The Verdict: fantasy baseball crime and punishment

Recently the Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment rendered a decision on a fantasy baseball case involving acts of collusion between two teams. Once the offending teams’ actions were discovered by the league, the commissioner handed out some harsh penalties. One of the alleged offenders was given an opportunity to appeal the league’s decree, and this served as the basis of the case made to Fantasy Judgment.

Factual background

A rotisserie fantasy baseball league referred to as “GFBL” is a 10-team, head-to-head, mixed daily league hosted on the ESPN platform. The GFBL was formed in 2010 and is a keeper league where each team retains six players per year.

The GFBL is not governed by a written constitution. However, the league adheres to the rules and guidelines delineated on ESPN’s Fair Play and Conduct page. The relevant provisions of ESPN’s Fair Play and Conduct guidelines are as follows:

A: More than one team in the same league

One person can’t control more than one team in the same league. If two or more teams in the same league are under the same account, they must be controlled by different people sharing that account, but not sharing the teams. Violation of this will lead to cancellation of the teams and expulsion from the game.

B: Collusive transactions

Collusion occurs when one team makes moves to benefit another team, without trying to improve its own position. One-sided trades are an obvious example of this. Another example is when a player drop is made so another team can pick up that player. Teams found in violation of this policy will be cancelled and their owners prohibited from participating in future ESPN Fantasy Games.

The GFBL commissioner was alerted by a fellow league member about potential collusion between the teams known as Dance the Fox Trot and DJ Roomba. The owner who suspected the collusive activity stated that DJ Roomba was making consistent roster and lineup transactions except during match-ups against Dance the Fox Trot. Upon learning of this, the GFBL commissioner began investigating the allegations and corroborated them with evidence compiled from the league’s transaction logs.

During the first three weeks of the season, DJ Roomba did not make any roster or lineup changes and suffered in the standings as a result. Other league members began reminding and encouraging him to check his team and make appropriate moves.

The commissioner spoke with DJ Roomba about these allegations and he admitted that he had provided Dance the Fox Trot with access (including log-in ID and password) to his account in order to make roster changes.

Procedural history

After uncovering this information, the league collectively decided to expel DJ Roomba from the GFBL after the 2013 season. In addition, Dance the Fox Trot was to be suspended during the 2013 playoffs (he currently is in first place in his division and would have the No. 2 seed overall).

Dance the Fox Trot was given an opportunity to appeal his punishment. He did, and that was the nature of the case submitted before the Court. The following represents Dance the Fox Trot’s argument:

League,

Matt (DJ Roomba) came to me asking if I could make a few changes to his team while he was unavailable. He gave me his username and password to make said moves. I signed in and used his username and password to make the moves that he instructed. The ONLY changes I made to Matt’s team were from a direct instruction from him to do so. I understand that this should have been made known to the league and for that I will assume responsibility. With that said, I never made moves to Matt’s team that were intentionally or had malicious intent to gain an advantage over the other competitors.

I saw the numbers that were collected and I was taken aback at just how skewed they look. Although these numbers weigh heavily against me, they do not tell the whole truth. Each week I would nag Matt about checking his team because he had shown a tendency to not check it (evident by the first 3 weeks of the season). Every week I would constantly tell him to check his team. Matt would check his team and make roster updates as a result. If he had any questions about certain moves or players he should pick up, I would tell him my opinion. I, in no way, made those roster adds/drops/updates for him without instruction to do so.

I only lent advice and made suggestions for his team that Matt could or could not implement for HIS team. The first match-up against Matt and myself, Matt made 10 roster moves not the 4 that are noted in the collected data. The last match-up 8/26-9/1, Matt was on vacation and I never told him to check his team that week either. The match up from 7/15-7/28 I gave no mention to Matt about updating his team; as a result, he made no roster moves.

I would like to say that I, in no way, shape, or form was breaking any rules or guidelines that are set by the league. I never made moves to Matt’s team that were not instructed. I only nagged him about setting his line-up on a consistent basis and provided advice on certain moves.

