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Week 15

Last Week’s Question

A reader named Mick wrote in to describe some highly questionable behavior in his league last week:

Several of the players in my league have recently discovered that one of our fellow owners is benching all of his top players this week (he has already qualified for the playoffs) so that a player in another division can lock up a first round bye (the owner of the latter team gave him $50 to throw the game). The owner of the latter team is in a dead heat with another owner for the top spot.

A lot of folks felt moved to write to me in response to Mick’s situation. I won’t be able to include all of the responses in this week’s column because they generally made the same point in different ways. I didn’t actually tally up the figures, but I think the most popular response was that the cheaters in this scenario should be shot (though there was also a strong desire to see them hanged, drowned or simply beaten to death). The fanciest word choice was “garroted,” the most obsolete form of execution was “stoning,” and the most technologically advanced solution was to “port these jokers into Doom so that I can use my flamethrower on them.”

I think these suggestions might be a little extreme—not to mention being illegal in every state but Vermont (where I understand they take their fantasy football very seriously).

One of the more sober responses I received came from our very own Matthew Schiff (of LMS fame). He writes:

I usually let your readers respond to the questions that are posed by you each week, but as a commissioner of a fantasy league for the last 16 years I have seen many kind of misbehavior, all of which are now illegal according to our rules. These items include the following:
  • Trading of good players from bad teams to good/borderline team to enhance playoff chances with promises to split the winnings

  • Trading of players from one team for one week and then back the next

  • Free-for-all add/drops.

  • Stashing of healthy players illegally on IR

  • Not setting you lineup after being eliminated from post-season play (tough to enforce but eliminated by have a “toilet bowl” winner, i.e. loser’s bracket winnings)

  • Carrying one too many or too few players at a certain position because your software doesn’t quite handle your league rules

In all those circumstances it is the responsibility of the commissioner to correct these unsportsmanlike actions by stepping in and forcing the team to do what is right. And if the team owners do not like how the commissioner handles it, they can call for another course of action by vote.

If money truly changed hands in an act of unfair play, then each of these owners would be subject to removal from our league. As commissioner, I would fill their playoff spots with the next best teams. Those owners would also forfeit their league money in that year and not be asked to return the following year. Fantasy football is all about having fun and bragging rights with your friends. The minute it becomes about how to cheat to win, the cheaters should be removed from the league. It doesn’t matter if your league fee is $10 or $10,000. It may take time to create an “ironclad” constitution in your league, but in the end, the commissioner should act on behalf of the best interest of the league.

P.S. If one of the people who were involved in the unfair action is the commissioner, “GET OUT”. You can find a better league or even better, start your own.
Matthew’s league has clearly gone out of its way to specify particular kinds of infractions. Most of the leagues I’ve participated in would benefit from this kind of specificity, but some leagues (particularly those involving people who have known each other a long time and share a certain set of assumptions about fair play) take a less formal approach to setting up their rules. In Marc’s league, this kind of behavior would simply fall into the general category of collusion:
No rules about this kind of crap in your league? This is called collusion, and it's against the rules in any/every league I've ever played in. I would be furious if this happened in the league I commish, and neither player would be invited back to play next year. I would also be half tempted to set the tankers line-up for him, and lock his roster for the week.

But then, this would never happen in that league, as everyone is competitive, and required to stay that way throughout the reg season. We penalize (financially) for losses, and reward for high scores. Even though I'm already eliminated from our playoffs, I had to pick up a scrub QB this week, at a cost of a few bucks, because of Schaub being out. My final game is against someone trying to get into the playoffs, and I want to mess up his chances.

If it happened in another league that I dont commish, I would not return the next year.

What makes this worse is that this sounds like it's a money league. I cannot believe the league commish is letting this slide, nor can I beleive that your entire league is not up-in-arms over this.

I would take my money elsewhere next year, if I were in Mick’s shoes.

I think most FFers would recognize what Mick reports as an example of collusion, but I’m grateful to Tom for including a definition of collusion (in bold below) that some leagues might want to consider incorporating into their rules.

