Dwayne Bowe Peep vs. The Boston Tea Party – 3 F.J. 188 (October 19, 2011) – fantasy football lineup dispute (Commissioner discretion)

SUPREME COURT OF FANTASY JUDGMENT

Dwayne Bowe Peep vs. The Boston Tea Party

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI FROM THE THREE RIVERS FANTASY FOOTBALL LEAGUE

Decided October 19, 2011

Cite as 3 F.J. 188 (October 2011)

Factual Background

A fantasy football league called the Three Rivers Fantasy Football League (hereinafter referred to as “TRFFL”) has been in existence since 2006 and is comprised of twelve (12) teams.  These teams compete against each other on a weekly basis during the National Football League (“NFL”) 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 TRFFL is a non-keeper league hosted on the ESPN fantasy football platform.  The league utilizes ESPN’s standard scoring system, which is 6 points for a rushing or receiving touchdown, 4 points for a passing touchdown, 1 point per 10 yards rushing or receiving, 1 point per 25 yards passing, 2 extra points for touchdowns over 40 yards, and minus 2 points for fumbles lost and interceptions.

The TRFFL is not governed by a written Constitution.  There are no rules, guidelines or procedures in place for league members to challenge any decision made by the commissioner or vote on any such proposed modifications.  Since the league was incepted in 2006, there has never been a need to explore or pursue any such procedures.  However, the league is bound by the rules and limitations set forth by ESPN’s fantasy football services which grant the league commissioner access to every other team’s lineups and rosters in order to make necessary changes or alterations.  Each league member is responsible for their own transactions and entering their own lineups by the deadline set forth each week, which is typically until right before the first NFL games of the week begin.    

As per the TRFFL’s rules, weekly starting lineups must include at least one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, two RB/WR flex players, one tight end, one kicker, and one team defense.  In the event a team does not fulfill those lineup requirements, no penalties are assessed.  Rather, the team will simply not receive any points from that particular position.  Lineups lock once games begin that week and teams are unable to make changes to them.

On October 16, 2011, which was Week 6 of the NFL season, Dwayne Bowe Peep’s lineup contained one flex player and a kicker who were on a bye when the lineups locked.  At 1:20 PM, the team owner of Dwayne Bowe Peep called the TRFFL commissioner and informed him that, due to extenuating circumstances, he was unable to make changes to his lineup and replace those players with his reserves.  He requested that the commissioner make the necessary changes for him retroactive to the beginning of the games that were already in progress.  The commissioner denied this request.

Procedural History

After the commissioner denied Dwayne Bowe Peep’s request, he sent an email to the league reminding all teams that they are solely responsible for entering their own lineups in a timely manner, and under no circumstances would he make any exceptions for league members by retroactively modifying lineups.  Dwayne Bowe Peep responded to this email explaining the reasons why he was unable to change his lineup prior to the games starting.  In sum, the reason Dwayne Bowe Peep was unable to change his lineup that morning was because he was at a family function and unable to access the internet.

The commissioner responded to Dwayne Bowe Peep’s email and reiterated his previous position.  He also reminded the league that they can make changes to their lineups at any time during the week prior to when the first games start.  He stated his decision was final and that each league member had the burden to manage their own teams accordingly.  Dwayne Bowe Peep then went on an email rampage about the unjust decision made by the commissioner and now submits his case to the Court seeking a reversal of the commissioner’s decision.  The Boston Tea Party was the appellant’s opponent this past week and defeated Dwayne Bowe Peep 144-107.

Issue Presented

(1)   Should the decision made by the TRFFL commissioner to deny Dwayne Bowe Peep’s request to change his lineup after the deadline be upheld?

Decision

The Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment is a strong advocate for having written Constitutions that govern fantasy sports leagues.  See John Doe v. Fantasy Football League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 21, 22 (October 2010).  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.  See Shawn Kemp is My Daddy v. Fantasy Basketball League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 24, 25 (October 2010).   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.  See Machine v. Fantasy Football League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 1, 2 (September 2010).

Without a league Constitution, the Commissioner is essentially free to create and change rules as he pleases unless there is some sort of agreement in place where each league member votes on rule changes or decisions.  See Didn’t Hit Submit v. Commissioner, 1 F.J. 23, 25 (January 2010).  Given that no such procedure or precedent exists for TRFFL members to vote on issues, the commissioner essentially has carte blanche to make decisions.  The Court supports the notion that league commissioners should have a certain amount of authority and autonomy to run and administer fantasy sports leagues.  See Flemish USA v. League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 35, 36 (October 2010) (holding the league Commissioners are entitled to arbitrarily make decisions that do benefit the league as a whole).  However, this authority and discretion is not infinite or absolute.  A line must be drawn at the point where such discretion morphs into an abuse of power at the expense of the entire league.  Ascertaining this distinction is not an easy task.  See Cincinnati Bungles v. O&A’s Two Point Conversion, 3 F.J. 88, 90 (July 2011).

The Court is consistently presented with questions about a league commissioner’s powers to enact, enforce, and modify rules within the league without any challenge to his/her decision.  In most instances, the Court will side with the commissioner assuming the commissioner’s motives are benevolent and it is in the best interests of the league overall.  See Afraid of Change v. Fantasy Football League, 1 F.J. 11, 12 (September 2009).  Because of the inherent power associated with running a league, commissioners are typically scrutinized more than the other members of the league.  As such, league commissioners should be cognizant of the perception of whatever decisions they make because they will be analyzed under a very thick microscope.  See America’s Team v. The 1987 Denver Broncos are Cartman’s Father, 3 F.J. 51, 53 (July 2011).  While it is unrealistic to completely eliminate all skepticism, commissioners can mitigate any alleged impropriety by enforcing rules and guidelines consistently.  If an exception is made under special circumstances, the commissioner is obligated to provide a valid justification for such a deviation.  See Machine v. Fantasy Football League Commissioner, 2 F.J. at 3.

Here, without a league Constitution, the commissioner has the ultimate say on issues that do not fall within the scope of ESPN’s guidelines.  There has been no evidence or testimony presented by any of the parties reflecting past incidents or precedent relating to the TRFFL retroactively correcting lineup or roster errors.  The Court assumes that either the issue has never come up before, or the commissioner has never actually permitted the retroactive correction of an error.  Either way, there are no prior incidents reported of such action by the commissioner. 

Without a Constitution, the commissioner must rely on precedent, common sense, and the best interests of the league when making critical decisions such as this.  See Didn’t Hit Submit v. Commissioner, 1 F.J. at 26.  There is no precedent that exists within the TRFFL to justify allowing a team to have his own lineup mistakes corrected.  Each team in the league is held to the same standard in terms of how the rules apply.  Certainly there are some extenuating circumstances where the commissioner may be more inclined to be lenient, but he is under no obligation to do so if he explicitly lays out how the rule will be applied universally and without any exceptions.  The reasons by provided by Dwayne Bowe Peep were not sufficient or dire enough to warrant a more lenient consideration by the Court.  At the end of the day, it is every fantasy league owner’s personal responsibility to enter and submit their lineups correctly, regardless of the circumstances.  See Id. at 25.

Based on the foregoing analysis, the Court upholds the TRFFL commissioner’s decision to not allow a retroactive correction for Dwayne Bowe Peep’s lineup submission.  The commissioner was well within his authority to rule the way he did, and his subsequent pronouncement as to the ongoing enforcement of such a rule is clearly consistent with the precedent already established since 2006.   

IT IS SO ORDERED.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather