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Q&A - Money Matters

In last month’s column, I asked for commissioners to share any rules and enforcement procedures that they had found helpful for collecting fees from and distributing payouts to league members as quickly as possible.

I am grateful to everyone who wrote in, but before I delve into the various responses I received, I want to caution readers against blindly adopting a particular policy simply because it sounds good on the electronic substitute for paper that we call the internet. I hear from all kinds of commissioners. Policies that work for the commissioner of a league for friends and family may not be appropriate for a league of serious gamblers who neither know nor trust each other. If the supervisor of a call center serves as commissioner for a league of employees that report to him in one large office, he can probably impose rules a little more easily than a sergeant who serves as commissioner for a league with various officers and enlisted personnel who have been deployed all over the world.

As I wrote in last month’s column, commissioners of leagues that charge transaction fees are the ones who tend to have the most trouble with fee collection. Leagues without such fees can simply require owners to pay what they owe before the draft or be replaced by owners who are willing to do so. If transaction fees give you a particular headache in your league, then the best suggestion I can offer is to try to implement one of the solutions proposed by the readers who have contributed to this column. Test that solution for one season. If it works, congratulations on solving your problem! If not, you might want to consider doing away with transaction fees in your league in favor of some other model. The story of Aaron’s struggle with transaction fees will probably sound familiar to many commissioners:

I am very interested in the topic of collecting money from managers since I am a commissioner and have to deal with transaction fees throughout the year. The beginning of the year is simple. If you don't bring your entry fee to the draft you can't participate. After that it gets a little tricky.

Two years ago we put a rule in place in an attempt to make managers more proactive about paying their transaction fees. The rule was that a manager must pay for any transactions prior to the next football game. Since this is a work league, if a manager made a transaction on Saturday then they would be required to pay on the following Monday. The [penalty for failing to pay on time was a] deduction of any points that player contributed during the week. However, this did not stop managers from being delinquent.

As commissioner I thought it would kill the "fun factor" if I started enforcing the rules, so I would try to collect delinquent transaction fees under the table. However, once Manager A found out that Manager B was a day late it became ugly. The two managers did not get along and also happened to be playing each other that week. Long story short, it got ugly fast. We were able to resolve the issue, but the following year we made some changes to the rules.

The next year we decided to do away with transaction fees. Instead we raised the entry fee and gave everyone a limit to the number of transactions they could make during the season. However, this made the league stagnant as some managers were hesitant to use their transactions. The purpose of the transaction fees originally was to penalize managers who drafted poorly by making them add to the pot to change out their roster. This method didn't seem to be a penalty to anyone except cautious managers.

This year we are going back to the transactions fees. I am not looking forward to collecting throughout the season. I have contemplated keeping a running tab for each manager and having them settle their balance at the end of each month (or quarter of the season). If a manager is delinquent then their ability to make transactions would be locked until they settle their account. Hopefully this will work better than collecting from managers every single week yet make it better than trying to collect everything at the end of the season. It seems like it would be especially hard to collect from a losing manager at the end of the season because the interest level is gone and it is no longer a priority of theirs.

Like Aaron, Shane has waffled on the question of transaction fees in his league. Requiring players to pay for roster moves adds a dimension of fun and strategy to fantasy football, but it isn’t clear whether that fun factor is offset by the twin uncertainties of how fat the purse for the league will be at the end of the season and of exactly when the various owners will pay for their transactions:

I run two leagues currently, a 12-man and an 8-man. The 12-man has been going for 5 years strong now. I have been playing since 1995 (5th grade!), but started my own league in 2005 as I like the managing aspect.

As far as [fee collections] go, you pay before the start of the draft, or you don’t draft.

1 year we had a fee of 50 cents per transaction. I set certain weeks in the year to collect the money. After the first collection, a couple of people skipped out. I said if they didn’t pay by the next collection period, I would turn off all transactions for them. Being the league commish and having the league office online, I could do this. [When I made good on my threat,] they realized they needed to make a trade and couldn’t, so I got the money.

That policy worked out ok [for collections, but I still didn’t] like the uncertainty of the payouts at the end of the year. In 2007 I said no more pay per transaction, I upped the league entrance fee $10 per person, and capped the transactions at 15 per team, or 1.07 per week, as week 15 is the trade deadline (playoffs/toilet bowl).

The idea first came to charge them as some teams were doing 30-40 moves per year, I figured this was a good way to increase the purse. It’s just easier to up the entrance fee, and cap the transactions.

