Editor Note: This article represents Mark Johnson’s third as a Member Corner author for DLF. In this piece Mark helps you navigate the tricky topic of league expansion. We hope you enjoy it and will offer your feedback!
For the past couple of years, I’ve pondered how a dynasty league could most efficiently expand. Following the format established by the NFL, expansion teams would be overly thin, making entry to the league a daunting project, and far too long-term an investment. Other methods tend to result in an uneven gorging of the best teams’ rosters, and at least a third of the league left very unhappy.
Using my primary 12-team dynasty league as the basis (which is now in its 3rd season) I have created a fair and easy method that similar 12-team dynasty leagues can use to expand from 12 to 14 teams through an expansion draft. The framework I have developed could also be used for expanding leagues from 14 to 16 teams, or from 10 teams to 12.
My primary goal when developing this expansion draft construct was to forumulate the fairest means possible by which to expand a league, with an eye toward parity, while not stripping dynasty owners of the fruits of their labor, having spent such great amounts of time researching and building their rosters to their liking.
For frame of reference, my league has 12 teams composed of 28 players each, starting three Individual Defense Players (IDPs). We decided to go with a pure dynasty format – every owner keeps all of their players from season to season. After three seasons, some teams are obviously far stronger than others, which could make it difficult to fairly expand the league, but I believe I have come up with a way it can be done.
First, I would give the first two picks of the draft to the two expansion teams. Next, I would set up the order of the remaining picks (3 through 14) based upon the prior season’s final standings. In our league, we award the first overall pick to the winner of the consolation bracket, and otherwise order our rookie draft order like the NFL does theirs, with our league champion picking last. I would recommend going with this ordering for the expansion draft as well. Like your standard rookie draft, the expansion draft would not snake, and I would flip-flop the two expansion teams every round, so that neither newcomer was given an unfair advantage (see Table 1.1 below).
For the first 12 rounds of the draft, the continuing league members would be restricted to drafting only from their own rosters, free agents, and rookies, whereas the expansion teams would be additionally permitted to choose players from any of the continuing team’s rosters (with the following limitations). To make this system as fair as possible, I would require the expansion teams—when opting to choose a rostered player—to take from teams in order of their final standings the year before (i.e. the expansion teams would take from the teams with the best records the previous season, first, and move from team to team based upon record). This would help to increase parity in the league.
For example, the Todd Gurley owner in my league finished outside the playoffs this season. Clearly, Todd Gurley would be a top dynasty pick at this point. If expansion teams were able to draft from anyone’s roster, right off the bat, Gurley would be stripped away from him before he had the chance to protect him. However, with this added safeguard in place, the expansion teams would be limited to drafting from the first place team, first, then the second place team, and so on (or of course, they could draft from the pool of rookies/free agents if they so desired).
This would add balance to the league as the top teams would lose their best players before the weaker teams of the league. But, I would set up a limitation that no more than two players may be taken from any continuing team’s roster during the first 12 rounds of the expansion draft. Moreover, I would stipulate that expansion teams must wait until a player has been taken from every continuing franchise, first, before taking a second player from any continuing squad. This would help protect the top teams in the league, and further bolster fairness.
Finally, after the 12th round of the draft, no player in the league would be protected, and you would begin drafting in regular fashion from the 13th round on, until each team had filled out its roster. Clearly, the number of rounds you would draft would depend upon the size of your league. Another way to customize the expansion draft would be to have the draft begin “snaking,” starting with the 13th round.
Now, the table above would obviously be made slightly different if the expansion teams decided to draft a rookie with one of their first two picks. In the event an expansion team drafts a rookie, the order by which they may select rostered players from the other teams simply pauses, and resumes rolling the next time an expansion team selects a player from a continuing franchise’s roster (i.e. if expansion team 1 drafts a rookie with the first overall pick of the draft, expansion team 2 may only select a player from the prior season’s 1st place finisher’s roster, or of course the rookie/free agent pool, again pausing the rolling system). Sure, the top finishers from the season before will almost inevitably wind up losing more talent than those who finished at the bottom, but they should be the teams with the strongest rosters, most capable of recovering. Plus, as I stated before, they would still be able to keep up to 12 of their players, which is more than enough of a “core” to carry over and build around.
For a closer look on how the first couple of expansion draft rounds would shake out if my league were to hold an expansion draft today, please see the following table, which I put together with the help of DLF’s rankings:
Now, obviously the draft could go much differently with a couple more rookie selections sprinkled into the first couple of rounds, but you can see how this works out to be the fairest expansion model.
And, here is why:
By forcing the expansion teams to draft either from the rookie/free agent pool, or to take a player from the 1st, then 2nd, then 3rd, etc. finishers from the season before, you increase parity by taking from the richest to give to the poorest—thinning out the champ and runner-up first, while providing the expansion teams with a very solid core. But, the top teams in the league from the season before don’t completely lose out under this model either. How, you ask? Simple. No continuing franchise can lose more than two players during the first 12 rounds of the expansion draft. And, because the top teams in the league are probably those with the most highly-ranked players, those teams will have a better pool of players to make their first 12 selections, helping each owner maintain the stature they’ve worked so hard to build. Also, say you finished 5th the season before the expansion draft. Well, you would already have been able to, at the very least, protect two of your players before an expansion team could get their hands on one of your guys. Furthermore, it would be, at the very least, six more rounds before they could take another pick from your roster. With respect to this model I have created, balance is everything.
If the bottom teams in your league were opposed to this expansion model, one way you could appease them would be to remove the draft-restrictions on the 9th-12th place finishers after the 10th round of the draft, thereby permitting the bottom third of your league from the season before to pick from the other rosters beginning with the 11th round (two rounds before it opened for everyone). Then, you could remove the restrictions from the 5th-8th place finishers after the 11th round of the draft, thereby permitting the middle-third of your league from the season before to pick from the other rosters beginning with the 12th round (one round before all teams would be able to draft unrestricted). For ease of reading purposes, I chose not to go over all of the minor variations one could add to this expansion format, but simply aimed to show you that this format I have developed is merely a customizable skeletal frame you can use for expanding your league.
While the above expansion model is not perfect, it provides a simple and fair way dynasty leagues can expand without jeopardizing everything that owners have worked so hard to build. As an owner with a very deep and very talented dynasty roster, I understand not wanting to “rock the boat” as much as anyone. But, I also understand that—eventually—expansion may be in the best interest of my league as a whole, so I decided to put this piece together in hopes that I could provide a truly fair means by which dynasty leagues could grow without serving unequal detriment amongst league owners.
If you have any questions at all, please feel free to comment below, and I will be happy to respond.
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