Last Week’s Question
A reader named Mick wrote in to describe some highly questionable
behavior in his league last week:
Several of the players in my league have recently discovered
that one of our fellow owners is benching all of his top players
this week (he has already qualified for the playoffs) so that
a player in another division can lock up a first round bye (the
owner of the latter team gave him $50 to throw the game). The
owner of the latter team is in a dead heat with another owner
for the top spot.
A lot of folks felt moved to write to me in response to Mick’s
situation. I won’t be able to include all of the responses
in this week’s column because they generally made the same
point in different ways. I didn’t actually tally up the
figures, but I think the most popular response was that the cheaters
in this scenario should be shot (though there was also a strong
desire to see them hanged, drowned or simply beaten to death).
The fanciest word choice was “garroted,” the most
obsolete form of execution was “stoning,” and the
most technologically advanced solution was to “port these
jokers into Doom so that I can use my flamethrower on them.”
I think these suggestions might be a little extreme—not
to mention being illegal in every state but Vermont (where I understand
they take their fantasy football very seriously).
One of the more sober responses I received came from our very
own Matthew Schiff (of LMS fame). He writes:
I usually let your readers respond to the questions that are
posed by you each week, but as a commissioner of a fantasy league
for the last 16 years I have seen many kind of misbehavior, all
of which are now illegal according to our rules. These items include
Matthew’s league has clearly gone out of its way to
specify particular kinds of infractions. Most of the leagues I’ve
participated in would benefit from this kind of specificity, but
some leagues (particularly those involving people who have known
each other a long time and share a certain set of assumptions about
fair play) take a less formal approach to setting up their rules.
In Marc’s league, this kind of behavior would simply fall
into the general category of collusion:
In all those circumstances it is the responsibility of the commissioner
to correct these unsportsmanlike actions by stepping in and forcing
the team to do what is right. And if the team owners do not like
how the commissioner handles it, they can call for another course
of action by vote.
- Trading of good players from bad teams to good/borderline
team to enhance playoff chances with promises to split the
- Trading of players from one team for one week and then
back the next
- Free-for-all add/drops.
- Stashing of healthy players illegally on IR
- Not setting you lineup after being eliminated from post-season
play (tough to enforce but eliminated by have a “toilet
bowl” winner, i.e. loser’s bracket winnings)
- Carrying one too many or too few players at a certain position
because your software doesn’t quite handle your league
If money truly changed hands in an act of unfair play, then each
of these owners would be subject to removal from our league. As
commissioner, I would fill their playoff spots with the next best
teams. Those owners would also forfeit their league money in that
year and not be asked to return the following year. Fantasy football
is all about having fun and bragging rights with your friends.
The minute it becomes about how to cheat to win, the cheaters
should be removed from the league. It doesn’t matter if
your league fee is $10 or $10,000. It may take time to create
an “ironclad” constitution in your league, but in
the end, the commissioner should act on behalf of the best interest
of the league.
P.S. If one of the people who were involved in the unfair action
is the commissioner, “GET OUT”. You can find a better
league or even better, start your own.
No rules about this kind of crap in your league?
This is called collusion, and
it's against the rules in any/every league I've ever played in.
I would be furious if this happened in the league I commish, and
neither player would be invited back to play next year. I would
also be half tempted to set the tankers line-up for him, and lock
his roster for the week.
But then, this would never happen in that league, as everyone
is competitive, and required to stay that way throughout the
reg season. We penalize (financially) for losses, and reward
for high scores. Even though I'm already eliminated from our
playoffs, I had to pick up a scrub QB this week, at a cost of
a few bucks, because of Schaub being out. My final game is against
someone trying to get into the playoffs, and I want to mess
up his chances.
If it happened in another league that I dont commish, I
would not return the next year.
What makes this worse is that this sounds like it's a money
league. I cannot believe the league commish is letting this
slide, nor can I beleive that your entire league is not up-in-arms
I would take my money elsewhere next year, if I were in
I think most FFers would recognize what Mick reports as an example
of collusion, but I’m grateful to Tom for including a definition
of collusion (in bold below) that some leagues might want to consider
incorporating into their rules.
