Commissioner Guide, Part 3: League Size

The Footballguys guide to starting a new fantasy football league and being the league's commissioner

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A fantasy football commissioner has two main responsibilities - to make sure the league is fun and competitive, while also managing the league's members and fostering a fair environment. Commissioner is often a thankless job within the scope of a fantasy football league, but a mandatory one for a properly-run organization. Having the right mix of general managers (GMs) can create a rewarding and long-standing bond within a fantasy football league. It is not uncommon for well-run leagues to go 10 or more years with many of the same GMs. Long-lasting friendships are often formed.

While the formula for a league to stand the test of time has many different forms and permutations, there is one place where the formula starts: How many teams do you want in your league. In some cases, you may be constrained by interest. It may be more difficult to find any more than eight people who want to play. In others, such as an internet-based league, you may have an embarrassment of riches. You may be faced with more interested people than you ever imagined. In this article, we will detail the pros and cons of leagues of different sizes to aid in deciding the right league format for your new fantasy football league.

QUALITY MATTERS

Regardless of the size of your league, the quality of the league mates you recruit makes 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 or more participants 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 general managers to play in your league. While it is technically feasible to run a fantasy league with fewer than eight teams, 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 participants 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. Another consideration is doubling the lineup requirements, such as having two quarterbacks, four running backs, six wide receivers, two tight ends, two kickers, and two defenses each week, in addition to multiple offensive flex positions which encompass running back, wide receiver, and tight end. 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 due to the few teams and lower need areas for the average roster. However, if you cannot recruit eight total GMs for your league, a tiny-sized league may be your only chance to have a fantasy season. League GMs 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 10 teams are also fairly common. Despite their small size, they present some unique challenges for teams and commissioners alike. Here are some things to consider 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 more 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. Managing fewer teams within a league is typically less time-consuming than larger leagues.

Cons

It is more difficult 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 (recommended), it is hard to carry sleeper players because the free agency pool contains so many starter-quality players. Free agency will be used frequently 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

This is the standard size for a fantasy football league. 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 the standard most leagues try to achieve. One con for 12 teams is the season-long head-to-head schedule will not align perfectly with typically 13-14 regular season weeks and 11 unique matchups for each team to play. Playing multiple teams (potentially within their division or random draw) will be necessary to complete a team's schedule.

14 TO 16 TEAMS

If you get a significant number of people 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 participants fully understand your league has more than the typical amount of teams before they commit to being involved.

Pros

Having more general managers who are committed to playing fantasy football cannot be bad, right? Draft night is great because there is a lot of energy and many 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 (plus there are more potential trade partners available).

Stronger teams can be more speculative during the draft, and you can carry your sleeper picks longer and allow them to pan out due to the deeper format overall. In money leagues, having more teams means more prize money, giving you more options to pay out weekly prizes for the top-scoring team or bonus money for certain achievements at the end of the season. It is difficult 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 (or the format can accommodate smaller rosters so the total rostered players for the league is similar to that of a format with fewer teams). Everyone getting together for one night can sometimes be a challenge in terms of scheduling. It is difficult to build depth in these types of leagues, and a team that has a bad draft may disengage early and eventually drop out. Bye weeks and injuries can be a challenge because certain positions like quarterback, tight end, kicker, and defense may not have enough backups to go around. If, for example, one team in a 16-team league drafts three defenses, there will be one team that does not have another defense when their starting unit is on a bye week.

MORE THAN 16 TEAMS

When to the point you have more than 16 active general managers, 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 or 20+ people to block out four or five hours at one time. An in-person draft is nearly impossible, and most people do not have space in their home to host so you will have to find a bar or a restaurant. The draft itself could take a handful of hours, and it slows down in the later rounds. With more than 300 players off of the board, it is 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 injured or their value changing during the draft, so league mates may drag their feet, not wanting to potentially waste a draft pick. Once the season begins, you are 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 instead of a rigid lineup configuration.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is keeping people interested for the entire season. If you expand the playoffs beyond eight teams, you are going to need four weeks to play the postseason. This will shorten the season, factor in bye weeks to the postseason potentially, plus 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 or having multiple conferences that meet in a Super Bowl for the ultimate title.


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