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Q&A - What Do Commissioners Do When an Owner Drops Out of a League Midseason?
Week 6

Last Week’s Question:

How Can a Commissioner Encourage Trading in a Stagnant League?

Last week’s column featured Evan’s concerns about the lack of trading in his league. The good news for Evan is that I received far more suggestions from readers than I can include in the column, but the bad news is that the vast majority of suggestions cannot realistically be implemented midseason.

The shared assumption of the commissioners who wrote in appears to be that it is fairly easy to coerce isolationist owners into becoming active traders by limiting their other options. The general approaches appear to be 1) reducing the number of players available on the waiver wire (generally by increasing the roster size and/or the number of teams in the league); 2) reducing the number of waiver wire transactions owners are permitted to execute in the course of a season; and/or 3) reducing the fees for trades relative to other methods of player acquisition.

Mike wrote in to explain his league’s limited success with option #3:

My 10-team league has been together with the same core group for about 7 years, and trades have always been rare. A couple of years ago we changed our transaction fees to encourage trading. Previously, you were charged $2 per player regardless of the transaction, so . . .

Old Fee Schedule:
Drop a player = $2; add a player = $2;
Straight 1 for 1 trade = $2; 3 for 3 trade cost each owner $6.

New Fee Schedule:
Drop a player = $3; add a player = $3;
Any trade, regardless of the number of players involved, costs each owner $4.

Has it helped? Only slightly, but it certainly has inspired more trade talks.

Thanks to Mike for reporting that this approach has helped “only slightly.” Of the 3 approaches mentioned above, the reduction of trade costs relative to other transactions appears to be the weakest. In fact, no one who wrote in claimed that making trades cheaper solved the problem of trading all by itself (though many commissioners use this incentive in conjunction with other approaches). Based on Brad’s response, it may be better to limit the number of waiver wire transactions first—and to resort to making trades cheaper than WW acquisitions only if owners still need an extra nudge:

Several years ago I was in a Yahoo league where there was some concern about owners not trading due to personality conflicts. As commissioner, I decided to limit the number of free agent signings a team could make during the season. Actually, I severely limited it—to 6. Extra signings were awarded to losing teams and to teams who completed trades. This gave owners incentive to engage in trade talks throughout the season. A few of the owners hated this rule, but it did its job.

Additionally, in a pay league, we discussed a rule where each free agent signing would cost a certain amount but each trade would be free to encourage trades. We did not implement the rule, but it's another possible path.

The structure of Tyson’s league is such that owners cannot reasonably expect to meet their own personnel needs over the course of the season without trading because the talent available on the waiver wire is marginal and because owners are permitted only a limited number of waiver wire transactions:

I am the commissioner of a 12-man PPR league in its 12th season. To me, trading throughout the season continues the risk-reward process we all love so much about the draft. Our roster model prevents position hoarding and promotes trading. The model is as follows:

17 roster spots which must include the following at all times:

4 RB; 4 WR; 2 QB; 2 TE; 2 Def; 2 K; & 1 any position.

I then restrict each owner to 1 free agent pick each week. Waiver priority is determined by the previous week’s win/loss and then prioritized by points.

This might seem horribly confining, but it forces owners to trade consistently. Something as easy as trading kickers can get the trading waters stirred up. We also allow moving up in the waiver order as a piece of a player trade. For example, I had the first waiver priority this week after a horrible loss. Clinton Portis’s owner desperately wanted Ryan Torain. He then traded me Ronnie Brown and Chris Chambers for Johnny Knox and Brandon Jackson, and I moved from the first waiver position to the 7th. Maybe some of these ideas will help Evan get some trades going next year.

Eric takes things a step further than Tyson by giving owners a financial incentive to trade in addition to limiting their free agent options:

The simplest way to encourage trading is to restrict the number and quality of the available free agent pick ups. For one, I will only reluctantly play in a league smaller than 12 teams; I prefer 14 as it allows for a simple schedule (everyone plays each other once) and the available talent pool is that much smaller. Second, adding another flex player to the traditional 1QB/2RB/2WR/TE/K/D lineup and accordingly adding another player to rosters (so, in this instance, carrying 16 or 17 players on the roster) means there are yet again fewer quality players in the FA pool. Basically, people will follow the path of least resistance when looking to upgrade their lineup; if you reduce the effectiveness of trolling the FA wire, they will have to start looking at other people's rosters for help.

We also make a distinction between FA moves and trades, restricting FA moves to a weekly or seasonal max and making all trades free. Again, the idea is to make the path towards trades as attractive as FA pickups. We still haven't quite reached that balance point, but we're getting a lot closer.

Paul reported making a number of changes to his league this year to discourage apathy and encourage trading. He sees a connection between apathy and a lack of trading that is likely relevant in most leagues. You can’t trade with people who are no longer even checking on their fantasy teams because they have given up, so Paul advocates a weekly payout for the high-scoring team just to keep everyone invested enough in the league to give trades some consideration. He also mentions waiving the fee on a number of transactions just to get people used to the idea of modifying their rosters:

Our first 4 acquisitions are on the house. Most people burned through those the first 2 weeks. Getting roster movement as a habit early can help get people used to the idea, and trades end up being just another roster move.

Although Paul’s rule here applies to WW moves as well as trades, Evan might be able to adapt it successfully to his league midseason—perhaps by stipulating that the first trade each week for the rest of the season will cost the owners nothing.

