Tuesday, February 15, 2011
The Verdict: We need a fantasy constitutionPosted by Michael Stein at 1:05am
According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, over 28 million Americans currently play some form of fantasy sports. That represents a significant percentage of the population, which is indicative of how popular and prevalent fantasy sports have become in our society. The demographics that comprise these 28 million Americans are extremely diverse in gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, household income, sexual orientation, and just about any other category you can think of. So what is one of the only commonalities amongst every American that plays fantasy sports? The answer is that each and every one of us is under the jurisdiction of the United States Constitution and the laws that were promulgated from its ratification.
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." — United States Constitution, Preamble
You may be wondering what the Founding Fathers’ ratification of the United States Constitution has to do with fantasy baseball. Granted, the Continental Congress did not convene in Philadelphia to do a fantasy baseball draft (although that is a pretty cool concept for an improv comedy sketch). However, the Founding Fathers knew that in order to maintain and uphold justice, a document containing the laws of the land in which everyone was subjected to was the best way to operate. The same can be said for how a fantasy baseball league should be governed. If a Constitution has worked for the United States for over 220 years, then it will work for your fantasy baseball league.
In most fantasy baseball leagues, there is a commissioner who is responsible for the overall administration and function of the league. He or she organizes the league and performs various tasks such as setting a draft date, setting up the league on whichever website it is hosted on, sending out reminders and updates to league members, collecting entry fees, creating rules and guidelines, implementing and enforcing these rules, evaluating or approving trades, and just about anything else that requires a decision to be made. Because fantasy baseball is usually played for a monetary award, people generally take the activity seriously and will challenge anything deemed to be unfair or unjust. At this point, the commissioner is now responsible for deciding what action to rake in response to complaints and challenges. This responsibility is constantly viewed under the proverbial microscope because more than likely the commissioner is also one of the league members and subjected to the very rules he or she created in the first place. Hence, the need for a league Constitution.
If a league constitution is created before the season begins, then everyone in the league will have actual notice of all rules, regulations, guidelines, and deadlines well in advance of any potential issues. This shifts the burden to the other league members to be held accountable for abiding by the league’s rules. One thing I have always done in the leagues where I am the commissioner is require that each league member sign and date the document. Once they send me their signature and affirmation, I now have written acknowledgment that they have read and understood the rules, and that they agree to be bound by the terms and conditions contained therein. This also provides the other league members with a sense of inclusion in the process because they are officially signing off on the rules of the league. I have consistently argued in the past that a league commissioner should have sole authority on almost any decision in order to effectively run and maintain league. However, it is also very important to include the other league members in various aspects of the process. There is a big distinction between being a decisive leader and an overbearing dictator.
In the event someone complains or challenges something, the commissioner can hopefully fall back on a specific rule or provision in the constitution to address that concern. In a perfect world, any issue that comes up would be specifically addressed in the constitution. However, we do not live in a perfect world so it is highly likely that something will come up that is not expressly addressed. My suggestion is to have language in the constitution that deals with the process of addressing issues of first impression. The process could be: 1) the commissioner confers with two additional league members and takes a majority vote to decide the issue; 2) take a league-wide vote to resolve the issue (not recommended); 3) consult an outside independent resource; or 4) the commissioner objectively looks at the issue and has sole authority to decide it, but agrees to consider looking into it further during the offseason to amend the constitution. While none of these will ever appease everyone all of the time, they at least provide some protection for the commissioner to be able to make certain decisions that are outside the scope of the constitution.
Another bit of advice for league commissioners is to include language in the constitution which states that no rules shall be changed, amended, or added in the middle of the season. You might argue that there could be a rule or provision that is so inherently prejudicial that it absolutely must be changed. My response would still be an emphatic “no.” Once a league commissioner softens up on one thing (even if it is justifiable) and changes a rule midseason, then every other rule is open for debate. An argument could be made that any rule is so critical and crucial that it must be amended. This can only lead to disaster. The commissioner is perfectly within his or her rights to say that the rules apply equally to everyone during the entire season, and any debate or conversation about changing such rules will be held after the season is over and in consideration for the next season.
A fantasy baseball league constitution may seem like an easy document to create, but in reality it is not. There are so many different aspects to the game that require rules and guidelines. Because there are so many different styles of fantasy baseball to play, no two league constitutions are alike. You must carefully craft the language used in each provision because there could come a time when the commissioner is called upon to interpret it. When modifying the rules to my own leagues’ constitutions, or when assisting others in drafting their leagues’ constitutions, the litmus test I always apply to see the strength of the language is “If there is a question or challenge about this rule, is there any answer other than yes or no?” Vagueness and ambiguity are a league commissioner’s worst enemy.
Just like the United States’ Constitution, a fantasy baseball league constitution is a living, breathing document. It should consist of a set of fair and just laws that govern the league and apply equally to all members. But it cannot always address every possible scenario that arises. That is why it is fluid in nature and can be amended from year to year by taking into account new and changing circumstances that arise. This is not to say that you can’t enjoy a fantasy baseball league that isn’t governed by a constitution. But you will notice a drastic difference in the overall functionality and administration of a league that is. The verdict is that every fantasy baseball league needs a constitution.
The Court wants to hear your comments on whether you concur or dissent with the verdict by sending an email to michael.stein @ fantasyjudgment.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter @FantasyJudgment.