What is being described is a rather blatant case
of collusion, and as such either is or should be against any decent
league's rules of conduct. Collusion
is any attempt by two or more owners to use a secret strategy
for the in-game benefit of one owner, usually with an out-of-game
benefit for the other.
I was in a league several years ago with some co-workers. One
guy, when we needed an extra player to fill out the league, had
his wife sign up for a team. Shockingly, it only took a couple
of weeks of 'her' lineup not changing before we started seeing
a number of ridiculously unbalanced trades between his team and
'her' team...'LT for Marty Booker' sort of trades. If his wife
was even playing at all (if he even had a wife), it was collusion.
After those trades, along came more, this time from 'her' team
to a couple of other teams in the league. It was absurd. When
I started complaining, loudly, I even found an unbalanced trade
offer--for my own benefit--waiting for me. The jerks were trying
to buy me off.
I ended up simply leaving the league, as only a few owners were
even bothering to take the league seriously enough to join me
in complaining. And, as it turns out, the commish ended up being
one of the guys accepting the colluding trades. So, [there was]
nothing for me [to do] but to leave. I honestly have no idea why
people are going to play a game with the intent of making it that
ridiculously easy to win. They probably play pickup basketball
against grade-schoolers so they can brag about winning every day.
At any rate, what is going on in the league described in your
article is definitely collusion, and is not allowed in about every
kind of organized gaming activity I can think about. Try it in
Vegas at the poker tables and you'll have one less kneecap. This
guy's league commish needs to step in, set the roster of the team
being paid off to throw their game so that he starts his usual
lineup, and then lock his roster for the weekend.
And then, if this is a regular league, everyone else needs to
discuss whether they want to keep these two jokers around for
next year. I vote no.
Many leagues don’t bother writing up rules against cheating.
They don’t need a definition of collusion because they wouldn’t
consider making collusion against the rules because it would never
occur to them that any of the participants would engage in such
objectionable behavior. As Gary says,
There should be no rules for that. That is something you learn
as a child growing up. IF that actually happened in my league,
both owners would be out of the league…no ifs, ands, or
buts. Obviously, [Mick plays with] a couple of people who don’t
understand what “sportsmanship” means. When playing
any game, at least in my eyes, there is an obligation that you
try your hardest.
Even though I agree with the spirit of Gary’s remarks,
I know there are a lot of leagues in which players don’t share
nearly as many assumptions about “sportsmanship” as
they might think. Fantasy football is largely an internet phenomenon,
and I think it’s safe to say that tens of thousands of people
play in FF Leagues for cash purses with complete/virtual strangers.
When money is on the line, it is probably safest to spell everything
out in black and white.
One obvious argument against trying to write a rule for every possible
cheating scenario is that it’s impossible for us to anticipate
every single way in which people might cheat. If we look carefully
at the definition that Tom provides concerning collusion, we can
see how certain players might argue that it doesn’t pertain
to the case Mick describes. After all, since the miscreants in Mick’s
league are brazen enough to have revealed their M.O., they aren’t
acting “secretly.” But there are better options that
hiring contract lawyers to draft the rules for your league. The
best option is to make sure that the commissioner has integrity
and to empower him to act in response to such unforeseen developments
as the one Mick describes. As Bruce says,
I am the commish in a 12-team cash Dynasty league. We do not have
any written rules with respect to cheating; however, the solution
in my league would be simple and straightforward: I would immediately
lock out both owners and field the team I felt should be played
for that week as all other teams need to face legitimate competition
through the end of the year. Both teams would be disqualified
from this year’s playoffs with all other teams moving up
and the league would be looking for two new owners next year.
Many FFers argue that just as the NFL empowers and trusts
Roger Goodell to make decisions that are in the best interest of
the league, your fantasy league should be able to rely on the commissioner
to make and enforce tough decisions. That analogy breaks down, however,
when we consider that fantasy commissioners are almost invariably
owners within the league. If the owner of the Jets had been responsible
for punishing the Patriots for the Spygate incident, then he couldn’t
possibly be expected to dole out impartial justice. So even though
I advocate a strong commissioner with a good bit of latitude, I
also advocate accountability for the commissioner along the lines
of what Mike’s league specifies:
Our 12-team league allows the commissioner to override/set a teams
line-up. Whenever there is a question, usually when a losing owner
doesn't make changes and ends up with a player listed as out,
the commish sets his line up using the highest rated player available
on the team in question. To keep the commish honest, he has to
follow the majority vote of the other 11 owners. We had this happen
once this year, and 8 of 11 owners posted the commish to ensure
the team in question did not have two "OUT" players
playing. The commish made changes prior to game time and all was
well, though the owner in question caught hell.
