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Mike Davis | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Q&A – Prove Your Prognosticatory Prowess

Last Week’s Question: When an owner quits a league midseason without paying, what should the commissioner do?

In my column for Week 4, I asked readers what they would advise a commish to do when an owner simultaneously quits and stiffs a league despite having already drafted a team. I framed the question from the perspective of a commissioner who was primarily concerned about the missing $100 entry fee, but also indicated that the commissioner didn’t have anyone ready to take over the team even if the entry fee was waived. For readers like Dave, the logistical question of managing the unmanaged team fairly/consistently loomed larger than the financial shortfall:

I had a very similar scenario a few years ago in which owners have until week 3 starts to send in their money (my Yahoo league has been around since 1998 so it’s worked well) or they forfeit wins and can be kicked out. This particular owner did not pay so I booted him and I came up with a few scenarios and put them out for league vote.

What we ended up doing was this: the Week 1 and Week 2 games were forfeited. From Week 3 through Week 13 I, as Commish, set his roster based on the highest predicted points per position. No roster adds or drops were allowed – his roster at Week 3 was his roster through Week 13 so some benefited from bye weeks and injuries. The team ended up going 1-12 so it actually was a lot of fun berating the one guy who got beat by the Ghost team.

Additionally we were forced to change the payouts to remove one league entry.
I love the way Dave dispenses with the financial concern in a single sentence at the end (almost as an afterthought) because his response focuses on what matters most: the competitive experience for a league missing an owner. I’m not saying his solution is perfect. I would like to have seen Weeks 1 & 2 treated the same way as Weeks 3 - 13 even though it’s difficult to recover projections for players from previous weeks in most fantasy websites during the season. If past projections are too difficult to come by, I would rather have seen the lineups for Weeks 1 & 2 set from the order of the missing owner’s draft choices (or some such thing) rather than decreeing that the first 2 games against the ghost team were automatic wins for his opponents no matter how his players did. But this is a minor quibble concerning what strikes me as an extremely even-handed solution.

Although people like Dave and I are both inclined to deduct the missing $100 from the kitty and focus on finding the most equitable way of making the ownerless team competitive, we are in the distinct minority. Most of the readers who emailed me shared the opinion that the commissioner is either entirely or mostly responsible for making good on the deadbeat owner’s entry fee. According to Todd:
Since [the commish] did not do his duties in collecting money up front like other teams expect, he needs to step up and pay the fees. He can run the team as his own but no trades should be allowed between the 2 teams he would own.
Hugh shared a nice alternative to Dave’s ghost team approach (emphasizing league average to determine the ghost team’s score instead of using projected points to set lineups) along with an endorsement of Todd’s idea about the fiduciary responsibility of the commissioner:

[The commish should p]ay the $100 fee. Their bad choice to allow team to slide; their responsibility to cover missing funds.

Lock all players to the dead team roster till next year.

Offer the spot starting next season to the highest bidder. Any extra funds return to commissioner.

Find the avg score of all teams each week.

Have dead team become the "Ghost Team" that scores avg of all other teams week to week.

Ghost will win some times, and lose some times. Teams will have to be better than the mean, to win vs Ghost.

Ghost team [is not eligible for] playoffs [even if it finishes with a playoff-worthy record]

Scott opts for a full season of forfeits from the unowned team, but holds the commissioner accountable for the entry fee:

In my opinion, the solution to this league's problem is fairly simple: Have the commish go and bench all of his players then lock the roster for the remainder of the season. Essentially, his team becomes a bye week for all future opponents and since the first three teams that played him won, everybody gets the same end result.

As for the buy-in, the commish is going to have to eat this one too. They need to put in the remaining $100 to make the pot whole and treat it as a lesson learned for the future: No matter the reason, no matter excuse...if you don't pay you don't draft.

I like the minimalism of Scott’s approach, but I don’t think it’s as fair as the ghost team scenarios proposed by Dave and Hugh. If the league has a traditional structure in which divisional opponents play each other twice, this amounts to spotting everyone in the deadbeat’s division a free win.

Brad focused on getting a warm body into the owner’s seat to manage the team as a long-term solution & having the commissioner manage the team according to his best judgment in the interim. But he didn’t let the commish off the money hook either:

1. Unless there was tacit approval from all owners to let #12 slide without paying, the cost falls on the Commissioner. He allowed #12 to draft without paying. The debt is his. If all owners agreed to let #12 draft without paying, then each chips in $10. I know that’s a little more than $100 but easiest to calculate. Commish owns finances.

