Like many, my first exposure to fantasy football was a re-draft league populated by a group of friends. After a few years I had the bright idea to start a dynasty league out of the same group. The dynasty league was built from scratch as it never occurred to me to search the internet for a model and, well…mistakes were made. The first few years of the league were marked by change as rules were tweaked and owners came and went. One of the biggest initiatives we undertook was expanding from a (by then 3 seasons old) 10-team league to a 12-team league. The process was difficult and required a fair amount of nuance, politics and leadership on my part. If you find yourself considering expansion for your league, I hope this information will help guide you through the gauntlet.
Choosing Expansion: Expansion isn’t right for every league. Here are a few reasons why an expansion may be an attractive idea:
- Increasing league parity – Depending on how you set up the structure, an expansion is likely to disproportionately affect the strongest teams in your league. If your league is fairly top-heavy, and you’re concerned your bottom dwellers are losing faith, expansion might help.
- Increasing revenue in a paid league – Self explanatory
- In a friend’s league, bringing in a few more buddies to a party the rest of you are enjoying should always be welcome.
Timing, Announcement & Decision: Selling this concept to your league is the foundation on which a successful expansion is built. Fail here and your expansion may either never get started at all or it may go poorly enough to create future resentment among your legacy owners. You want this initiative to have enthusiastic support – an expansion is supposed to be fun! In order to get your leaguemates “sold” on the idea, you must be overtly respectful of their opinions and the work they’ve put into constructing their current rosters.
- Be sure to schedule your announcement far in advance of when any actual expansion activities might begin. Go for a full season if you can, but at least 1-3 months. If your owners have time and opportunity to alter their rosters as they see fit (via trade, etc.) in order to meet the coming challenge, it helps to preserve their sense of “ownership” of the process as opposed to simply reacting to a storm of uncertainty they may or may not have agreed with in the first place.
- Have a clear and detailed plan for the execution of the initiative ready to go before you start the conversation. Be able to explain the mechanics and potential impact while also remaining open to altering this plan as needed depending on the reaction of the league.
- Have a clear and detailed plan for the extra revenue in a paid league. Try to apply it to something new and that will benefit as many owners as possible. For example, establish a weekly high-score payout or a “dynasty prize” or fund a transition to paid league-hosting service. Don’t just add it to the champ’s payout.
- Take a vote. An expansion effort is too seismic a change to be forced on any league without a democratic process. Give everyone an opportunity to voice their opinion and work hard to change the minds of dissenters. If you can’t get support to a unanimous or near-unanimous level, you’re probably better off preserving the status-quo.
- If you’re working on laying out rules in a new start-up, even if you have no initial intention of ever expanding it, always include language that governs the conduct of future expansions/contractions from the start. It will save a ton of debate should you decide to make a change later.
Execution: Your announcement is made, your leaguemates are on board and have had a chance to prepare and now it’s time to put a plan into action. Creating the plan is a tricky balancing act between protecting the naturally opposing interests of the expansion franchises and the legacy teams. There are a lot of ways to get this done and no plan is going to be perfect for every league, but here are a few things to consider about the actual mechanics of your expansion.
- Expansion Draft: This is the fun part. Hold an expansion draft wherein the new franchises select players from the rosters of the legacy teams.
- Balancing the Impact: You want to avoid some franchises being gutted while others are left relatively unscathed. Put a limit on the total amount of players than can be taken from any one team during the expansion draft.
- Protections Lists: Each legacy team should be allowed to protect a certain amount of players on their current rosters. There should be no chance of a team losing their very best players. I suggest allowing legacy teams to protect at least a complete starting lineup. Losing a primary bench player is a lot more palatable than losing a starter.
- Flexible Protection Lists: You may consider having the whole league attend a live expansion draft and allowing legacy teams the opportunity to pull back players from their “exposed” list as other players are selected. For example, a team is initially allowed to protect 10 players. Once one of the exposed players is taken during the expansion draft, the team may now choose an 11th player to protect. After they lose another, they can protect a 12th and 13th player, and so on.
- Rookie Draft: You may choose to have the expansion teams get the top picks in each round of the next rookie draft and/or receive and additional pick in each round.
- Contract / Salary Cap Leagues: Expansion can be much easier in these formats. The expansion teams will have a natural advantage of 100% cap space in free agency, which may allow you to leave current rosters fully intact and perhaps only provide an advantage in the rookie draft.
- Losing Owners? Time for Expansion!: It seems counter-intuitive, but the very best time to execute an expansion is actually when you have owners leaving the league anyway. It allows you to dump the entire rosters and pick allocations from those franchises into the expansion draft pool.
Achieving Balance: It’s fairly likely that the only plan your existing members approve of will result in expansion teams that are badly depleted of talent at the start. Like any other poor-performing team, this will self-correct over time through draft position and savvy ownership. However, you should consider discounting entry fees for the new franchises at first to give them time to get up to speed. If you do discounts, be sure to add a clause that reconciles any winnings an expansion team earns.