What is being described is a rather blatant case of collusion, and as such either is or should be against any decent league's rules of conduct. Collusion is any attempt by two or more owners to use a secret strategy for the in-game benefit of one owner, usually with an out-of-game benefit for the other.

I was in a league several years ago with some co-workers. One guy, when we needed an extra player to fill out the league, had his wife sign up for a team. Shockingly, it only took a couple of weeks of 'her' lineup not changing before we started seeing a number of ridiculously unbalanced trades between his team and 'her' team...'LT for Marty Booker' sort of trades. If his wife was even playing at all (if he even had a wife), it was collusion. After those trades, along came more, this time from 'her' team to a couple of other teams in the league. It was absurd. When I started complaining, loudly, I even found an unbalanced trade offer--for my own benefit--waiting for me. The jerks were trying to buy me off.

I ended up simply leaving the league, as only a few owners were even bothering to take the league seriously enough to join me in complaining. And, as it turns out, the commish ended up being one of the guys accepting the colluding trades. So, [there was] nothing for me [to do] but to leave. I honestly have no idea why people are going to play a game with the intent of making it that ridiculously easy to win. They probably play pickup basketball against grade-schoolers so they can brag about winning every day.

At any rate, what is going on in the league described in your article is definitely collusion, and is not allowed in about every kind of organized gaming activity I can think about. Try it in Vegas at the poker tables and you'll have one less kneecap. This guy's league commish needs to step in, set the roster of the team being paid off to throw their game so that he starts his usual lineup, and then lock his roster for the weekend.

And then, if this is a regular league, everyone else needs to discuss whether they want to keep these two jokers around for next year. I vote no.

Many leagues don’t bother writing up rules against cheating. They don’t need a definition of collusion because they wouldn’t consider making collusion against the rules because it would never occur to them that any of the participants would engage in such objectionable behavior. As Gary says,

There should be no rules for that. That is something you learn as a child growing up. IF that actually happened in my league, both owners would be out of the league…no ifs, ands, or buts. Obviously, [Mick plays with] a couple of people who don’t understand what “sportsmanship” means. When playing any game, at least in my eyes, there is an obligation that you try your hardest.
Even though I agree with the spirit of Gary’s remarks, I know there are a lot of leagues in which players don’t share nearly as many assumptions about “sportsmanship” as they might think. Fantasy football is largely an internet phenomenon, and I think it’s safe to say that tens of thousands of people play in FF Leagues for cash purses with complete/virtual strangers. When money is on the line, it is probably safest to spell everything out in black and white.

One obvious argument against trying to write a rule for every possible cheating scenario is that it’s impossible for us to anticipate every single way in which people might cheat. If we look carefully at the definition that Tom provides concerning collusion, we can see how certain players might argue that it doesn’t pertain to the case Mick describes. After all, since the miscreants in Mick’s league are brazen enough to have revealed their M.O., they aren’t acting “secretly.” But there are better options that hiring contract lawyers to draft the rules for your league. The best option is to make sure that the commissioner has integrity and to empower him to act in response to such unforeseen developments as the one Mick describes. As Bruce says,
I am the commish in a 12-team cash Dynasty league. We do not have any written rules with respect to cheating; however, the solution in my league would be simple and straightforward: I would immediately lock out both owners and field the team I felt should be played for that week as all other teams need to face legitimate competition through the end of the year. Both teams would be disqualified from this year’s playoffs with all other teams moving up and the league would be looking for two new owners next year.
Many FFers argue that just as the NFL empowers and trusts Roger Goodell to make decisions that are in the best interest of the league, your fantasy league should be able to rely on the commissioner to make and enforce tough decisions. That analogy breaks down, however, when we consider that fantasy commissioners are almost invariably owners within the league. If the owner of the Jets had been responsible for punishing the Patriots for the Spygate incident, then he couldn’t possibly be expected to dole out impartial justice. So even though I advocate a strong commissioner with a good bit of latitude, I also advocate accountability for the commissioner along the lines of what Mike’s league specifies:
Our 12-team league allows the commissioner to override/set a teams line-up. Whenever there is a question, usually when a losing owner doesn't make changes and ends up with a player listed as out, the commish sets his line up using the highest rated player available on the team in question. To keep the commish honest, he has to follow the majority vote of the other 11 owners. We had this happen once this year, and 8 of 11 owners posted the commish to ensure the team in question did not have two "OUT" players playing. The commish made changes prior to game time and all was well, though the owner in question caught hell.
Of course, you don’t need a strong commissioner to intervene or a procedure for reining a commissioner in if your rules give players sufficient incentive to remain competitive throughout the season. I quite like the policy that Skip’s league has implemented to keep teams (even those eliminated from playoff contention) invested in the outcome of their matchups:
In my league there are incentives for staying competitive each week, with a $5 payoff for the best weekly points and a $10 bounty in weeks 11-13 for any team who has been eliminated from the playoffs to beat a team with a playoff spot clinched. We also offer free adds for teams eliminated from the playoffs so that they can continue to remain active in the waivers process.

