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Some Innovative Suggestions For Dealing With Deadbeats

You deadbeats know who you are; you're the ones who aren't reading this essay because you don't visit fantasy websites. You don't know that Jamal Lewis is injured or what kind of contribution he made to the Ravens last year or even what the Ravens did that was so remarkable. Hint: They won the Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer as their QB. But of course, you deadbeats don't even know enough to be astonished by that Trent Dilfer factoid.

For the sake of clarification, allow me to define a fantasy deadbeat. I'm not talking about a guy who refuses to fork over his entry fee. Any of you schmendrick commissioners who are clueless enough to wait on fee collection until the end of the season deserve any headaches you end up with. The kind of deadbeat I'm talking about is a guy who joins a fantasy league just for the sake of fitting in around the office. Maybe the boss likes to play fantasy football, so the deadbeats line up with their entry fees on draft day with the intention of scoring a few brownie points.

Deadbeats know how to talk the talk in front of whoever it is that they're trying to impress with their phony interest in fantasy football. They show up to the draft with a copy of the Sporting News that they've studied for all of fifteen minutes. They tend to play things safe and stick to obvious draft choices. During the actual draft, they'll be able to distinguish between Daunte Culpepper and Peyton Manning because they'll really know the difference as long as it's spelled out for them by some sportswriter. But that night they'll be hit with a case of amnesia. By the time the season starts, they won't even remember the players on their own rosters, much less anyone else's.

I usually get suckered into playing in a league with one or more deadbeats, and they are, in my opinion, the most important obstacle to overcome in order to enjoy a season of fantasy football. Deadbeats start players that are injured or suspended or, in some cases, dead. They use the same lineup all season long without paying attention to bye weeks or player performances. And the worst thing about them, of course, is that their team loses to every other team in the league-except yours.

So what's to be done about them?

I talked to the commissioners of a few leagues about the possibility of instituting a death penalty for anyone voted a 'deadbeat' by two-thirds of the league participants, but that's roughly the same thing as putting a band-aid on a broken leg. While it's true that a dead deadbeat will be prevented from joining the league next year, ritual slaughter of football idiots isn't excused in such hard-nosed states as Alabama, Iowa, and Oregon unless it occurs at the end of the season, and that does nothing to solve the problem of this year's deadbeats.

Of course, there's always the possibility of fining fantasy owners for failing to pay attention to their own rosters. Some commissioners have penalties set up so that if you start a player whose team isn't playing, you have to contribute a nominal fee to the pool, but most deadbeats don't mind such penalties. In leagues with transaction fees, they'll pay less by ignoring the NFL and not trading players than the regular league members will by studying the sports section of the paper and tuning into the pre-game show for Monday Night Football and constantly tweaking their rosters through trades and waiver wire acquisitions.

One commissioner told me that his method of keeping deadbeats under control is to make it clear that any owner who fails to keep up with his roster will not be invited back next season. Yeah, that's gotta work.

One league that I was on the verge of withdrawing from because of rampant deadbeatism, however, has just instituted a fairly interesting new procedure. Instead of determining draft order randomly on the night of the draft, draft order was assigned in early August. Players have until draft night (September 7th for us) to swap draft positions. It's a traditional draft in which the player who picks first in the first round picks last in the second round. Not surprisingly, the guy who's slated to pick first is trying to trade with someone who has the 4th-6th pick. I lucked out with the 6th pick and am already getting all sorts of offers from other league members. I think I might want to go 4th, but that depends on who will be ahead of me and what their drafting strategies have been in the past. There's a lot of rumor-mongering and 'buzz' about who will be drafted and when. Player A says he will take Faulk first; Player B says he intends to go with Culpepper; Player C doesn't mind picking late in Round 1 so long as he ends up with Ricky Williams and Curtis Martin.

Right now, there are 12 people in the league. Come September 1st, the commissioner will be accepting deadbeat nominations. Based on conversations and e-mail exchanges, we'll each have to name the one or two people that we think are least qualified to participate. Anyone who gets over 6 votes is out-before we even make it to draft day. I admire the commissioner for trying something new, and I hope it works. But the problem with the deadbeats is that they get to vote-and deadbeats aren't even attentive enough to spot their own kind.