Last Week's Question: Are positional quotas
In my Week 9 column,
I shared Matthew's concern about the possibility that his league
is "too strict" because of "roster limitations"
that require every team to carry a certain number of players at
each position. Clearly the FF community has evolved in response
to this practice over the course of the last decade.
Back at the turn of the millennium, when I first started writing
this column, I remember hearing from commissioners who argued that
requiring owners to carry two kickers on their rosters was an important
part of keeping teams competitive even when the owners became apathetic.
"What?" you ask. "How does keeping a kicker on the
bench make a team more competitive?"
It should not surprise anyone to learn that apathy (especially on
the part of owners eliminated from playoff contention by the middle
of the season) has always been a major concern for commissioners
in fantasy football.
As an example, let's say the owner of the Oaktown Haters is 1-7
after the games in Week 8.
He is supposed to log into his league's website no later than Thursday
afternoon to submit his lineup for Week 9, but he decides to watch
"Honey Badger" clips on YouTube instead. Why should he
bother to designate a starting tight end when it is so much more
amusing to hear Randall chirp, "Honey badger don't care"?
There's nothing the Oaktown Haters can do to salvage the fantasy
season, and by Week 10, the owner will claim that he cannot even
remember what password he needs to use to log into his league's
website. The Haters are now on auto-pilot.
Receivers on IR stay in the lineup.
The quarterback on a bye in Week 11 puts up a big shiny ZERO.
In Week 12, two running backs who are about equal in terms of productivity
are matched up against the best and worst rushing defenses in the
NFL. The one playing against the most porous defense stays on the
bench. The one playing against the stingiest defense remains in
the lineup because he was the last one the owner started before
The Oaktown Haters are now giving out free wins to opponents week
after week--until the playoffs finally begin. The owner won't bother
to follow the playoffs. He doesn't care who wins. All he knows is
that it won't be him. The upside (for him) is that if he loses enough
games in the final stretch, he will probably get the top pick in
next year's draft. The downside (for the commissioner) is that the
owners who had to make an effort to beat the Oaktown Haters when
they were being actively managed are complaining that their competitors
are now simply coasting to victory over a shell of a team.
But wait! The commissioner has planned for this contingency. He
required all the owners to draft enough players at every position
to cover lineup shortfalls caused by injuries and bye weeks. The
owner of the Oaktown Haters may be MIA, but the commissioner can
make sure that the team fills out its roster with active players
every week. If Kicker A is on a bye, Kicker B is manually plugged
into the lineup by the commissioner to make sure that the Haters
That is one defense of positional quotas that I remember reading
when I started writing this column. I don't think it would go over
as well in 2012 as it might have in 2002. Back then, I received
notes from various FFers who told me that they had to drive back
to their offices on Thursday evening to submit changes to their
lineups because they did not have internet connections in their
homes. These days, I suspect that most lineup changes are made with
Matthew offers a much more compelling defense of positional quotas
by pointing out that when all owners are required to tie up roster
spots with extra kickers, tight ends, defenses, and QBs, the waiver
wire for running backs and receivers remains attractive all season
I certainly remember that being the case in the league that I first
joined (which enforced strict roster requirements). There always
seemed to be serviceable RBs available on waivers because it was
impossible for owners to hoard them. I recall that handcuffing backups
to starters was really tricky when the second- and third-string
backups were dealing with injuries of their own. If you wanted to
draft a star running back and two backups from the same team in
case of injury, you knew that you would have to cut one of them
before the bye week because it's impossible to start two RBs every
week of the season when you can only have four on your roster and
three of them have the same bye.
As I have written before, it's very difficult for me to understand
why anyone would carry two kickers on their roster unless they were
required to do so. When I am attached to a kicker (and I was high
on David Akers for a few years), then I will consider carrying an
extra kicker for exactly one week (my main kicker's bye). But as
soon as the bye is over, I will cut the extra kicker.
Usually, however, I don't even do that. When my kicker's bye week
comes up, I cut him. Welcome aboard, Mr. Replacement. The job is
yours for the rest of the season.
Having just one kicker on my team means freeing up a slot for an
extra WR or RB. And I'm not the only one who thinks this way. Almost
everyone thinks this way, with the result that lots of owners streamline
at certain positions (especially kickers and defenses, but often
at tight end, and sometimes at QB as well).
When everybody's extra kicker slot and extra defense slot and extra
tight end slot ends up being used for RB depth, it's quite possible
to end up seeing a waiver wire with no RBs available who are likely
to see significant action in the upcoming game. I agree with Matthew
about that difference.