I put the bounty idea in bold because it’s fantastic. But I also like the idea of giving teams that are finished free add/drops—since it’s difficult to fault a team that has been eliminated from the playoffs for failing to replace an injured player if picking that player up can only cost money that cannot be recovered.

I heard from a number of other readers who pointed out that they would not consider participating in this league next year or inviting the two cheaters back in the future. Some of these readers conceded that if there is no specific rule against what the players are doing, then there’s nothing more that can be done. Obviously, attitudes on this subject will vary from one league to the next. In my opinion, the difference of opinion is itself a good argument for an empowered commissioner. Some FFers who consider themselves sticklers for fair play would throw these guys out of the league mid-season in the name of fair play. Others would explain that since the rules don’t specifically prohibit this behavior, they have to be tolerated until the end of the season—once again, in the name of fair play. Fair play is too difficult a concept for any group of 10 or 12 (or more) people to agree about, so my own sense is that the safest approach is to give the commissioner the latitude to define it for the league in response to circumstances as they arise—so long as he isn’t in a position to abuse that authority unchecked.

This Week’s Question

As a preface to this week’s question, I want to include a note from Mathew concerning a generalization I made last week:

You invited readers to correct you if you were wrong about my playoff structure being not as common as some other leagues in the fact that only 4 of 12 go to the dance. I will respond to that by saying that my leagues are all run on CBS Sportsline public leagues. CBS is also the same engine that runs the leagues. All of my leagues on CBS are low cash buy-in leagues, but they are public leagues (anyone with a Sportsline acct. can join) and I assume the structure is the same for all entry levels. leagues also use the same structure. I don't know how many leagues or owners of teams in those leagues there are, but I can imagine they number into the thousands.

I think Mathew’s assumption is fair. The leagues to which he refers almost certain do number in the thousands, and it’s quite possible that the average fantasy experience is closer to what he experiences on CBS Sportsline than what I experience in a league at or any of the league-hosting services that allow folks to set up their own rules, playoff brackets, etc.

I suppose I could stand to be better educated about how most other leagues are set up, and I’ll try to use Bill’s question to get that information. Bill wrote to me concerning the “next generation” of fantasy football and made this point:

In my head-to-head league, winning seems to be more correlated to the number of points scored by your opponent than by yourself. The problem with this is that unlike "real" sports, there is nothing you can do to prevent or limit the number of points scored by your opponent. Have you ever heard of any Fantasy rules that will allow you to play defense against your opponent?

One idea that I have come up with is allowing each to target 1 player on his opponent's roster and therefore cut that player's points in half or something.

Any thoughts or ideas you have on this would be greatly appreciated.
The answer to the question at the end of Bill’s first paragraph is, “Yes, I know of several such systems.” In fact, I dedicated a column to this very subject once upon a time. I received some fairly elaborate answers—one of which involved focusing on the defensive line in order to diminish an opponent’s rushing attack by a particular percentage and focusing on the secondary in order to deduct points from his receivers.

As I read those responses, I remember thinking that even though the ideas sounded intriguing, they also sounded very difficult to implement. So I’ll invite readers to respond to Bill’s question directly (even if they contributed to that earlier column), but I’ll also invite them to indicate which league-hosting sites they use to incorporate these weird scoring wrinkles.