2. Actively solicit an owner to take over #12 spot for no entry fee as a way to get into the league. This may take time.

3. In the interim, the commissioner takes over team #12. Any trades or waivers need approval of a majority of the league. Commissioner casts tie breaking vote.

4. Assuming you can’t find a new owner, any payouts to team #12 at the end of the year get evenly split across all owners. Or can be put back into a pool for next season’s winnings. If the owners feel sympathy for the commissioner, I think it would be OK if they voted to let him recoup losses. But if earnings exceed losses, I think those funds need to go back into the league.

5. Spread the name of owner #12 far and wide across the fantasy community that he is a welch and a fink and doesn’t deserve to be in any other fantasy football leagues.
As I expected, I heard from plenty of readers with waiting lists of people itching to get into their leagues. Since I explicitly indicated that a waiting list was not part of the scenario in this commissioner’s predicament, I appreciated Brad’s decision to work a flexible timeline into his solution.

Rich has a waiting list for his league, but he wouldn’t force the next person on the list to eat the cost of an 0-3 team abandoned by its owner:
I’ve been a commissioner for my league for a total of 16 years. If the scenario you described happened to me, the answer is quite simple:

I would hold myself accountable and pay the entry fee of the owner who dropped out. I would inform the league of my intention to pay the entry fee and have another guy on my waiting list take over the team for free.

It would be a lesson learned for me. But I wouldn’t make the same mistake in the future!

I also received a number of responses like this one from Orange Ya Glad, whose focus was entirely on the missing funds rather than the diminished competition factor:

The owners of any league are relying on the commissioner to handle things. Period.
The commish is on the hook.

I have played in a number of leagues where this happens and I have ZERO respect for a commish who does not collect or at least cover.

I also heard from people who thought that even though the commissioner should bear a greater responsibility than the other owners for making good on the missing entry fee, s/he should not bear that expense alone. Mark proposed a 70/30 split between the rest of the league and the commissioner:

If I'm the commissioner, I tell everybody in the league to pay 7 dollars (7 X 10). As the commissioner, in good faith and for not taking care of business, I'll pony up the remaining 30 dollars. We're friends, after all--nobody should pay the full 100, especially not the commissioner (who gets nothing for all the trouble).

Team twelve is managed by 3 randomly selected players (if not willing, the commish can do this, but obviously not against him or herself). This is just lineup management. Team twelve no longer is on the waiver wire. Essentially, playing twelve becomes a free win for everyone, except if team twelve gets crazy hot one week, then the chump who loses double loses as he's the butt of jokes for the rest of the season.

Although I think there are cleaner and less labor intensive solutions to managing Team #12 than the one Mark proposes, I can’t help agreeing with him about the injustice of putting the commissioner (who gets nothing for his trouble) on the hook for the full missing amount. I sometimes think that being a fantasy commissioner is one of the most thankless and selfless tasks in 2019.

An anonymous reader (I’ll call him Outlook User) is even softer on the commish than Mark:

A. TAKE TEAM - Have commish take over the team as a “Ghost” team. Commish will set the best lineup each week in order for team to compete and make it fair for all (divisional teams face it twice).

1. Pick up waivers ONLY in case of injuries/suspensions etc. (Barkley, AB) to set a complete roster.

2. If waivers are picked up based on auction – set a maximum the Ghost ship can bid on a waiver or just state that Ghost ship cannot bid on waivers.

3. This Ghost team cannot trade with anyone under any circumstances.

4. Ghost team is excluded from any post season. If it does make it – it defaults to the opposing team.


1. Prize is reduced by $100 to compensate for the loss.

2. Everyone pitches in additional money to make up the $100 but commish pays more (e.g. Commish $20 – Others $10 … or some such distribution)
So whereas Mark would have the commish pay 3 times as much as the average league member to make up the missing funds, Outlook User thinks the commish might only need to pay twice as much. Anthony’s approach is milder still, as he suggests only a nominal cash penalty for the commish relative to the other owners:
We cannot go back and have the owner prepay, and absent a paying stand-in, you resolve it this way:

STEP 1: Find a willing participant who will meaningfully run the team honestly and trying their best... who will do it for FREE or SIGNIFICANT DISCOUNT.

STEP 2: Get the league owners to kick in an equal share for Team Quit. To keep the math simple, 10-team league, each owner pays $10. If stand-in, 8 teams kick in $11, commish kicks in $12 as a penalty for not collecting the dues up front.

