Team might be imaginary, but the tensions are real


November 01, 2007|By CHILDS WALKER

Fantasy sports can strain friendships.

I was reminded of this last week while recording my podcast with Sheil Kapadia of Sheil plays in a football league with longtime pals, and one of them had become the subject of much scorn for leaving two inactive players in his lineup the previous weekend.

If you've played for a long time, you've probably encountered a similar situation. An owner's season isn't going well and maybe he's a casual player in the first place, so after a few months, his attention wanes. The more intense owners in the league, who are battling for victory and, in many cases, a pot of cash, become infuriated.

Insults fly on the league message board. Owners threaten to quit unless the offending player is dispatched or disciplined. It can get rather unpleasant.

So, Sheil asked me, would I penalize the guy? Maybe dock a few points one week or freeze his ability to make waiver pickups or even drop his draft slot the next season?

I get similar queries from many readers. Should we impose X penalty on player Y for Z offense?

My take on this is fairly simple. If you want to create penalties for slacking off, fine. But do it before the season so no one feels double-crossed.

In fact, that's my advice for almost any dispute involving fantasy ethics. Never deal with a problem by attempting to create a rule in the middle of the season. Your judgment will invariably be clouded by the immediate circumstances, and someone will leave angry.

If you're the commissioner of a serious league, take time before the season to contemplate every eventuality that might arise - whether it's owner inactivity, late payment of fees or imbalanced trades. Then, draft a proposed constitution that addresses these potential pitfalls. Establish clear penalties where you believe they might be needed.

Circulate this document among all owners and, finally, hold a pre-draft rules meeting at which you discuss possible amendments and ratify it.

I know it seems crazy to create a pseudo-legislative structure for an imaginary game based on statistics accrued in the frivolous field of professional sports. But there you have it. If anyone needs to hire a fantasy lobbyist, I'm available for a modest fee.

Seriously, though, also remember to think beyond nuts-and-bolts rules. Make sure every owner understands the tone of your league before participating.

If it's a casual affair among old college chums who don't care that you leave players active during their NFL bye weeks, fine. As long as everyone understands that upfront.

But if you play in a cutthroat league for a $2,000 pot with a dozen highly experienced players, you probably don't want to invite your old school pal who "just wants to try fantasy baseball."

If you do, at least explain to the poor guy what he's in for and tell him that if he loses interest midseason, he probably won't be invited back.

In some ways, it's harder when these disputes arise among friends because you can't tell your oldest buddy that he should go away because he's ruining your hobby.

But in other ways, it's harder to moderate a league full of players who don't know each other. I learned as much this summer, after creating a baseball keeper league for readers.

These are nice guys and experienced players, but in a few cases, owners who were pushing for the pennant executed seemingly imbalanced trades with others who were out of contention.

Keeper leagues are fraught with "dump" trades, in which a contending owner deals a lower-priced prospect or two for a bevy of higher-priced stars who probably won't be kept. It's the equivalent of mortgaging the future for a pennant push at baseball's actual trade deadline.

These trades often anger fellow contenders. In our league, heated message board debates ensued. Some owners called for me, as the commissioner, to veto deals.

Let me stop and say that nothing in fantasy sports bugs me more than trade vetoes. I mean, when the San Francisco Giants traded Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser to the Minnesota Twins for A. J. Pierzynski, did the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians get to jump in and say no?

I don't feel comfortable substituting my judgment for another owner's. I might think he gave up Grady Sizemore for a raggedy-armed reliever and a utility guy who will never return much value. He might think he gave up an overpriced star for a future closer and a cheap source of steals.

Unless it's absolutely clear that one owner is dumping all of his good players to another for no particular reason, the veto has no place for me.

That said, if you're going to do it, you have to set up the rules before the season. Maybe a veto should require votes from two-thirds of the owners in your league. Maybe you should keep an unbiased outsider on retainer to settle disputes. (That's how I would approach it.)

We hadn't established a veto policy, so it was easy for me to say no to such requests.

The conclusion: Do whatever you can to avoid making arbitrary character judgments in the middle of heated situations. Good systems can protect us to some degree.

And so ends the Dear Abby edition of this column.

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