Commissioners in keeper leagues may be interested in this rule from Daniel’s league (though Daniel is clearly aware of the opportunities for abuse that it presents to trading partners):

I play in a keeper league in which each owner is allowed to keep 2 players from the previous year. Each of the two players must play at different positions (i.e. one may not keep 2 RBs or 2 WRs). Keepers from the previous year are written in the draft board in the round in which they were previously drafted by the SAME owner. If an owner keeps a player that they did not originally draft (i.e. through trade or free agency) then that keeper is represented in the final draft round. For example, I kept Antonio Gates for a 5th round pick because I drafted him in the 5th round, and I kept Reggie Wayne in the 15th (final) round because I acquired him through trade. This system encourages trading because of the long term keeper value of a player acquired through trade.

As a caveat, I am trying to modify this rule to prevent owners from swapping two high profile players, such as Chris Johnson for Adrian Peterson, just to improve keeper value.

That caveat has me worried that the potential for abuse is more problematic than the lack of trading might have been, but I can see what Daniel is going for—and I wish him luck in solving his new problem.

This Week’s Question:

What Do Commissioners Do When an Owner Drops Out of a League Midseason?

Tim appears to be having trouble with owners who have lost contact with his league:

What do other commissioners do when league members "drop out" mid-season? I have had league members who don't make line-up changes (leaving bye week and injured players in the starting line-up) and don't respond to league e-mails.

I know that most readers will assume that the problem here is apathy—and that the solution is to keep the league so interesting that no owner becomes apathetic. However, we have discussed strategies for keeping apathy at bay in the past—and we all know that they don’t always work.

For whatever reason, some owners just stop checking on their FF teams at some point in the season. Maybe they have a good reason (such as a family emergency), or maybe they just don’t feel like playing fantasy football any more. So instead of talking about what we can do to keep leagues from losing owners in the first place (see my Week 8 column for 2008 and my Week 9 column for 2009), let’s focus on what commissioners can do in response to owners who bail midseason.

Imagine a 12-team league. In Week 6, the owner of the Lame Ducks (a 3-3 squad) wins the lottery and abandons the league to go on a 2-month cruise with his family. The commissioner huffs and puffs and tells him to stay on top of his lineup for the rest of the season just to maintain the integrity of the league, but the lottery winner is never heard from again.

The commissioner assumes that the only fair thing to do is to turn on the “autopilot” feature that his website provides. So the lineup for the Lame Ducks deteriorates as injuries accumulate in the next few weeks. In the first six weeks, owners who played the Lame Ducks faced a competently managed team. By Week 10, the Lame Ducks have become the doormat of the league. The one kicker that the owner had on the roster is on a bye in Week 10. His primary quarterback is injured. His backup QB is playing against the Ravens. He doesn’t have 3 healthy active receivers for the week, so the computer has decided he will use both of his tight ends instead of trying to pick up a wideout from the waiver wire.

The owner that trounces the Lame Ducks in Week 10 secures the last wildcard spot by virtue of finishing one half a game ahead of an owner who lost to the Lame Ducks back in Week 2. The playoffs turn into a long, acrimonious argument about how the wrong teams advanced to the postseason.

At the end of the year, all of the owners, including the commissioner, agree that putting the Lame Ducks on autopilot was not fair to the teams that had already lost to the Ducks when they were actively managed. The commissioner asks the other owners what he should have done differently. Imagine that you are one of those owners. Is your answer any good?

Last Man Standing Picks (Courtesy of Mark Den Adel)

Last week I was 2-1. I was wrong about the Bengals, who failed to deliver vs. Tampa Bay.

1) Pittsburgh over Cleveland – I haven’t used Pittsburgh yet, but now that Roethlisberger is back I expect a monster game out of Pittsburgh. They’ll win “big” with Ben over Cleveland. Does anyone envy Colt McCoy going up against the Steeler Defense? Or Peyton Hillis against the #1 rush defense? Pittsburgh should win this game by a 20-point margin.

2) N.Y. Giants over Detroit – The Lions are happy about their first win, but they will have to be happy with that one victory for a while yet, as they are not ready to compete with the Giants, who have played very well against much better teams than Detroit (such as the Bears and Texans). Detroit is 24th against the pass, so expect Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith all to have big days.

3) Chicago over Seattle – Seattle has been a bad road team against mediocre competition, and they will look even worse against the elite defense of the Bears (3rd stingiest in the league against the run, giving up just 79 yards/game). The Seahawks have made the trade for Lynch, but we have no proof that he is a better fit than Forsett. With Cutler the Bears win by ten or more points.

Upset of the week – Baltimore over New England
New England has won seven games in a row coming off of a bye, but most of those contests were against the questionable Buffalo Bills—not the rock-solid Ravens. The Ravens are 2nd in passing defense, which means Brady would have had his work cut out for him even if Randy Moss were still his primary target. In the playoff game last year at New England, Ray Rice had 159 yards rushing. Baltimore creamed the Ravens 33-14 despite a miserable day for Joe Flacco, who completed just 4 out of 10 passes for a measly 34 yards. Now that Flacco has Anquan Boldin as a target, he should improve on that performance—and Baltimore should win again.

For responses to this week's fantasy question please email me.