If transactions fees are a thorn in your side year after year, then you may want to consider going the route of Shane’s league. It really is simple to increase the entry fee and do away with all costs associated with transactions. Nevertheless, commissioners who believe that transaction fees are an integral part of the fantasy football dynamic may want to consider the approach that Clay has adopted:

I started a 12-man fantasy league with friends in 1995. I was about to enter my freshman year in college and had very little money. Our league started with a modest entry fee of 50$. Things were a lot different in the "non-information age.” Back then, I got my team for free because of the weekly work I did to keep the payments, roster moves, stats, standings, and printouts that kept our league running smoothly.

Years later, I was also asked to take over Commish duties for a $250 league I was in with a bunch of guys who were all 20 or more years my elder. I dealt with owners writing bad checks, IOU's (from guys with 10x my salary), and even partial payments and the mental relapses they bring later on. You could say I've seen just about everything there is to see when it comes to this issue. I've learned that the only thing you can 100% always count on is the winner of any league wanting his money!

In our leagues, the drafts are always held locally, so we all get together. I've always "stated" that I won't accept late payments next year - and would even tell the guys I was "serious.” It never fails, no matter how serious I was, or how I stated it - someone always has an issue with ponying up prior to the draft! I'm fortunate to have been playing Fantasy Football with our league mates for a long time, and see the guys throughout the year. I just hate trying to collect the money later on. Last year, I actually told the owners I had a guy on "standby" who wanted in the league - and that the standby would get in if anyone didn't have COMPLETE payment at the draft. This plan failed when one of our owners got deathly ill and the standby had to step in his place. Even that didn't matter - I still had 3 or 4 owners show up to the draft with incomplete or no payments at all, once again leaving me to collect money throughout the season.

I am still commissioner of two leagues (I've narrowed it down to only 2) with many guys from the group that started in 1995. Last season, one of the owners who didn't pay at the draft (or all season) won it all and it gave me a brilliant idea that I will implement going forward. All other owners that finished in the money from both leagues had made full payments. My idea was that instead of going out and collecting the money to pay up - I would LET HIM COLLECT HIS OWN WINNINGS and pay out all of the other guys who paid up front. This worked beautifully! He was so pissed that he had won and had to go collect his money from everyone that I truly believe that on September 5th (our draft date) he will be the first one to pay!

To all commissioners around the country and lands afar - follow my lead! If not everyone pays - let the winners collect their own money! This year, I plan to do just that! If all money winners at the end of the year happen to have paid up front, I will pay them out all the money I've collected - and give them each an IOU for the amount they need to collect from each knucklehead owner who hasn't paid up!

Clay does not suggest that transaction fees were the culprit in his leagues—merely that some owners take their financial obligations to the league less seriously than others. Even so, the idea of having the owners collect from each other (instead of forcing the commissioner to become a part-time collection agent) might work very well in some leagues. The downside of this approach is that it opens the door to undocumented payments that might be forgotten about or misunderstood. At the next draft, when one player claims to have paid the winner and the winner claims never to have received the money, the commissioner and other owners might not know who to believe. I like Clay’s idea very much, but think carefully about how well it will work in your league before you implement it. The approach of Matthew’s league takes Clay’s idea to its logical (and perhaps more easily workable) extreme:

My league is a bit weird in that it is a collection of older guys who grew up together and are spread across the country. There is a set fee per team and we have variable fees during the year, based on how you did that week, and based on how many transactions you've made. Once our total fee is calculated, we all are assigned checks to send to each other. The league has a yearly meeting in Vegas around the final four where they debate new rules and figure out the draft order for next year and you can only attend if you have paid for last year's entry. Most of the guys try to make it, as any excuse for a weekend in Vegas is a good one, so they have a pretty good incentive to get the checks out.

Tom’s league uses a simple enforcement procedure based on a clearly defined deadline in conjunction with a hefty penalty:

I've been the commissioner of a league for eight years. Since we shifted our league to charging for free agents a couple years ago, the payments have not been much of a problem. For one, it's a twelve-team league of close friends, most of whom live near one another. No one is going to shaft another owner since they regularly talk to them. Another reason is that it is stipulated that all the charges must be paid by the league Superbowl; otherwise you are suspended from the league for a season. It's surprising how quick our members are willing to get the money in when faced with the possibility of not being able to play next year. Of course this only really works if you have a well-run league where the spots are in demand.

As Tom indicates, the threat of the penalty works because there is a shared belief that the penalty can be easily enforced thanks to people who are waiting to fill the spot of a deadbeat owner. Jim’s response echoes this line of thinking:

I give owners the 2 dates that the installments are due. I have no problem taking post-dated checks to help people out as well. If I do not get the money by the dates, I send an e-mail as a reminder. I have dismissed two league members for not paying within a reasonable time.

