do not need
to give up their players to get other players at a different position
when loads of options remains in the free agent pool. Strange as
it may sound, the challenge is why I play. I like when I have to
scour the waiver wire and make tough choices, when I have to really
focus in on who I am drafting next/spending my budget on, when I
have to negotiate with other owners in regards to a trade.
Note that Jim’s note picks up exactly where Brian’s
leaves off: with an abundance of talent available on waivers. For
Brian, this is an advantage; for Jim, it’s a disadvantage.
We each probably draw that line in a slightly different spot. Everybody
likes a challenge, but the challenge I like best is, to quote Lisa
Simpson, “Duh, a challenge I could do.”
Making a decision on Derrick Henry vs.
Dion Lewis may not be necessary in an 8-team league.
So in my attempt to better understand how Brianís thinking
could differ so much from Jimís on the subject of the waiver
wire, I tried to come up with a thought experiment on running backs
Letís say that you have the 5th pick in a draft, and youíre
determined to take a running back. Todd Gurley, LeVeon Bell, David Johnson, and Ezekiel Elliott are all off the board. Youíre
trying to decide between Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, Melvin Gordon,
and Kareem Hunt. It doesnít really matter whether youíre
in an 8-team league or a 12-team league, does it? This decision
will expend more of your draft capital than any other, and you want
to get it right. One of these players will be a better choice than
the others, and your league will reward you for making the right
decision no matter how many teams youíre competing against.
Sure, one could argue that in an 8-team league, the decision matters
less because itís easier to recover from mistakes when thereís
so much talent on the waiver wire. True, but that doesnít
change the fact that you are clearly invested in making the right
decision in both leagues.
However, thereís a huge difference in evaluating the Tennessee backfield
in an 8-team league as opposed to a 12-team league. According to
FFTodayís ADP tracker,
Henry is going at 3.02 in 12-team leagues, while Dion
Lewis is going at 6.04. Thereís no question in my mind that
Lewis is a much better bargain is the 6th than is Henry in the 3rd.
But thatís my perspective from playing in 12-man leagues. In an
8-man league, I probably wouldnít even give the Tennessee backfield
any thought. An RB has to finish better than 16th overall just to
qualify as an RB2 in an 8-man league, and I donít expect either
Henry or Lewis to finish that high. Moreover, the situation there
is so murky (especially given Marcus
Mariotaís capabilities as a runner) that I probably wouldnít
touch it in an 8-team context unless someone fell out of the picture
due to injury/suspension.
The point Iím trying to illustrate is that while I canít
imagine NOT having an opinion about the Tennessee backfield in a
12-team league, I canít imagine bothering to form an opinion
of it in an 8-team league. And even though I like the challenge
(like Jim) of guessing about how things will shake out in Tennessee,
the fact is Iíll only be guessing. No one knows who will lead
the Titans in rushing in 2018 (not even the running backs coach
in Tennessee). We all have expectations, but nothing in the NFL
goes according to script. Thatís why they play the games.
So whoís to say that Jimís way (which I happen to prefer)
is better than Brianís? In my 12-team leagues this year, some
owners will be more right than others about the Tennessee backfield,
but thatís only because they play in an environment that compels
them to form an opinion and place their bets one way or another.
If the people who are right are just going to end up lucking into
the correct bet (as often happens in these sorts of decisions),
then what was the point of forcing them to make the choice?
Donít get me wrong. Betting on Henry or Lewis will be a lot
of fun for a lot of people this season, but there will be an element
of roulette in the outcome. Roulette can be exhilarating, but letís
not fool ourselves into mistaking it for a game of skill.
Maybe you have a better thought experiment for illustrating the
difference between 8- and 12-team leagues. If so, please post it
in the comments below.
Call for Draft Party Photos
Is your league at least 10 years old? Do you have group photos from
your original draft & your most recent draft? Do you know of articles,
forums, or reddit threads that collect such photos? If so, please
post relevant links below or email
images directly to me. Iíve heard from people in lots of longstanding
leagues, but Iím not sure how readily available photos of such leagues
are. I would especially love to see photos of draft parties from
leagues that are several decades old. Mike Davis has been writing about fantasy football since 1999--and
playing video games even longer than that. His latest novel (concerning
a gamer who gets trapped inside Nethack after eating too many shrooms)
can be found here.