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Mike Davis | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Small Leagues, Thought Experiments, & a Call for Draft Photos from Leagues over 10 Years Old

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 game.

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 every week.

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 Jim:
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.”

Derrick Henry

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 in 2018.

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, Derrick 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.

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