STEP 3: Any winnings earned by Team Quit are split equally among all owners at the end of the season in whichever scenario described above.

STEP 4: Lesson learned, but the league carries on in-full with a stand-up competitive substitute.

That covers the full range of responses I received via email, but one posted comment (from TomJ) was an outlier because it 1) emphasized strategies for attracting a real person to take over the abandoned team and 2) forgave the debt without any distress at all:

The bigger problem is an ownerless team, more than the loss of the money. Reduce all prizes by the amount necessary, and offer the spot to someone who won't have to pay this year, but will be able to pay & play next year. If they don't pay this year, they'd also not be eligible to win any money, of course. But, come on...that's the problem, that team isn't going to win anything. But getting a butt in the owner's seat is first priority. Find someone with a competitive streak who wants the challenge of just making something out of that team.

For what it’s worth, another commenter (Be Mo) said that things had played out pretty much according to TomJ’s formula in his league without any dissatisfaction to speak of.

My thanks to everyone who wrote in.

Lamar Jackson

This Week’s Question: Do you have a quick, objective method for assessing your prognosticatory prowess in fantasy football?

If you love working in Excel enough to generate your own list of fantasy projections for players at every skill position every week, you probably have an excellent sense of how accurate your predictions are.

But what about the rest of us? Are you mostly accurate or mostly wrong when it comes to deciding between John Brown and Larry Fitzgerald? Would you even care if you didnít have both on your team? When Baltimoreís schedule for 2019 was released, did you foresee Lamar Jackson getting off to such a fast start? Do you even remember what you thought? Of course you knew the Chicago defense would be great in 2019. Everyone did. But if someone had forced you in August to pick one defense that would outdo the Bears in September, is there any chance you would have chosen New England?

If youíre anything like me, you make hundreds (thousands?) of predictions each season that you never even go back to check on. You may do your best to keep up with what you got right and what you got wrong, but so many things happen on Sunday afternoons that you canít possibly keep up with every development on every team.

If youíre not a full-time expert being ranked by an outfit like FantasyPros, how would you even know if youíre better at projecting RBs or WRs?

And if you canít even identify your own strengths and weaknesses as a predictor, how are you going to improve?

Iíve mulled over this question for years in an attempt to come up with a self-assessment heuristic for the ordinary fantasy enthusiast, but the models Iíve tinkered with in the past have all been too cumbersome. Last week, however, I was motivated to try again in light of this passage from Nassim Nicholas Talebís Antifragile:

[M]y characterization of a loser is someone who, after making a mistake, doesnít introspect, doesnít exploit it, feels embarrassed and defensive rather than enriched with a new piece of information. (p. 74)

Taleb is right about mistakes. They enrich us with new information. They give us the chance to ask ourselves whether we were wrong because really couldnít have seen something coming--or because we put up particular blinders in particular circumstances. Do we let ego or statistical oversimplification or (worst of all) homerism warp our perspective in a consistent, detectable, correctable way?

I donít think itís realistic for the average fantasy enthusiast to keep track of every single judgment and misjudgment s/he makes in the course of a season. But I think it is possible for us to learn a thing or two about our own insights and blindspots through a quick quiz like the one below, which I devised after reading Taleb. My objectives were to keep the quiz short (10 questions; really just 2 questions in 5 contexts); confined in scope (the quiz only asks you to think about 5 players at a time, not the entire NFL); and administered at meaningful intervals (such as after each quarter of the season, so I expect to revisit this heuristic in Weeks 9, 13, & 17).

This quiz does not require a calculator or a #2 pencil. It should take less than 2 minutes to complete. Ready? Go.

Quick Quarterly Quiz #1

According to the scoring system in the FFToday Staff League (FFTSL), the top 5 QBs after 4 weeks of NFL action are:

1) Lamar Jackson
2) Patrick Mahomes
3) Russell Wilson
4) Dak Prescott
5) Carson Wentz

Question 1) Which of these QBs do you consider most likely to remain in the top 5 through Week 16? (My answer: Mahomes.)

Question 2) Which of these QBs do you consider least likely to remain in the top 5 through Week 16? (My answer: Prescott.)

In the FFTSL, the top 5 RBs after 4 weeks of NFL action are:

1) Christian McCaffrey
2) Austin Ekeler
3) Dalvin Cook
4) Nick Chubb
5) Alvin Kamara

Question 3) Which of these RBs do you consider most likely to remain in the top 5 through Week 16? (My answer: McCaffrey.)