Of course, that is not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of owners
like being able to carry 7 RBs or WRs if they want to. NFL owners
may have to trim their rosters to 53 men, but Roger Goodell does
not require a set number of punt returners or middle linebackers.
And in the end, shouldn't owners have as much flexibility as possible?
Shouldn't we let them make their own choices and deal with the consequences?
I tend to think so, but I also know that playing with positional
quotas introduced certain strategic wrinkles into FF that were fun
to try to work around. As I said last week, I miss the league that
required me to carry exactly 4 RBs. I think I'll look around next
year for one. But that's just a matter of personal preference, as
Brian points out:
I think it’s safe to say that one thing
we’ve all learned through the years is that there is no one
correct way to run a fantasy league. It all depends on how you want
to play and getting everyone to buy into it.
We have always and still use same roster limitations for all 8 owners
in our league (2 QBs, 4 RBs, 4 WRs, 2 TEs, 2 Ks, 2 Ds….1/2
of which gets started weekly). We have been running our league since
1993 with just about the same guys, so we're not into making too
many changes to throw off our history. We use a coaching % (starting
weekly points vs. possible points) as one of our end-of-year prizes.
This would get skewed if roster sizes were different.
My guess is that most leagues that still require positional quotas
are, like Brian's, at least fifteen years old. Donovan's league
(which has many similarities) has been around for almost a quarter
This is our league’s 24th season, and
we’ve used very strict roster limitations from the beginning.
We use only five bench spots, but two of them must be a K and a
D/ST, leaving a mere three for the skill positions.
While all drafts are important, our league’s roster rules
put much more emphasis on what happens afterwards. Smaller rosters
emphasize each owner’s weekly decision making, especially
when it comes to navigating the bye weeks. Our league obviously
has better players available on the waiver wire than most; however,
choosing who (or if) to drop from a smaller roster is often difficult.
Fantasy football has enough luck involved already; our goal is to
keep as much of the game in the hands of the owners as possible.
I’ve always thought one of the best arguments FOR our system
is that the 2-3 owners in our league that rarely make the playoffs
want to change it, by increasing our roster sizes “to make
it easier”. There is little doubt that bigger rosters make
in-season team management much easier. So, I’d recommend reducing
the roster size for serious leagues, but recreational leagues should
probably not go down the limited roster road.
A well-structured waiver system goes hand-in-hand with smaller rosters.
Getting new players can’t be a race, so we use a closed-bid
auction on Wednesday nights instead.
Donovan doesn't try to glamorize positional quotas in this note.
He simply tells us what he and some of his fellow owners like about
the system they use. He even admits that some of the owners would
like to move away from roster regimentation (reminding us of Matthew's
concerns about whether positional quotas are "too strict").
However, even the owners in Donovan's league who dislike the regimented
(and daringly shallow) rosters seem to be sticking around. I'd say
24 years is fairly impressive longevity in the world of FF leagues.
This Week's Question: How can commissioners
maintain parity while sustaining rivalry?
Before I get to Kenneth's question, I want to remind everyone that
the parity we take for granted in the NFL is not easy to come by.
In a world of huge salaries and awesome stakes, the temptation for
owners to manipulate the rules into favoring their own teams must
But even if we have teams that emerge as short-lived dynasties (the
Steelers of the 70s, the 49ers of the 80s, the Cowboys of the 90s,
and the Patriots of the 00s), we always see new talent bubbling
up in new places.
Some people watch the NFL for the hits. Some watch for the acrobatic
grace. Some watch because they have money riding on the outcome.
But most of us watch because there is simply no telling what will
happen between any two teams on any given Sunday.
After a dismal preseason, how many of us expected the Jets to put
up 48 points against the Bills in Week 1? And how many of us expected
them to lose to the Dolphins 30-9 in Week 8?
It's fun and exciting to watch NFL games because there is no telling
how they will play out.
And for many of us, fantasy football is fun for the same reason.
Winning is fun. Winning money is even more fun. But for a lot of
us, the emotional roller coaster ride of rooting against a an opposing
tight end or cheering for an unexpected pick-6 by our defense--that
experience is enjoyable because every step of the path that we take
to victory or defeat is uncharted before the games are played.
Fantasy leagues that value fun should also value parity and the
unpredictability that it brings. People would lose interest in the
NFL if the Giants won the Super Bowl every year. And people will
lose interest in your fantasy league if the same guy takes home
the trophy over and over.
