Commissioner Basics - League Size
By Will Grant
July 23rd, 2012

As commissioner of your league, it's your responsibility to make sure that the league is fun and competitive for everyone. Balancing the egos of your league mates, keeping the league competitive but not cut-throat and dealing with owners trying to bend the rules in every possible way to get an advantage can be a thankless job. However, having the right mix of owners can create a rewarding and long-standing bond within a fantasy football league. It is not uncommon for well run leagues to go ten or more years with many of the same owners. Long lasting friendships are often formed.

While the formula for a league that stands the test of time has many different forms and permutations, there is one place where that formula starts: How many owners do you want to have in your league. In some cases, you may be constrained by interest. It may be harder to find any more than eight guys who want to play. In others, such as an internet-based league, you may have an embarrassment of riches. Owners may have you faced with more interested people than you ever imagined. In this article we'll detail out the pros and cons of leagues with different sizes, and give you some things to think about when you're inviting people to join your league.

A Note About Owners

Regardless of the size of your league, the quality of the owners that you recruit can really make a difference. If you can only find eight people to play, but they are totally engaged and committed to playing week after week, your league will be significantly more interesting and fun than if you have 12 owners who simply show up and go through the motions each week. If you focus on getting quality people for your league, it will be massively successful, regardless of the size. This article will try to describe the pros and cons of having leagues of different sizes, and it will give you an idea of what it takes to run them.

Fewer than 8 Teams

In some cases, you may not be able to recruit seven other owners to play in your league. While it is technically feasible to run a fantasy league with fewer than eight owners, it is not advisable. Commissioners faced with this problem need to take some additional measures to keep everything interesting and competitive. Consider switching to an all-play league, rather than a head-to-head schedule. Each week owners will play every team in the league, and the team with the highest point total each week will go undefeated. Rosters in this league should be deeper than normal leagues because there will be plenty of talent to go around. You should also consider doubling the lineup requirements, such as having 2 QBs, 4 RBs, 6 WRs, 2 TEs, 2 PKs, and 2 defenses each week. Scoring will be off the charts compared to other leagues, but it may be the only way to create enough distance between the strongest and weakest starters at every position. The free agent pool will be very deep in these leagues, and a team that has a strong draft will be very difficult to beat because other teams will not be able to make roster moves that are significant enough to be competitive. However, if you cannot recruit eight total owners for your league, a tiny-sized league may be your only chance to have a fantasy season. League owners should work hard to recruit additional teams for next season.

8 to 10 Teams

While the typical fantasy football league consists of 12 teams, leagues with eight and ten teams are also fairly common. Despite their small size, they present some unique challenges for owners and commissioners alike. Here are some things to think about if you want a smaller fantasy league:

Pros

Smaller leagues create stronger teams. Scoring will be much higher from week to week because each team will be stacked from top to bottom. The draft night goes much faster, and the free agency pool is always deep with solid talent. There are most likely two divisions instead of four and you play the teams in your division more often than in leagues with 12 teams.

Cons

It's hard to overcome a bad draft in these leagues because it is so easy to build a team with studs at every position. Unless rosters are very deep, it's hard to carry sleeper players because the free agency pool contains so many starter-quality players. Free agency will be used a lot because teams can drop and add players based on their hot and cold streaks. Playoffs should be only two weeks long and only contain four teams. Otherwise, the regular season games become irrelevant because so many teams make the playoffs. Trades will be less likely because teams will all be deep in talent and the free agency pool will offer plenty of options.

12 Teams

Twelve teams are really the standard size in this hobby. There are enough teams to create a solid league breakdown by division and conference. The talent is spread out well among all of the teams and the free agency pool has just enough talent to help the weaker teams but not so much to create the rash of player movement like in smaller leagues. Trades are more frequent because teams can build depth at certain positions, which allows them to trade starting quality players without giving up their most important players. No league size is perfect, but 12 teams is really the standard that most leagues try to achieve.

14 and 16 Teams

If you get a lot of people that are interested in your league, you can certainly run with more than 12 and still have a great time. It does present a few unique challenges though, so make sure that your owners fully understand that your league has more than the typical amount of teams before they commit to being involved.

Pros

Having more owners who are committed to playing fantasy football can't be bad right? Draft night is great because there is a lot of energy and a lot of different personalities all talking about football. Bigger leagues tend to be more interactive, and building your team through trading becomes a solid option because the free agency pool is so shallow. Stronger owners can be more speculative during the draft, and you can carry your sleeper picks longer and allow them to pan out. In money leagues, more teams means more prize money, giving you more options to pay out like weekly prizes for the top scoring team or bonus money for certain achievements at the end of the season. It's hard to build an unbeatable team through the draft, so the competition will be intense for the entire season.

Cons

The draft night is a little longer in these leagues, and getting everyone together for one night can sometimes be a challenge. It's hard to build depth in these type of leagues, and a team that has a bad draft may disengage early and eventually drop out. These leagues can be a bit more competitive, and it's not uncommon for owners to draft the backup player from another owner's team. Bye weeks can be a challenge because certain positions like quarterback, tight end, place kicker, and defense may not have enough backups to go around. If, for example, one guy in a 16-team league drafts three defenses, there will be one team that doesn't have another defense for when his starting unit is on a bye.

More than 16 Teams

When you get to a point that you have more than 16 active owners, the size of the league starts to get in the way of your success. Even if everyone is online, it's hard to get 18 people to block our four or five hours at one time. An in-person draft is nearly impossible, and most people don't have space in their home to host it so you'll have to find a bar or a restaurant. The draft itself could take several hours, and it slows down in the later rounds. With more then 300 players off of the board, it's hard to determine how you are going to round out the last few spots on your roster. A slow-live draft over several days on the internet has its own challenges, including keeping people engaged over several days and what to do if the timer runs out on a person. A draft over several days also runs the risk of a player being seriously injured, so owners tend to drag their feet, not wanting to potentially waste a draft pick. Once the season begins, you're going to have challenges with each team because the depth at each position will be very small. Flexibility in their starting lineup is the key to helping people field a competitive team from week to week.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is keeping people interested for the entire season. If you expand the playoffs beyond eight teams, you're going to need four weeks to resolve them. That will shorten the season and eliminate some teams much sooner. If you keep it at eight, then you lose more than half of the league when the playoff starts. It becomes a nightmare to manage and keep everyone excited. Once you hit 18 or 20 teams, you might consider splitting the league into two separate leagues.

Above All - Make it fun

The key to any successful fantasy football league is making it fun for everyone. Having too few or too many owners present some unique challenges, but if you can keep it fun for everyone, the size of your league isn't very important. Check out our other commissioner articles for more ideas on how to keep your league interesting for everyone.

As always, feel free to provide comments or suggestions to grant@footballguys.com.

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