Question 4) Which of these RBs do you consider least likely to remain in the top 5 through Week 16? (My answer: Ekeler.)

In the FFTSL, the top 5 WRs after 4 weeks of NFL action are:

1) Keenan Allen
2) Cooper Kupp
3) Chris Godwin
4) Mike Evans
5) Julio Jones

Question 5) Which of these WRs do you consider most likely to remain in the top 5 through Week 16? (My answer: Jones.)

Question 6) Which of these WRs do you consider least likely to remain in the top 5 through Week 16? (My answer: Kupp.)

In the FFTSL, the top 5 TEs after 4 weeks of NFL action are:

1) Evan Engram
2) Austin Hooper
3) Mark Andrews
4) Travis Kelce
5) Darren Waller

Question 7) Which of these TEs do you consider most likely to remain in the top 5 through Week 16? (My answer: Kelce.)

Question 8) Which of these TEs do you consider least likely to remain in the top 5 through Week 16? (My answer: Hooper.)

In the FFTSL, the top 5 defenses after 4 weeks of NFL action are:

1) Patriots
2) Bears
3) Buccaneers
4) Jets
5) Steelers

Question 9) Which of these defenses do you consider most likely to remain in the top 5 through Week 16? (My answer: Bears.)

Question 10) Which of these defenses do you consider least likely to remain in the top 5 through Week 16? (My answer: Steelers.)

Please consider jotting down your own answers in a comment below (or in an email to me). If you think I’m dead wrong about any of my answers, please explain why. And if you think this quiz is too easy, just wait until you revisit it in Week 9, when you can’t reuse any answers from Week 5--or Week 13, when you can’t use any answers from Week 5 or Week 9.

Survivor Pool Picks

The bad news is that Matthew Schiff’s perfect streak in this column came to an end in Week 4. The worse news is that he wasn’t able to submit picks for Week 5, so I’m filling in for him. (I don’t like it any better than you do.)

#3 Patriots over Redskins (3-1; PHI, BAL, SF, lar)

The juggernaut Pats are 15-point road favorites vs. Washington. That harsh line reflects the degree of disarray within the Redskin organization, where itís simultaneously too late for Jay Gruden to save his job and too early for Dwayne Haskins to claim his. As recently as Wednesday, Gruden admitted that he hadnít selected a starting QB for the contest, but itís hardly as if making the right choice between Haskins, Case Keenum, and Colt McCoy will somehow enable the skidding Skins to compete with the defending Super Bowl champs. Of course, itís possible that the confusion on Washingtonís QB carousel will result in just the lucky bounce of the ball the Redskins need to steal a win for the home crowd. Anythingís possible. But I wouldnít bet on it.

#2 Chiefs over Colts (3-1; HOU, BAL, NE, ind)

Although Jacoby Brissett is off to an impressive start in place of Andrew Luck in 2019, the Colts need a healthy T.Y. Hilton for Brisset to have any chance of keeping up with Mahomes and the mighty Chiefs. Hilton missed practice on Wednesday (quadriceps) and seems unlikely to be 100% for Sundayís game. The Coltsí leading rusher (Marlon Mack) also missed Wednesdayís practice (ankle). Indianapolis might be able to limp to victory with either Hilton or Mack injured against a mediocre opponent, but with both hurting and the Colts having to travel to KC to face the leagueís most intimidating offense, itís hard to see a path to victory for Indy.

#1 Eagles over Jets (4-0; NE, SEA, DAL, LAC)

The winless Jets travel to Philly to face the 2-2 Eagles on Sunday. The Eagles may be better than their record suggests, but the Jets really are as bad as their numbers indicate. After losing starter Sam Darnold to mononucleosis, the Jets almost immediately lost backup QB Trevor Siemian to an ankle injury and had to turn to sixth round rookie Luke Falk at QB. Under such circumstances, is it any surprise that the Jets are dead last in the NFL in yards per game, points per game, first downs, and yards per play? Thereís a chance that Darnold will be able to play on Sunday, but he hasnít been cleared for contact as of this writing, so it seems safe to say that a rusty Darnold is the best case scenario for the Jets. If Darnold plays, I would rather take my #2 selection (Kansas City) than the Eagles. But if the Jets have to roll with Falk, give me Philly as my top pick of the week.

Mike Davis has been writing about fantasy football since 1999--and playing video games even longer than that. His latest novel (concerning a gamer who gets trapped inside Nethack after eating too many shrooms) can be found here.