Of course, you don’t need a strong commissioner to intervene
or a procedure for reining a commissioner in if your rules give
players sufficient incentive to remain competitive throughout the
season. I quite like the policy that Skip’s league has implemented
to keep teams (even those eliminated from playoff contention) invested
in the outcome of their matchups:
In my league there are incentives for staying competitive
each week, with a $5 payoff for the best weekly points and a
$10 bounty in weeks 11-13 for any team who has been eliminated
from the playoffs to beat a team with a playoff spot clinched.
We also offer free adds for teams eliminated from the playoffs
so that they can continue to remain active in the waivers process.
I put the bounty idea in bold because it’s fantastic. But
I also like the idea of giving teams that are finished free add/drops—since
it’s difficult to fault a team that has been eliminated
from the playoffs for failing to replace an injured player if
picking that player up can only cost money that cannot be recovered.
I heard from a number of other readers who pointed out that they
would not consider participating in this league next year or inviting
the two cheaters back in the future. Some of these readers conceded
that if there is no specific rule against what the players are
doing, then there’s nothing more that can be done. Obviously,
attitudes on this subject will vary from one league to the next.
In my opinion, the difference of opinion is itself a good argument
for an empowered commissioner. Some FFers who consider themselves
sticklers for fair play would throw these guys out of the league
mid-season in the name of fair play. Others would explain that
since the rules don’t specifically prohibit this behavior,
they have to be tolerated until the end of the season—once
again, in the name of fair play. Fair play is too difficult a
concept for any group of 10 or 12 (or more) people to agree about,
so my own sense is that the safest approach is to give the commissioner
the latitude to define it for the league in response to circumstances
as they arise—so long as he isn’t in a position to
abuse that authority unchecked.
This Week’s Question
As a preface to this week’s question, I want to include
a note from Mathew concerning a generalization I made last week:
You invited readers to correct you if you were wrong
about my playoff structure being not as common as some other leagues
in the fact that only 4 of 12 go to the dance. I will respond
to that by saying that my leagues are all run on CBS Sportsline
public leagues. CBS is also the same engine that runs the NFL.com
leagues. All of my leagues on CBS are low cash buy-in leagues,
but they are public leagues (anyone with a Sportsline acct. can
join) and I assume the structure is the same for all entry levels.
NFL.com leagues also use the same structure. I don't know how
many leagues or owners of teams in those leagues there are, but
I can imagine they number into the thousands.
I think Mathew’s assumption is fair. The leagues to which
he refers almost certain do number in the thousands, and it’s
quite possible that the average fantasy experience is closer to
what he experiences on CBS Sportsline than what I experience in
a league at AFFL.com or any of the league-hosting services that
allow folks to set up their own rules, playoff brackets, etc.
I suppose I could stand to be better educated about how most
other leagues are set up, and I’ll try to use Bill’s
question to get that information. Bill wrote to me concerning
the “next generation” of fantasy football and made
In my head-to-head league, winning seems to be more
correlated to the number of points scored by your opponent than
by yourself. The problem with this is that unlike "real"
sports, there is nothing you can do to prevent or limit the number
of points scored by your opponent. Have you ever heard of any
Fantasy rules that will allow you to play defense against your
The answer to the question at the end of Bill’s first
paragraph is, “Yes, I know of several such systems.”
In fact, I dedicated a column to this very subject once upon a time.
I received some fairly elaborate answers—one of which involved
focusing on the defensive line in order to diminish an opponent’s
rushing attack by a particular percentage and focusing on the secondary
in order to deduct points from his receivers.
One idea that I have come up with is allowing each to target 1
player on his opponent's roster and therefore cut that player's
points in half or something.
Any thoughts or ideas you have on this would be greatly appreciated.
As I read those responses, I remember thinking that even though
the ideas sounded intriguing, they also sounded very difficult
to implement. So I’ll invite readers to respond to Bill’s
question directly (even if they contributed to that earlier column),
but I’ll also invite them to indicate which league-hosting
sites they use to incorporate these weird scoring wrinkles.
