By Jeff Melbostad (previously published on 8-12-13)

There are always mistakes to be made, lessons to be learned, and room to grow as a fantasy football owner.  It’s precisely the reason that “The Hard Way” series exists.  This week I am back on the podium to, once again, point out what NOT to do and why.  Specifically about a topic many of us probably encountered early in our fantasy careers.  Maybe some of us still struggle with it in a league or two.  I know when I started playing back in the day this was the most common format.  I’m talking about the dreaded topic of BALANCED ROSTERS.

For those that don’t know what I’m talking about balanced rosters are basically a strict set of positional limits that are hard set and permanent.  A roster of 3QB, 5RB, 6WR, 3TE, 2K, and 2TD for example.  With a balanced roster there is no way you can have 2 quarterbacks and 6 running backs for example.  You can have at most the maximum at each position.  When I started a few of my leagues back in the day they were run exactly this way.

Now on the surface it isn’t all bad.  There are a number of benefits to balanced rosters and the ones that come to mind, in no particular order, are:

  • Eliminates player hoarding – one team collecting a mass of 6 QBs for example.
  • Creates more availability on the waiver wire – with only 5 RBs allowed per roster you know there’ll be some guys worth taking a flier on from time to time.
  • Makes team management easier – Both owner and commissioner know the number of players and roster setup at all times without having to worry as much about team makeup.
  • It’s a more traditional format and easier to pick up for the casual owner.

So it doesn’t seem all that bad does it?  Balanced rosters have their place.  Especially in newer leagues with beginners.  But I have a lot of experience with both formats and that’s where the lesson comes in.   Through said experience, I’ve found that the costs greatly outweigh the benefits where balanced rosters are concerned.   Some of the benefits of the balanced format are even somewhat unfounded.  As such, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone go the balanced roster route.   Once you go unbalanced I very much doubt you’ll ever go back.

As I said I personally have experience with the balanced roster and once had much love for that format.  I was one of the owners and commissioners who vehemently argued that player hoarding would be a problem.  That the waiver wire, parity, and competition would suffer as a result of going unbalanced.  That said, once I went to the unbalanced format I fell in love.  In this format you have no positional limits.  Or maybe you have limits with a number of flex spots.  You form your team the way you want it and build things the way you see fit.  I also have a few friends who went through that same learning process.  Sometimes all it takes is for us to try something we think we won’t like to decide it is pretty damn good after all.  Think back to childhood when Mommy gave her carrot and broccoli speech.  Try it out and I promise it won’t be as bad as you think.

So obviously I favor the approach but here are the benefits, again in no particular order, to unbalanced rosters:

  • Player hoarding is rare and mostly unfounded – this is the number one argument I hear against unbalanced rosters and the fear is greatly exaggerated.  Sure an owner can roster 6 QBs but at the expense of the rest of the team.  It rarely benefits a guy to hoard players and it generally regresses to the mean if they try to anyway.  Either through trading for upgrades at other positions or because quantity doesn’t equal quality.
  • Lets you build your team the way you want it – that’s right this format gives you a much greater sense of ownership.  You have the ability to make your own decisions and form your roster the way you want.  We are all big boys and can handle things ourselves.  Balanced rosters come across as babysitting to the more experienced owner.
  • Encourages trading – gone are the days where you had to throw in an extra player in order for the rosters to match.  You don’t have to trade two WRs for two WRs and can mix and match trades whichever way you want.  The more possibilities of making a trade the better in my opinion.
  •  Allows for more fliers and developmental type players – this is especially important in a dynasty league.  Limiting the number of young WR prospects I can roster kills my team if I’m looking to develop legit backups to my aging stars.  Let me roster the guys I want to get my team where it needs to be.  This helps competing and rebuilding teams alike.
  • Allows for more handcuffs – let’s face it if you can only roster a small subset of RBs then wasting those spots on handcuffs becomes increasingly frustrating and difficult.  You can’t afford to waste spots on guys that probably won’t play.
  •  Gives you flexibility – this can’t be stressed enough.  I don’t want to be constrained by fabricated limits.  Let me decide what is best for my team.

As you can see the benefits of an unbalanced roster outweigh those of the balanced variety.  It allows you to form your roster how you want at all times giving you added flexibility, ownership, and fun.  Still, this brings me to my one caveat with unbalanced rosters.  And I’m sure a number of you will disagree with me on this aspect.  I feel like a positional minimum (not maximum) IS definitely beneficial.  In general I prefer a 2-man minimum at each position.  This eliminates the meaninglessness of positions like placekicker and team defense when owners all roster just one.  If that is the case there are tons of options available each week on the waiver wire.  And these positions are droppable at any point.  Once that happens you may as well eliminate the position in my humble opinion.  In fact, in lieu of the 2-player minimum I would favor just that.   Eliminating both K and TD.

So once again I’ve preached to you the lesson I learned the hard way and how you can benefit from my mistake.  Take it or leave it but at least think about the other side of the coin.  Unbalanced rosters or at the very least a few flex spots make fantasy football more fun for everyone.  And that is, after all, what we are all after with this great game.  What are your thoughts on the topic?  Do you play in any leagues with balanced rosters?  Anyone in favor of the approach?  I’d love to hear it.