A fantasy ethics issue

In the run up to Labor Day I was listening to the MLB.com Fantasy 411 podcast, one of the podcasts that I listen to daily along with ESPN.com’s entertaining Fantasy Focus podcast. Someone emailed in with a question about a situation and wanted to know if what was proposed was unethical. Since I have addressed fantasy ethics here in the context of trade discussions in a few posts I thought this was a good topic. Here was the scenario presented:

Team A was in second place in a head to head league, in its final week of the regular season. He wanted to play the sixth place team at the time in the first week of the playoffs. But since he is in second place, he would have to play the seventh place team, who he incidentally also happened to be playing in the last week of the regular season.

He wanted to know if it was “unethical” to rest his entire team and take a zero for the week. This would guarantee a victory for the seventh place team, who might be able to overtake the current sixth place team. If this happened then he would get his matchup against the current sixth place team in week one of the playoffs.

There was apparently nothing in the league rules against this. His argument was that it wasn’t really that much different than teams playing out the string with minor leaguers or resting guys for the playoffs in football in week 16 etc.

There must be some pretty shady characters out there. It should be obvious that no justification other than “win at all costs” could be a legitimate basis for doing these shenanigans.

Only short-sightedness and a complete lack of regard for anything other than one’s own fortunes can justify this tactic. Yet, as can plainly be seen, there is no shortage of players trying to “out-lawyer” their league mates, outright collude and baldly cheat if given the chance. Moreover, many players believe that this is OK. In response to my column on the collusive trading in my high stakes league someone emailed me to say that anything that is not against the rules is OK, end of discussion.

This attitude is appalling in my opinion. Fantasy baseball should be a fun game, and moves like this take all of the fun out of it. Plus, if you will be in a league with the same owners it will easily end up to your detriment. Owners will not trade with you, will conspire against you, will actively seek to screw you over should the opportunity arise. It has all happened in my high stakes league this year and likely in many other leagues as well. Personally, I make it a point to avoid any allegations of ethical laxity since I think it will be to my disadvantage in the long run, and I never know what may be coming down the pike next year or the year after. If you are in a league for the long term you should think in the long term.

The player who posed this question clearly hadn’t given much thought to what he was proposing. Firstly, it is hard to imagine that the advantage to be gained is significant if any. If you are the second best team in your league and have to choose between the sixth and seventh place teams it is almost certain that the marginal difference between the two is minimal. Secondly, there is no guarantee it will work. He still needed the sixth place team to lose. On the other side of the calculation are the whole host of factors that augur against this tactic.

Much like Faust, you are only cheating yourself when you make a deal with the devil. If the owner above went ahead with this stunt and won the league, it would only matter to him. No one in his league would give him full credit and it would be tainted. Self-satisfaction would have to be its own reward, unless you think that winning a few hundred dollars is worth the enmity and scorn of your league mates.

There is no reason to take a “win at all costs” attitude in fantasy baseball. It is a fun game generally played for small stakes and bragging rights. What good is it to win by cheating or by unethical means? Like the golfer whose best wood is his pencil, you are only deluding and cheating yourself.

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