It isn’t clear to me how Jim’s league proceeds after dismissing owners midseason. I suspect it is easy enough to put the teams on auto-pilot through most league-hosting services, but the important thing here is to enforce the policy your league has adopted. Don’t say that you are going to throw people out of the league for failing to pay their transaction costs unless you are genuinely committed to doing so (and to living with the consequences for the rest of the league for the remainder of the season).

I’m very grateful to Evan for reporting on his experience with, a web-based service designed specifically to streamline the fee collection and payout disbursement process. Some commissioners may find this service to be the ideal solution to their problems:

I used to have to collect the money from each owner. This would be fine if we just did the standard buy in, but we also charge $1 for each transaction, with that money being the bonus for the owner with the best regular season record (usually ~$150). This is a pain to collect at the end of the year, since owners will owe anywhere from $2-30, a range that borders on "who cares" to "sizeable amount". Last year I made everyone pay their dues plus a $20 trade allowance and we used, which implements their own deadline with late fees. It worked well, however, some payouts were only a few bucks (due to unused trade allowances), and retrieving the money from requires a few bucks. Overall, it was much easier for me, the commissioner, but maybe a little more work for each owner. I’m not sure which way we will go this year.

When commissioners have to choose between carrots and sticks to modify the behavior of league participants, I applaud those who can find carrots that might have been invisible to the rest of us. Jason appears to have done just that:

I have been a commish for a local league going on seven years now and have always had problems with getting owners to pay up. One thing I implemented this year and already had success with is giving owners their draft position ahead of the draft if they pay. I used a random draft picker as usual to determine the order but instead of doing it the day of the draft, I ran it early to allow owners that paid ahead a chance to get their spot and allow a week’s worth of mocks to prepare.

Rich’s league has a different (but equally effective) approach for providing owners with an incentive to pay up:

We use a blind free agent bidding process each week for waiver pickups using "free agent dollars" ($100 for the entire season). You get those "dollars" only if your league fee is paid. That has worked like a charm...since we added that rule, everyone has had their money on draft day.

Eric has already solved one money problem by adopting a policy from his uncle’s league, and he is considering adopting another:

Last year we had an owner bail out at the last minute. This year we are implementing a rule that my uncle's league uses. All teams must pay their entry fee by July 31st. Any team not paid by then is up for grabs to the first new owner that pays. This year I had a friend that wants in so bad he went ahead and paid for a team just in case someone missed the deadline. He did get a team. That may seem a little harsh, but we now have all our teams paid 3 weeks before the draft and it is non-refundable so it also creates incentive for people not to bail out last minute and ruin the draft for everyone else.

We don't have transaction fees yet. My uncle's league does. What they do is require everyone to pay into an escrow account. Then we use a FAAB auction style bidding twice per week for free agent acquisition. If you don't have the money for the transaction fee in escrow you are not eligible to make a move. Twice weekly the league secretary sends out a spreadsheet showing all bids and moves along with a tab showing each team's total spent, escrow balance, total in the league prize pool, current distro for the 1st - 5th place prize money.

That escrow account sounds like an excellent idea for leagues that want the convenience provided by a service like without paying someone outside the league for managing the league’s money.

I want to thank everyone who wrote in for their responses (whether I had the space to include them in this column or not), and I hope that all readers will have found something useful for their leagues (perhaps in a modified form).

I will conclude with a question from Micah. Any useful answers to his question will be included in my column for Week 1 of the football season:

As the commissioner of my league, I hold on to $1500 for about 5 months during the NFL season. Last year I put this money in a CD and made a few bucks, but I was wondering if there was a better way to invest this money. I obviously can't take a huge risk since it's not my money but I'd like to make it work for me as much as possible. I just wanted to check [to see if your readers had] any ideas, conventional or not.

Micah doesn’t pull any punches here. He seems to want to put the league’s money to work for himself while he holds it. I suspect there are other commissioners who might want to make that money do work for the league (e.g. by earning enough interest to purchase a keg at the next draft party), so I would like to modify Micah’s question in a way that is league-interested rather than self-interested. I have heard from several commissioners who claim to buy CDs each year with league fees. It would probably be difficult to get an entire league to go along with anything as risky as stocks, bonds, or mutual funds. But if other commissioners have done more interesting things with league funds than to purchase CDs, I suspect that many readers of this column would like to know what sort of risks and rewards might be associated with less conventional approaches.

For responses to this month's fantasy question please email me.