The point of this long prelude to Kenneth's question is that I think
it would be a mistake for a commissioner to start focusing on rivalry
if his league has not yet achieved parity, but if parity is not
a problem for you, then maybe it is time to start thinking about
ways to encourage rivalry.
And now for Kenneth's question:
Our league consists of 12 teams broken into
3 divisions of 4 teams each. Division winners all advance to the
playoffs along with 1 wildcard team (based on points, not record,
which is a whole different argument that I don't want to get into).
Our top division, the Champs, is made up of whichever 4 teams reached
the playoffs in the previous season.
The teams with the next four highest point totals end up in our
second division, the Chimps.
The teams with the four lowest point totals go into our bottom division,
Obviously, we think it's important to give a leg up to the teams
that struggle. A couple of the owners think we give the weak teams
too much of an advantage, but most of us like the idea that one
of the worst four teams in 2011 will definitely go to the playoffs
The problem is that with the divisions changing every year, we can't
really build up the kinds of rivalries that most of us have seen
in other leagues. We play the teams in our own division twice (just
like the NFL), but you never know who is going to be in your division
from one season to the next.
I like the way the league challenges the winners and beefs up the
losers, but some of us are pretty serious smack talkers, and we
would like to be in our own division just so that we can play each
other twice every year.
Do you think it's worth changing the way our league works just to
give a few of us an excuse to send each other abusive emails more
frequently each season? Maybe it sounds silly, but I think it might
be worth it.
Smacky the Bear says, "Only you can properly determine the
value of smack talk in your league," but Kenneth has posed
a complicated question that I'm not sure how to answer.
I'm interested in hearing
what readers might have to say to him about the importance of
rivalry, but I am equally interested in hearing about any and all
measures that fantasy leagues take in order to create a sense of
Last Man Standing - Week 10
(Courtesy of Matthew
Trap Game: Detroit at Minnesota (5-4, Wash,
CLE, TB, Den, ATL, SF, NYG, NO, MIA):
The Detroit Lions were ranked 5th in total offense at this time
last year, and Megatron was more than halfway to his 16 touchdowns.
This year he and Matthew Stafford have hooked up for just one lonely
touchdown through the first 9 weeks. While the Minnesota defense
hasn’t been shutting everyone down of late, they might just
overcome their slight “underdog” status for this week’s
game against a divisional foe at home. Look for a healthy dose of
Adrian Peterson against a defense that gives up more points than
yards in proportion to other teams. With so many other good games
to choose from, you should only consider the favored Lions on the
road in this game if you have already used one of the three “juicy”
favorites listed below.
#3: New England over Buffalo (8-1: PHI, TB,
CHI, AZ, HOU, BAL, GB, SF, SD):
The last time these two teams met in upstate New York, New England
came away a winner in a high-scoring affair, 52-38. Buffalo’s
31st-ranked defense hasn’t gotten any better since their meeting
back in Week 4, and without a snow storm to slow down Tom Brady
and company, there is no reason to think that they cannot repeat
their prior performance. Despite all of the promise of a revamped
defense in Buffalo, the Bills have languished at the bottom of the
league while the Pats have quietly improved their pass coverage
since some early-season shortfalls.
#2: Baltimore over Oakland (6-3: CHI, Wash,
NO, HOU, SF, PIT, MIN, NE, ATL):
Oakland was completely dismantled by Doug Martin and Josh Freeman
last week at home. This week those same Raiders visit Ray Rice and
his Baltimore Ravens. Do you think that Joe Flacco looks forward
to handing the ball off as he watches film of the Raiders? You bet!
Doug Martin amassed the 2nd most all time yardage in a single game
by ANY running back with 250 yards against the Raiders, so Rice
is presumably salivating.
#1: Pittsburgh over Kansas City (8-1: HOU,
SF, IND, BAL, NYG, ATL, NE, CHI, GB):
The Steelers kept their composure against an extremely solid Giants
team in Week 9. With Rashard Mendenhall injured for most of the
season, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer have combined for three
straight 100-yard games against their opponents. But if the Chiefs
stay true to form, this game will not be about what the Steelers
do on offense; it will be about how many times the Chiefs hand the
ball over. The Chiefs lead the NFL in turnovers (with ten more than
the next closest team). The bad news for the butterfingered Chiefs
is that the ferocious Steeler defense has historically been very
opportunistic. If you haven’t used the Steel Curtain yet this
year, this may be your best chance.
For responses to this month's fantasy question please email