There is a vast distinction between physically managing someone’s team and providing them with advice, and letting them know to check their team. It is after all, their team. They have full control over the line-ups they set and what advice to take or not take. I have given my opinion on multiple occasions to other league members and have received opinions on players/moves from other league members in the past. However, just because someone suggests I make a change does not me I am obligated to do so.

I am sorry for not informing the league of Matt coming to me and allowing me to make certain changes as instructed. Matt will change his password and username and I will no longer be making moves on his behalf. I will take any punishment that relates to the nondisclosure of that information. However, I do not feel I deserve to be punished for collusion as I did not physically or forcefully make unwanted changes to Matt’s team. He, and he alone is responsible for his Team and the way it performs.

Again, I apologize for the events that took place and regret not informing the league of the transactions conducted on Matt’s behalf.

Sincerely,

Dance the Fox Trot

The GFBL commissioner verified the veracity of this story with DJ Roomba.

Decision

I. Did the actions of Dance the Fox Trot and DJ Roomba amount to collusion?

The GFBL is not governed by a written constitution or set of rules. However, ESPN does provide guidelines for the conduct of fantasy players which serves the de facto governing set of rules for the league. When a league does not have a written constitution, the commissioner typically has the final say on issues that fall outside the scope of the league’s host site’s parameters. Here, ESPN does provide definitions and recommended methods of recourse to deal with such alleged collusive activity. As a result, the GFBL commissioner possessed the authority to implement such punitive measures.

We then had to determine whether Dance the Fox Trot and DJ Roomba’s actions fell within the language of ESPN’s guidelines regarding alleged collusive activity. The two actions which would warrant punishment are: 1) owning more than one team in the same league; or 2) engaging in collusive transactions. There does not appear to be any evidence to support the notion that Dance the Fox Trot or DJ Roomba owned or shared their teams. Neither was listed as a co-manager of each other’s team and they maintained separate log-in IDs and passwords despite sharing them with one another.

According to ESPN’s guidelines, “one person can’t control more than one team in the same league.” While there doesn’t appear to be dual ownership, we had to decipher whether Dance the Fox Trot had “control” over DJ Roomba’s team. He was given DJ Roomba’s log-in information so he had access to his team at any time. He admitted that he reminded DJ Roomba to check his lineup and provided insight and advice on certain transactions. While he claims that he acted only upon DJ Roomba’s request to access his team, we concluded that Dance the Fox Trot did in fact have some form of control over DJ Roomba’s franchise.

The other issue to consider was whether these two teams made collusive transactions. There was no evidence presented that indicated any trades, let alone one-sided deals, were made between these teams. There was also no evidence presented that these teams manipulated the waiver wire by adding or dropping players to the other’s benefit. As a result, there did not appear to be collusive transactions between Dance the Fox Trot and DJ Roomba. If anything, it could have been argued there were collusive “non-transactions” based on the lack of roster and lineup changes made during the weeks that DJ Roomba played Dance the Fox Trot.

Since there appeared to be some form of control of more than one team, the GFBL appropriately took action and implemented punishments to the offending teams. However, even if we assumed that Dance the Fox Trot did not have “control” over DJ Roomba’s team, the Court would still have intervened and upheld punitive action taken against them. Even if someone is in compliance with the rules, their actions may need to be reprimanded if it potentially jeopardizes the overall integrity of the league.

The Court defines collusion as a secret agreement or conspiracy especially for fraudulent or treacherous purposes. When we are presented with allegations or suspicions of collusion, we will look at the evidence in the light most favorable to the accused. This is because acts of collusion within a fantasy league are one of the most serious fantasy sports crimes that can be committed and can undermine the integrity of a league more so than almost anything else.

First, it seemed abundantly clear that DJ Roomba was not an attentive owner of his team. However, his inactions did not rise to the level of constructive abandonment since he at least had legal lineups set. While it is unfortunate that DJ Roomba inexplicably elected not to diligently manage his team, the fact remains that he paid for the ability to do what he pleases with his team, even at his own detriment. That being said, giving another league member access to his team to manage for him is not a viable alternative.

