At this point in the short history of fantasy sports, it is less likely that someone would pay money to participate in a league and then just ignore his team. That is because there is so much time, money and energy invested in playing fantasy sports, an activity in which over 27 million Americans participate. With so many different types of leagues that are customizable to the point where it is virtually impossible to not find exactly what you are looking for, it is unfathomable to think that someone could join a league and then simply abandon his team.
By “abandon” I mean let his team sit idle for several weeks in a row with no changes, transactions or updates to his roster or lineup when it is plainly obvious that changes need to be made (i.e., injuries, demotion to the minor leagues, slumps, etc.). This scenario could elicit a myriad of reactions, depending on what kind of league you are in. But what should a league commissioner do if a league member truly does abandon his team and creates either a “bye” in a head-to-head points league or the automatic floor in a roto league? The commissioner is in a precarious predicament when confronted with such a situation because whatever decision he makes will likely not appease everyone else, and he must also be sensitive to how his own needs are considered by the other league members.
Recently, a case was submitted to Fantasy Judgment with this exact scenario. Below is the official opinion written resolving the issue with guidance and recommendations offered by the Court.
SUPREME COURT OF FANTASY JUDGMENT
Miguel’s Mashers, et al. v. Detroit’s Finest
ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI FROM
THE MOTOR CITY FANTASY BASEBALL LEAGUE
Decided May 6, 2011
Cite as 3 F.J. 19 (May 2011)
A rotisserie fantasy baseball league (hereinafter referred to as “Roto league” or “The Motor City Fantasy Baseball League”) seeks a determination whether the Commissioner can cede control of a team that has been allegedly abandoned. The Motor City Fantasy Baseball League (“MCFBL”) also seeks guidance on what to do with the abandoned team and its players. This is a 12-team, mixed AL/NL keeper league where each team is permitted to maintain up to five players during each offseason with each individual player allowed to be kept for a maximum of three years. Each team is also permitted to keep three minor league players which are in addition to the five players kept. The MCFBL utilized a snake draft and permits transitions through the free agent auction bidding process.
As with many rotisserie leagues, the subject Roto league uses the standard 5×5 scoring categories to determine the standings and prize money. For offensive players, the five categories are: (1) batting average; (2) home runs; (3) runs batted in; (4) runs scored; and (5) stolen bases. For pitchers, the five categories are: (1) wins; (2) earned run average; (3) WHIP (walks+hits/innings pitched); (4) strikeouts; and (5) saves. Statistics are cumulative throughout the course of the season and there are no head-to-head games contained within the Roto league.
Detroit’s Finest appears to have abandoned his team or at least has not made any attempts to make improvements through transactions, trades or lineup changes.
The MCFBL was formed in 2004 amongst friends from college. Of the 12 teams currently in the league, only two were not original members from 2004. One of these newer teams is Detroit’s Finest who joined the league in 2009 when an opening was created due to the departure of a league member who recently had a baby. Detroit’s Finest was brought into the league by the Commissioner whom he knew personally for several years. In 2009 and 2010, Detroit’s Finest finished near the bottom of the standings and typically did not make many transactions or engage in trade discussions. He made his league entry fee payments of an undisclosed amount in a timely manner, as did all other members of the league.
Entering the 2011 season, Detroit’s Finest elected to keep Tim Lincecum and Ryan Howard as his only keepers. He participated in the draft and acquired such players as Brandon Belt, Josh Hamilton, and Mariano Rivera. However, after Hamilton was injured earlier in the season, he never made any effort to replace him on his roster and in fact left Hamilton in his starting lineup every week accumulating no statistics as he is on the disabled list. Three separate teams in the league made trade proposals to Detroit’s Finest offering various outfielders to compensate for the loss of Hamilton, but no response was given to any of the proposals. Calls and emails from the league’s Commissioner went unanswered. Additionally, Belt was sent down to the minors yet Detroit’s Finest has not removed him from his starting lineup. The league Commissioner saw Detroit’s Finest in person recently and he evaded questions about his fantasy team.
Detroit’s Finest currently is in last place in the MCFBL’s standings, 18 points behind the next-highest team. Several members of the league have complained to the Commissioner to do something about this. Some suggested solutions have been to abandon the team and redistribute the players in a supplemental draft, as well as to find a replacement owner to take over control.
