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How to Address the Competitive Imbalance in Dynasty Leagues (Fantasy Football)

May 31, 2020

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Dynasty leagues always start out so promising. You’ll do a startup draft with nine or eleven other people and have a great time picking guys that you think could propel your roster to long-term success. Yet there are always one or two owners that have the potential to ruin the whole league.

You know who I’m talking about. Maybe it’s the person who consistently overdrafts players and makes puzzling decisions. Maybe it’s the owner who will make several egregious trades where it’s clear their team lost in terms of value. Maybe it’s even that person who trades away all of their future rookie picks and whose roster could tank if just one or two players bust.

In the end, the result is the same. That person abandons the dynasty league and forces the commissioner to look for a new owner to take over their dumpster fire of a roster. The problem is that few people want to invest time or money in a roster that looks like the leftovers from a fast-food buffet. It’s hard to get someone invested in turning around an orphan team, especially if it takes three or four years just to make it competitive.

So, how do leagues keep all of their teams competitive without going out of their way to help the bad teams? You can’t reward bad managers for being horrible at fantasy football, but you also can’t let them ruin the league by creating an undesirable roster that gets abandoned. Over my long dynasty career, I’ve come up with several tips to create solid parity in leagues without ruining the competitive nature of the game.

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Tiered FAAB

Tiered FAAB is something I have experimented with in my dynasty leagues, and it has really helped those consistently at the bottom of the standings. With this feature, instead of giving every team the same amount of FAAB dollars, you only give out a proportion of the total amount based on last year’s standings.

For example, in this system, the first-place team would get $100 in FAAB, the second-place team would get $110, the third-place team would get $120, etc. Now, just like rookie draft choices, you’ve given teams at the bottom of the standings an additional tool to improve their roster.

It’s hard to find a complaint here from either side. The bad teams get an extra advantage by receiving a better opportunity to pick players up off waivers; they’ll have the opportunity to spend their increased FAAB on the few waiver wire gems that could make their roster more competitive. Meanwhile, the good teams still have the ability to win a bid on a player (unlike waiver priority), but they don’t have the same chance as a team significantly worse than them. 

Given how sparse the waiver wire typically is in dynasty leagues, there’s very little chance that a key asset becomes unattainable by any group; even so, it’s better that the teams that need that asset have the opportunity to acquire it. If you want to implement a tool that introduces a bit more parity without going overboard, this is an intriguing feature.

Compensatory Picks

In the NFL, teams get compensatory picks for losing key free agents so long as they don’t replace them with new ones. This system could work similarly in dynasty with some alternative approaches.

First, you can give each of the bottom three teams in the league a compensatory pick based on their placement. The last-place team would receive a pick at the end of the first round, the second-to-last place team would receive a pick at the end of the second round, and the third-to-last place team would get an additional pick at the end of the third round. These picks are valuable, but they don’t provide enough of an advantage to flip the standings completely. Also, these draft choices won’t be available until the end of the season, so the likelihood that they are traded before someone abandons the team is slim.

Second, you could take the compensatory pick system more literally and grant picks to teams whose players actually retire. For example, let’s say someone owns Drew Brees this year. If Brees puts up a top-five quarterback performance on the season and then retires, you could then award the team who rostered the player a draft pick for losing him. The type of draft pick would be based on the player’s performance. For example, if the owner loses a player who ranked in the top-five at his position, they get a pick at the end of the first round; top-twelve players warrant a pick at the end of the second round, and top-24 players warrant a pick at the end of the third round.

Structuring a system in which bad teams get additional draft picks could help enforce parity, especially since teams in the basement may have traded away their high rookie picks before the season. This would affect all teams who lose valuable players to retirement, but it will really help those owners whose best players’ dynasty value is about to expire.

The compensatory pick system may provide a more significant advantage than tiered FAAB, but these draft picks will be slotted after anyone’s predetermined rookie selections — at best, a team is awarded an above-average player for finishing last in the standings or losing an elite player.

Disallow Trading of Future Picks

Although this regrettably takes some fun out of trading, sometimes you have to put some safeguards on all of the teams so the bad ones don’t hurt themselves. When dynasty teams get trade happy, future rookie picks are usually the first to go. While it seems inconsequential in the present, it could be a significant sticking point in the future if that team becomes an orphan.

Players will often be more willing to accept orphan teams so long as their future draft capital is intact, despite how dreadful the roster may appear. If a team has terrible players and no future picks, no one will be willing to invest time or money into something that cannot reasonably be fixed. 

Disallowing the trade of future picks could end up keeping a dynasty team from spiraling out of control completely. It also prevents the smart owners from taking away the one consolation prize the bad owners get for doing their job poorly. It may not be a fun practice, but sometimes it is necessary to keep the integrity of the league intact.

It’s Parity, not Charity

There’s a fine line in determining what measures are fair. You will likely get pushback from implementing any parity-driven measure since most dynasty owners want every trade, transaction, and league rule to be even for all parties. Nonetheless, these procedures are often necessary to keep a league together for the foreseeable future.

If you’re in a league where all of the managers are responsible people that won’t quit once their team gets bad, then that’s great! You likely won’t need these features. Unfortunately, the reality is that many dynasty leagues have inactive members who don’t know how to play the game and ruin the fun for everyone. In those circumstances, these additional rules could help salvage your league’s integrity and keep the competitive imbalance to a minimum.

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Dan Ambrosino is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Dan, check out his archive and follow him @AmbrosinoNFL.

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