Shawn Kemp is My Daddy vs. Fantasy Basketball League Commissioner – 2 F.J. 24 (October 14, 2010) – fantasy basketball draft

SUPREME COURT OF FANTASY JUDGMENT

Shawn Kemp is My Daddy vs. Fantasy Basketball League Commissioner

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI FROM THE DEGENERATE BALLERS FANTASY BASKETBALL LEAGUE

Decided October 14, 2010

Cite as 2 F.J. 24 (October 2010)

Factual Background

A fantasy basketball league called the Degenerate Ballers Fantasy Basketball League (hereinafter referred to as “DBFBL”) is comprised of twelve (12) teams who compete against each other on a weekly basis during the National Basketball Association (“NBA”) season using the statistics of professional players as a basis for accumulating points in head-to-head competition with opponents to determine which fantasy team won or lost.  The DBFBL is hosted on the ESPN fantasy basketball platform and has been in existence since 2008.  Since the league’s inception, the Commissioner of the DBFBL has created rules and guidelines regarding the draft, roster limits, point scoring system, trading process, and other general regulations to govern the league. 

There is no formal league Constitution which delineates the rules, requirements and guidelines of the league.  Rather, the league Commissioner inputs this information through ESPN and it is made available to all teams upon successfully registering their teams on the league’s website after the Commissioner sends out invitations.  This information is available at all times.  The league Commissioner arbitrarily sets up the parameters of the league, including the limitations and restrictions on trading.  There is no process for challenging such decisions, and there is no available method of voting to approve any such decisions.  By registering for the league and participating in the draft, the other league owners tacitly assent to the rules created by the league Commissioner.

Before participating in the league draft, all league members were made aware of the league’s rules regarding trading.  Included in these rules is the following language:

Trades

(1)   There shall not be any trading of draft picks before or during the league’s draft.

(2)   Trades may be made between teams at the conclusion of the draft.

(3)   All trades must be processed through the league’s ESPN website and will be subject to the Commissioner’s approval.

(4)   Any trade that the Commissioner makes shall be subject to the approval of the league’s Co-Commissioner.

(5)   Any trade made between the Commissioner and the Co-Commissioner shall be subject to approval by a league vote where six votes of approval will put the trade through.

(6)   Teams that are eliminated from playoff contention will not be eligible to make trades.

(7)   There shall not be any attempts to collude between teams when negotiating and exchanging players in trades.

Procedural History

The DBFBL draft took place on Sunday, October 10, 2010 in an online draft room hosted by ESPN.  Prior to the draft beginning, two teams posted on the league message board that they had agreed to swap draft picks.  This trade included swapping first round picks and fourth round picks.  The league Commissioner allowed the trade to go through and manually changed the draft order to accommodate the new draft positions for these two teams.  Despite protests from other league members, the Commissioner justified allowing the trade because he “wanted to try something new this year” and felt that “there was no harm done to any of the other teams.”  The plaintiff, Shawn Kemp Is My Daddy, posted on the league message board a citation to the league’s rules which explicitly prohibited the trading of draft picks before and during the league’s draft.  This Commissioner did not respond to the message and simply proceeded with the draft allowing this trade.

At the conclusion of the draft, the plaintiff again voiced his concern and protest over this decision and asked the Commissioner to consider doing the draft over again without the trade of draft picks between those two teams.  The Commissioner denied this request and told the plaintiff to “stop whining” and “deal with it.”

The plaintiff has filed this complaint with the Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment seeking an annulment of the October 10, 2010 draft and ordering a do-over with the original draft positions left in place. 

Issue Presented

(1)   Should the DBFBL’s draft be annulled due to the Commissioner’s own violation of the league rules and a second draft be conducted?

Decision

The Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment is a strong advocate for having written Constitutions that govern fantasy sports leagues.  There are a myriad of reasons why the Court believes having a Constitution in place is the best way to run and maintain a fantasy league.  One of the primary reasons behind this rationale is that all league members are aware of the rules and guidelines in place that govern the administration and function of the fantasy league.  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. 

Despite not having a formal document that codifies all of the league’s rules and guidelines, the DBFBL league Commissioner did set the rules up well before the draft and posted them on the league’s website for everyone to see.  This process does constitute notice for the league members that they are aware of the rules.  It also demonstrates that league members have knowledge that the Commissioner is the ultimate authority for decision-making and that there is no formal appellate process within the league.  However, it also demonstrates that the Commissioner is the one who authored the rules and presumably is aware that the league members will have an expectation that these rules will be in place for the upcoming season.

As the Commissioner of a fantasy sports league, there is an expectation that he/she will govern and administer the league’s rules and guidelines strictly in accordance to what is explicitly stated in a Constitution or posted on the league’s website.  There is also a presumption that the Commissioner will run the league with the league’s best interests in mind so as to maintain his/her own integrity, as well as the integrity of the league.  The Commissioner appropriately expects that the league members will adhere to the rules set forth, and in the event the rules are not followed, the Commissioner would take appropriate action. 

Here, the Court is presented with a unique case where the Commissioner is violating his own rules despite the protests of his fellow league members.  This is not a case where there is an ambiguous circumstance not accounted for within the written rules of the league.  Some leeway could be given if the Commissioner had to decide on an issue of first impression that was not foreseeable when the rules were created.  That is not the case here.  The very first rule regarding trades that the Commissioner distributed specifically prohibited the trading of draft picks either before or during the draft.  Since the trade of draft picks was posted to the league’s message board before the draft started, the Commissioner had ample time and opportunity to reject such a trade and rightfully cite the league’s rules.  However, the Commissioner arbitrarily decided to approve the trade and rationalized that he wanted to try something new. 

The Court is also an advocate of changing things up from year to year in a fantasy sports league so as to keep things interesting and maintain consistent participation and enjoyment.  However, the time for changing rules is quite clearly during the offseason.  Whether the Commissioner autonomously decides to make changes or presents suggestions for a league vote, the point is that this process should not be done once the rules have been put in place and the draft is about to commence. 

The harm and detriment to the league and its members is two-fold.  First, it sends a terrible message to the league that the Commissioner is going to do whatever he arbitrarily wants to do regardless of the rules he has created.  Second, the other league members were prejudiced by this decision because they were not given an opportunity to negotiate trades of draft picks.  Had the Commissioner provided notice before the draft that this would be allowed, then all teams would have had the opportunity to make such deals knowing that they were allowed.

Under normal circumstances when issues arise during a fantasy sports draft, the Court would not recommend undoing what was done and conducting another draft.  But in this case, there does not seem to be any other alternative that would make this situation right.  Knowing that draft picks can be traded would certainly affect and alter teams’ strategies for the draft.  Given that, the Court recommends that the October 10, 2010 draft be erased.  If the Commissioner is now going to allow the trading of draft picks, he should make such a proclamation to the league and allow a period of time for teams to negotiate.  The Commissioner should then set a new date for the draft and conduct it in an environment where all teams are on a level playing field and have the same opportunities to maximize their drafting.

The Court also recommends that the Commissioner issue a public apology for creating this predicament and assure the league that he will abide by the rules he set forth.  Any discussions to amend or modify the rules should be reserved for the conclusion of the 2010-2011 fantasy basketball season.

The rules of the league were clear and the Commissioner explicitly violated them.  The only recourse to regain the integrity of the league and pacify everyone’s best interests is to annul the first draft and do it over again with all teams able to trade draft picks.    

IT IS SO ORDERED.

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