I was eliminated from my survival pool in week 10 with my Saints
pick over the Rams. Since then I have kept a close eye on the
remaining participants in my league. They are now down to 11 people
from an original group of over 5000. So who do you play when you
know that you are so close? Well, hopefully Paul and I can help
Trap Game: NY Giants over Washington:
The Redskins can still make the playoffs, and the Giants have
a really hard time closing out opponents. So this game will come
down to who makes fewer mistakes. In the last 4 games the Giants
have turned the ball over 11 times and forced one turnover. Those
numbers favor Washington in a must-win game. The problem here
is that if the Giants don’t win this week and lock up a
playoff spot, they might not win the rest of the season. They
have to go to Buffalo and play a team that believes itself to
be playoff material in spite of devastating injuries on the defensive
side of the ball—and then return to try and prevent New
England from having a perfect season. This is not a formula for
success with a Tom Coughlin coached team. Todd Collins might have
enough to pull off the win in the Meadowlands, so watch out.
#3: Tennessee at Kansas City (10-4):
Of the three games between teams that are just playing out the
season, this game may be more competitive than others. Both Herm
Edwards and Jeff Fisher know how to get a team motivated when
each team has little or nothing to play for. But of the two teams,
Coach Edwards has the more difficult task of getting his offense
to stay on the field more than three plays and out. Last week
they had 10 three-and-out drives, and the Titan defense is as
good if not better than Denver’s. Look for the Titans to
win this in a fight, and only use this game if you haven’t
used the Bucs or Bengals.
#2: Cincinnati at San Francisco (7-7):
This is the battle of the playoff hopefuls. Both of these teams
were picked to make it to the playoffs this year, and both of
them have been eliminated. The only interesting thing in this
game will be whether Ocho Cinco gets another fine for doing something
stupid after a touchdown catch. The difference here is that whereas
the Bengals have only been disappointing, the 49ers have completely
fallen apart. Give me the Bengals.
#1: Tampa Bay over Atlanta (12-2):
The Bucs will have Jeff Garcia back under center this week with
the ability to clinch the NFC South in front of their home fans.
Meanwhile, the Falcons will be looking for a new coach as well
as a new quarterback for the future. Is it going to be Chris Redman,
Joey Harrington or Byron Leftwich? Who cares? Certainly not Coach
Petrino, who is headed back to the college ranks. Look for the
Bucs to win the easily since the rest of the Falcons have already
packed it in. (Wait! Don’t print that! It might give them
something to play for.)
Last week we got back on track going 3-0. Let’s see if
we can keep this thing going more than one week. Non-division
home favorites were 5-0 last week (72-20 overall).
#1. MIN over CHI (11-3, Used
SEA, CHI, BAL, IND, DAL, SDC, WAS, NEP, TBB, nos, pit, nyg, CAR,
The Vikings beat the Bears 34-31 in Week 6 and now have a nice
4-game winning streak going. They are in a “need to win”
situation to stay in the last playoff spot. The Bears come to
town after losing to Washington last Thursday night.
Chicago is struggling and I don’t see the Bears winning
in the dome, even if it’s against a division rival.
#2. CLE over BUF (11-3 Used
IND, DEN, NEP, sdc, TEN, sea, DAL, NYG, ATL, PIT, GBP, JAX, was,
The Browns are 5-1 at home this year and battling for a playoff
spot. Buffalo comes to town having defeated Miami and still clinging
to a slim chance at the playoffs. The Bills are 3-3 on the road,
but 2 of the wins are against the Dolphins and
Jets, so they are really 1-3. This should be a good game with
Cleveland holding off the Bills.
#3. TB over ATL (12-2 Used SDC,
JAX, PIT, NEP, HOU, GBP, NYG, IND, WAS, SEA, DAL, ari, phi, BUF)
Of the three games, this is the one I feel most confident about.
The Bucs are 5-1 at home and whooped up on the Falcons 31-7 in
week 11. The Falcons are in a downward spiral and looking to get
a high draft pick. Throw in that they are 1-5 on the road—and
it’s hard to give them much of a chance.
For responses to this week's fantasy
question or to share your LMS picks, please email
me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football