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Fantasy football made headlines baseball field during Memorial Day weekend when Tommy Pham of the Cincinnati Reds and Joc Pederson of the San Francisco Giants had an argument over a problem in a league they were in last season. We have since learned that Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout is the commissioner of that league when Pham threw him under the bus.
What has Trout got to do with it?
Trout’s response: “Every commissioner I know is always proclaimed.”
So what do veteran fantasy football players think about this story? We turned to our ESPN analysts – most of whom are currently fantasy commissioners and have been playing for decades – to get their take on what is suddenly the world’s most famous dysfunctional fantasy football league.
As a fantasy football analyst, what has been your reaction to this story?
Mike Clay: It would not be fantasy sports without the occasional drama, right? This is hard to judge as we do not know their rules (according to ESPN rules, Pederson did nothing wrong, but Pham claims the league had its own changes). Of course, I can not imagine moving a player to IR to pick someone up from dispensations had a big impact on the league standings, so I’m as surprised as Pederson that this turned up half a year after the fact.
Matt Bowens: Very simple here – no one really wants to be the commish of a fantasy league. The heat coming down on the trout is the same thing we hear in our home leagues, right? Whether it is scoring structure, list size, IR spots, exemptions, etc. There are always complaints. Ask my cousin Michael, who has run our league here in Chicago for more than 10 years. In week 4, we all have something to tell him.
Matthew Berry: It’s the greatest example ever of leagues having clear rules and a strong commish. Trout clearly did not do enough here to make a clear decision. That said, six months is one long time to cherish a league you have left (Pham left the league midway). And now come on, what’s the point of being in a fantasy league if you can not take some trash-talk GIFs?
What does it say about fantasy football that it started this huge story between professional athletes?
Berry: I always say that fantasy is the great equalizer. Rock stars and politicians play, as do children and grandmothers. The reason why ball players reach the great league level is not only great ability but also an incredible drive to succeed and beat other competitors. It is no surprise that professional athletes would be hypercompetitive in fantasy football. However, it can still not lead to violence. If you can not handle the frustrations that naturally come from fantasy football, do not play.
Clay: Everyone loves fantasy football. I was in Charlotte for NASCAR’s Memorial Day race weekend and talked to fans, crew members and yes, many drivers about their fantasy football leagues and the drama that comes with it. It’s a tough, yet engaging, fun game with high variance that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Bowens: It goes deeper than just fantasy football with professional athletes. For example, we had some seriously heated moments left in the Green Bay locker room when I was playing with the Packers – over backgammon. Yes, it was the game to play after meetings or before training started. And if you bent the rules, it went pretty fast south.
What has happened in one of your leagues that has caused disagreement between team leaders?
Stephanie Bell: I have been lucky to play in several leagues for many years and all disputes have been resolved. But if there is a dispute, it seems that it always returns to the interpretation of the rules. Even when the rules are spelled in black and white, the words can be interpreted differently by different parties. This is also called “life”. It serves as a good reminder that everyone in a league should take the time to review the rules beforehand to minimize subsequent disagreements.
Eric Moody: The biggest strife in my home leagues has been about crooked trades. Everyone values players differently, but if your opinion is not in line with others in the league, it can cause problems. In the middle of the season, a fantasy manager was checked out and started swapping his best players away. It did not go down well with the Commissioner and others in the league, as one can imagine.
Eric Karabell: I can not say that a situation with damaged reserve has ever caused a riff for me, but mostly we see uneven trades – especially between a good and a bad team – that create friction and occasionally (and foolishly) end friendships. It’s a shame. It’s hard to prove secret cooperation, so it’s often better not to try.
Bowens: I used to play in a league with this unique scoring format. Fictitious things, really. Explosive games, for example, generated ridiculous points. Are you playing against Derrick Henry and he tears off a 50-yard touchdown run? OK, now you’re down with 70 points. Brutal. And that created some heated arguments about how the scoring structure favored certain players on the list. Yes, I do not play in that league anymore. Give me simple PPR or non-PPR scoring.
Mike Trout weighs in on the fantasy football game between Joc Pederson and Tommy Pham.
When team leaders disagree, how should commissioners deal with it?
Berry: Fast and fast. We used to make a segment on the podcast called “Hard Justice” where we would take a stand on just these types of situations. Get feedback from the league and make a decision and that should be the end of it. It can be discussed in the break. A league I’m in has a “competition committee” of three people (of which the commission is not a part) that people can appeal to if they do not like the commission’s decision. And there is an alternate to the committee if the dispute involves the commission or a member of the committee. The league has been together for many years and I have no problems with that system.
Clay: The best way to avoid drama is to have a clear set of rules ahead of the season. If someone finds an edge that is not a violation of the rules, it’s good for them. It’s called gamemanship. If it’s an edge that you feel should be illegal, it’s something that should be proposed as a change of rules out of season.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: that The Commissioner’s main role is to be fair, firm and fast with decisions. You will never reach consensus on anything rule-related, but your league mates will respect you the most if you check in with both parties involved in the dispute (plus everyone else affected by it), make a rational decision, and deliver it firmly.
How do you handle it when a team leader is trying to circumvent the rules?
Cockcroft People are looking for loopholes all the time. If it is not expressly stated in the Constitution, then I will make a fair assessment and, if necessary, we will consider or change this rule during the low season. Or, if it’s someone else in the commish’s chair, I’ll come up with that recommendation. If it’s a deliberate attempt to break the rules, it’s a zero tolerance thing you are disqualified / out. I also tell people who are looking for loopholes that the last thing they want is a 300-page constitution to read, so stop trying.
Bell: Play by the rules or do not play. The small exceptions are starting to be made, especially those initiated by some sneaky on the part of the team leader, these are no longer equal terms. There may be unique scenarios or mitigating circumstances (a team leader’s health, family emergencies, etc.) that warrant sympathy and change of rules, but they are likely to be extremely rare.
moody: Being transparent is critical. The Commissioner should communicate his observations to the league and explain why there are certain rules and how it fits into the structure of the league. And do not wait until problems arise. If it is foreseeable, then it is best for a Commissioner to be proactive instead of reactive.
Carabell: Update the rulebook to close loopholes and ambiguities. And if a league starts to get out of control, well, there are plenty of other leagues to join. If I’m not enjoying a league, then it’s not worth it. Unless Mike Trout is running it. Then I would stay forever.
Farewell thoughts …
Carabell: There are too many things in this world to worry about and fantasy football should not be among them. Enjoy it. That’s what it’s for.