The empirical data and evidence submitted to the Court was overwhelming in terms of the inferences that can be made. In the three weekly games against Dance the Fox Trot, DJ Roomba made a total of four roster moves, which amounts to an average of 1.333 per match-up. By contrast, the rest of the league averaged between 8.333 and 13 per match-up (excluding the first three weeks of the season when DJ Roomba did not make any moves at all).

The most alarming statistic is the amount of starting pitching that was left on DJ Roomba’s bench in his games against Dance the Fox Trot. In most weeks, DJ Roomba left a minimal amount of starting pitching on his bench. However, the amount of starts and innings pitched that were left on his bench significantly spiked in weeks seven, 16 and 21 (the weeks in which he played Dance the Fox Trot).

After compiling all of these numbers, it is apparent that DJ Roomba let 144.1 innings pitched, 18 starts and 70 strikeouts remain on his bench in games against Dance the Fox Trot. In comparison, the most he left on his bench against any other one opponent was 13.2 innings pitched and two starts. In total, the amount of innings pitched left on DJ Roomba’s bench against all other members of the league (excluding Dance the Fox Trot) totaled 49.7. On average, six starts were left on the bench during matchups with Fox Trot.

In roto leagues, fantasy owners are free to prioritize which categories they want to pursue improvement in when managing their rosters. However, the actions of DJ Roomba seemed awfully suspicious when comparing all match-ups with the games specifically against Dance the Fox Trot.

The Court appreciated Dance the Fox Trot’s appellate arguments and his sincere acceptance of responsibility for not informing the rest of the league about his arrangements with DJ Roomba. But the fact remains that it is every fantasy league owner’s personal responsibility to enter and submit lineups correctly, regardless of the circumstances. Of course there are extenuating circumstances that may require assistance from another league member to help out. But this became a chronic and permanent arrangement between these two teams which inured a benefit to Dance the Fox Trot on weeks where he played DJ Roomba.

There is a generally accepted code of conduct in fantasy sports that is premised on good faith and fair dealings within leagues and among league members. Both teams violated that code of conduct in their secret agreement to grant Dance the Fox Trot access to DJ Roomba’s team when it was apparent that DJ Roomba had no interest in managing his own team. Based on totality of the circumstances, the Court concluded that the actions of Dance the Fox Trot and DJ Roomba amounted to collusion.

II. Is the punishment given to Dance the Fox Trot appropriate, or should a less severe penalty be enforced?

The Court reviewed only the punishment handed to Dance the Fox Trot. There was no appeal or dispute about the expulsion of DJ Roomba.

There are few things worse than collusive activity in a fantasy sports league. Collusion can undermine the integrity of a league more than anything else perhaps besides non-payment of league fees, embezzlement of league funds, or complete abuse of power by a commissioner. It cannot be stressed enough how serious an issue it is to allow teams to make individual agreements with each other to circumvent the rules for personal benefit.

When a league has enough evidence to properly conclude that collusive activity has taken place, it is right to take action against the offending teams. Here, the punishments given to both offending teams differed in scope and extent. The expulsion of DJ Roomba was likely compounded by the fact that he was not diligently managing his team. The GFBL then gave Dance the Fox Trot some benefit of the doubt by merely issuing a suspension for the 2013 playoffs. We had to analyze whether that punishment was appropriate or excessive, and we will intervene and prevent excessively harsh punishment when the consequences do not equate with an alleged offense.

Put simply, the Court would not have had a problem if the league decided to expel Dance the Fox Trot at the end of the year either. Irrespective of the malice aforethought, colluding teams selfishly put their own interests ahead of the integrity of the league. What should be a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone involved instead turns into a Machiavellian scheme. This warranted serious consequences.

While it could not be proven whether Dance the Fox Trot and DJ Roomba had any other type of under-the-table financial agreement in place, the possibility cannot be dismissed. Since the GFBL offered Dance the Fox Trot more leniency, it made sense to punish him where it hurts the most&mdah;his wallet. By suspending Dance the Fox Trot during the 2013 playoffs, it prevented him from winning any money this year when he had a good chance at doing so. We saw no problem with this and did not view it as excessive. Based on the foregoing, the Court denied Dance the Fox Trot’s appeal and affirmed the punishment given to him.

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