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matthew and Paul)

Matthew’s Picks

I was eliminated from my survival pool in week 10 with my Saints pick over the Rams. Since then I have kept a close eye on the remaining participants in my league. They are now down to 11 people from an original group of over 5000. So who do you play when you know that you are so close? Well, hopefully Paul and I can help you out.

Trap Game: NY Giants over Washington:

The Redskins can still make the playoffs, and the Giants have a really hard time closing out opponents. So this game will come down to who makes fewer mistakes. In the last 4 games the Giants have turned the ball over 11 times and forced one turnover. Those numbers favor Washington in a must-win game. The problem here is that if the Giants don’t win this week and lock up a playoff spot, they might not win the rest of the season. They have to go to Buffalo and play a team that believes itself to be playoff material in spite of devastating injuries on the defensive side of the ball—and then return to try and prevent New England from having a perfect season. This is not a formula for success with a Tom Coughlin coached team. Todd Collins might have enough to pull off the win in the Meadowlands, so watch out.

#3: Tennessee at Kansas City (10-4):

Of the three games between teams that are just playing out the season, this game may be more competitive than others. Both Herm Edwards and Jeff Fisher know how to get a team motivated when each team has little or nothing to play for. But of the two teams, Coach Edwards has the more difficult task of getting his offense to stay on the field more than three plays and out. Last week they had 10 three-and-out drives, and the Titan defense is as good if not better than Denver’s. Look for the Titans to win this in a fight, and only use this game if you haven’t used the Bucs or Bengals.

#2: Cincinnati at San Francisco (7-7):

This is the battle of the playoff hopefuls. Both of these teams were picked to make it to the playoffs this year, and both of them have been eliminated. The only interesting thing in this game will be whether Ocho Cinco gets another fine for doing something stupid after a touchdown catch. The difference here is that whereas the Bengals have only been disappointing, the 49ers have completely fallen apart. Give me the Bengals.

#1: Tampa Bay over Atlanta (12-2):

The Bucs will have Jeff Garcia back under center this week with the ability to clinch the NFC South in front of their home fans. Meanwhile, the Falcons will be looking for a new coach as well as a new quarterback for the future. Is it going to be Chris Redman, Joey Harrington or Byron Leftwich? Who cares? Certainly not Coach Petrino, who is headed back to the college ranks. Look for the Bucs to win the easily since the rest of the Falcons have already packed it in. (Wait! Don’t print that! It might give them something to play for.)

Paul’s Picks

Last week we got back on track going 3-0. Let’s see if we can keep this thing going more than one week. Non-division home favorites were 5-0 last week (72-20 overall).

#1. MIN over CHI (11-3, Used SEA, CHI, BAL, IND, DAL, SDC, WAS, NEP, TBB, nos, pit, nyg, CAR, JAX)
The Vikings beat the Bears 34-31 in Week 6 and now have a nice 4-game winning streak going. They are in a “need to win” situation to stay in the last playoff spot. The Bears come to town after losing to Washington last Thursday night.
Chicago is struggling and I don’t see the Bears winning in the dome, even if it’s against a division rival.

#2. CLE over BUF (11-3 Used IND, DEN, NEP, sdc, TEN, sea, DAL, NYG, ATL, PIT, GBP, JAX, was, DEN)
The Browns are 5-1 at home this year and battling for a playoff spot. Buffalo comes to town having defeated Miami and still clinging to a slim chance at the playoffs. The Bills are 3-3 on the road, but 2 of the wins are against the Dolphins and
Jets, so they are really 1-3. This should be a good game with Cleveland holding off the Bills.

#3. TB over ATL (12-2 Used SDC, JAX, PIT, NEP, HOU, GBP, NYG, IND, WAS, SEA, DAL, ari, phi, BUF)
Of the three games, this is the one I feel most confident about. The Bucs are 5-1 at home and whooped up on the Falcons 31-7 in week 11. The Falcons are in a downward spiral and looking to get a high draft pick. Throw in that they are 1-5 on the road—and it’s hard to give them much of a chance.

For responses to this week's fantasy question or to share your LMS picks, please email me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football season.