The Commissioner has elected to do nothing at this point. Members of the league, on behalf of the Commissioner, now seek guidance in how to handle the situation going forward. The MCFBL does have a written Constitution, but it does not contain any provisions for dealing with this specific occurrence.
(1) What should be done to handle an allegedly abandoned team?
The Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment is a strong advocate for having written Constitutions that govern fantasy sports leagues. See John Doe v. Fantasy Football League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 21, 22 (October 2010). One of the primary reasons behind having a written Constitution is so that all league members are aware of the rules and guidelines in place that govern the administration and function of the fantasy league. See Shawn Kemp is My Daddy v. Fantasy Basketball League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 24, 25 (October 2010). When a league Commissioner writes out the rules and distributes them to the league, it shifts the burden onto the league members to read, understand, and adhere to the rules that are delineated. If a league member has an issue, question or challenge to one of the rules in the Constitution, they are welcome to raise this with the Commissioner before signing it or agreeing to its codification.
First, the Court recognizes the courage of the Commissioner to not make any rash decisions that could potentially call into question his integrity. The Commissioner very easily could have made a decision that somehow benefited him personally, but instead he has patiently sought the advice of the Court for guidance. The Court strongly frowns upon league Commissioners arbitrarily making decisions that do not benefit the league as a whole. See Flemish USA v. League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 35, 37 (October 2010).
On top of the fact that there is no language in the league’s Constitution dealing with this particular issue, there is also no language within the Constitution that discusses what the procedure is to handle an issue of first impression such as this. When a league Constitution is silent, the Court will defer to the default premise that a league Commissioner has the authority and discretion to handle an issue of first impression within the best interests of the league. See George v. LOEG Commissioner, 2 F.J. 42, 44 (October 2010). Normally, the Court does not advocate creating or amending rules in the middle of a season unless there are extraordinary circumstances involved, such as preventing a complete mutiny and subsequent meltdown of the league. See John Doe v. Fantasy Football League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 21, 22 (October 2010). Here, it is clear that several members of the league have requested the Commissioner take action in handling this situation. However, the record is devoid of any references to threats to quit the league or disband.
While it is never a positive scenario when a fantasy owner has purportedly stopped paying attention and managing his team. This leads to an unbalance in the standings because that abandoned team essentially guarantees a floor in a roto league or a bye in a head-to-head league. This obviously affects the standings and potential prize winnings down the road. However, Detroit’s Finest had already paid his league entry fee which will in turn be distributed to the league winners at the end of the season. It is well-established law that teams that pay to participate in fantasy leagues should be given the freedom to manage their teams accordingly. See 4 Ponies v. Carson City Cocks, 3 F.J. 13 (May 2011). Here, while it is unfortunate that Detroit’s Finest has inexplicably elected not to effectively 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. It is understood that this methodology does not necessarily comport with basic standards of competition and good faith. However, electing another option poses greater danger to the league in terms of overall fairness.
To take control over Detroit’s Finest through fantasy eminent domain is not an ideal option. Giving control of the team to the Commissioner, another team, or the league overall simply creates more controversy than what already exists. Everyone’s own self-serving motivations would go into whatever decisions had to be made for that team. Disbanding the team and redistributing the players in a supplemental draft is not a good choice either because of the myriad of questions that are created in determining the draft order and comporting with everyone’s already existing roster requirements and limitations. The most ideal scenario is to find someone else outside the league to take over control of the team as it currently stands. Assuming this cannot be done, the Court rules that the status quo is what is best for the league. If Detroit’s Finest is destined to remain at the bottom of the standings, then that is not problematic. No matter what, one team will have to be at the bottom of the standings at the end of the year. In this case, the only difference is that it is likely a foregone conclusion which team that will be.
Based on the foregoing reasons, the Court hereby decides that the Commissioner should not do anything in terms of taking control of Detroit’s Finest. Electing to maintain the status quo eliminates any potential impropriety or the advancement of further issues. It also leaves the door open for the owner of Detroit’s Finest to come back and take over control of his team again at a later date. In the best interests of the league, as well as comporting with the duties and responsibilities of being Commissioner, the Court concludes that nothing should be done in response to the alleged abandonment of the fantasy baseball team in the MCFBL.
IT IS SO ORDERED.