Z Wolves, et al. vs. League Commissioner – 3 F.J. 212 (November 16, 2011) – fantasy football trade deadline extension
` SUPREME COURT OF FANTASY JUDGMENT
Z Wolves, et al. vs. League Commissioner
ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI FROM THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN
Decided November 16, 2011
Cite as 3 F.J. 212 (November 2010)
A fantasy football league called the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (hereinafter referred to as “LOEG”) is comprised of ten (10) teams who 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 LOEG is hosted on the CBSSports fantasy football platform and is governed by a league constitution that was distributed to all team owners before the draft which was held on August 30, 2011.
The governing document is a combination of settings selected using the CBSSports commissioner services as well as written rules and guidelines authored by the league commissioner. On Page 1 of the LOEG rules, the trade deadline is explicitly set for 11:59 PM on November 10, 2011. It states that “no trades can be made” after this date. However, the timing of this setting is amended in Section 5.8 of the LOEG constitution which states:
The trade deadline will be fifteen minutes before kickoff of the first game of week 10 (It will say 11:59PM in another area of the site but that is due to a limitation of the website settings and is incorrect).
The net effect of this amendment is inconsequential. There was a game scheduled for Thursday, November 10, 2011 (Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers) which means the trade deadline was actually a few hours earlier than originally stated in the rules.
The relevant provisions regarding the commissioner’s authority for amending or modifying league rules are delineated in the LOEG constitution under Section 7 entitled “MISCELLANEOUS.” The pertinent language is as follows:
7.2 If items regarding rule or policy changes are put up for a vote by the commissioner, they will require the number of votes that represent the majority of teams in the league (not the majority of votes cast) for the change to occur. Each team has one vote. Commissioner breaks ties. All rule or policy changes are subject to commissioner approval regardless of poll results.
7.3 The League Commissioner will have divine power to ultimately make a decision on any situation that arises that’s not explicitly dealt with in the rules, unless that matter involves the commissioner himself in which case the deputy commissioner will gain the authority to resolve the matter. If a matter requiring a commissioner ruling involves both the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner it will be put to a majority vote of teams (owners may abstain from voting). A tie vote will result in a coin flip to decide the outcome of the dispute.
7.4 If there is a discrepancy regarding a rule that is dealt with in the constitution and in another area of this website, the constitution has priority.
As indicated in the rules, the LOEG’s trade deadline was set to expire on November 10, 2011. On November 13 2011, the LOEG commissioner issued an email to the other league members informing them of his unilateral decision to extend the trade deadline to November 17, 2011.
The commissioner has provided testimony in support of his decision to extend the trade deadline. The arguments in support of his decision include the following:
- No teams had a bye during Week 10, but four NFL teams have a bye during Week 11 which include several high profile players.
- There have not been any disputes over trades all season and it would be more fun to keep trading options open another week.
- All teams in the league are still in contention for a playoff berth.
- Most teams desired to have the trade deadline extended.
- It was in the best interests of the league to extend the trade deadline, and the commissioner possesses the authority to make such a decision.
- The decision to extend the trade deadline has nothing to do with his own team’s position in the LOEG standings.
The appellants, Z Wolves and Machine, have provided testimony challenging this decision by the commissioner. The arguments in support of Z Wolves’ appeal include the following:
- The trade deadline was established prior to the start of the 2011 NFL season and rules such as this should not be changed in the middle of the season unless there is a unanimous vote in support of such a change.
- The NFL schedule, including the bye weeks, were known many months ago before the season started.
- Extending the trade deadline because it is “more fun” is not a valid reason.
- Extending the pre-existing trade deadline goes against the very point of having a deadline in the first place and could potentially lead to a windfall for the better teams in the league.
It should be noted that the Court was not presented with certain information regarding this situation, including the current league standings and team rosters. The Court is also unaware of exactly how many teams supported or opposed the decision outside of the Z Wolves and Machine being two teams that are against it.
The appellants propose that if the commissioner wants to extend the trade deadline, it should be offered to the league for a vote. At that point, the rule could be changed if there is 100% support for such a modification.
(1) Should the commissioner be allowed to extend the league’s trade deadline in the middle of the season?
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).
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 in the best interests of the league overall. See Afraid of Change v. Fantasy Football League, 1 F.J. 11, 12 (September 2009). While commissioners should have a certain amount of discretion and autonomy to run the fantasy league, 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); see also Flemish USA v. League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 35, 36 (October 2010) (holding that league Commissioners have a finite amount of authority to arbitrarily make decisions that benefit the league as a whole).
Here, the issue boils down to whether the LOEG commissioner properly exercised his power and authority to unilaterally modify an established deadline in the league’s constitution. Barring extenuating circumstances, such as avoiding a league mutiny or dealing with a real life scenario that somehow affects the league, commissioners should never change the established rules or procedures of a league in mid-season. See Winners v. Seven Shades of Shite, 3 F.J. 97, 104 (July 2011). We now analyze whether any of the commissioner’s supporting arguments justify such a decision.
The first argument made by the commissioner is that there were no teams on a bye during the week of November 10, 2011, but there are teams with high profile fantasy players on a bye during the week of November 17, 2011. This argument fails on its face because the commissioner had the benefit of seeing the NFL schedule well ahead of when he established the initial trade deadline. The commissioner should have foreseen the discrepancy in the NFL schedule which skipped Week 10 for byes. He had every opportunity to take this into account and set the trade deadline in accordance with the NFL schedule. The NFL schedule was released to the public in April 2011 which was several months before the league rules were enacted and distributed to the league. As such, this does not warrant justification for changing the trade deadline.
The second argument presented by the commissioner is that it would be more fun to continue trading an additional week because there have not been any previous disputes during the season. This subjective rationale by the commissioner also fails as justification for changing the trade deadline. Classifying making trades as fun or eliciting any other personal emotion or motivation is outside the scope of the commissioner’s duties. People choose to make trades or not make trades in fantasy leagues for a variety of reasons. Part of an individual team’s strategy may be to avoid trading altogether for fear of bettering another team or miscalculating the value of players being acquired. Further, the fact that there have not been any disputed trades during the season does not guarantee that all future trades will go unchallenged. Irrespective of that, it is not a relevant reason to modify an established rule in the middle of the season.
The third argument presented by the commissioner is that all teams in the league are still currently eligible for a playoff berth. Whle this indicates parity and competitive balance, it does not serve as a reason, either way, to justify extending the trade deadline. Perhaps one of the reasons why all teams are still in the hunt for the playoffs is because they decided to make certain trades at a certain time based on the pre-existing knowledge of when trades would be cut off. It is also somewhat of an anomaly that all ten teams in a league are eligible for a playoff berth this late in the season. To use this rare occurrence as justification for extending the trade deadline opens the door to other potentially harmful decisions that could be made based on a specific occurrence happening during any other season.
The fourth argument made by the commissioner is that most teams wanted the trade deadline extended The Court is aware of at least two teams (Z Wolves and Machine) that oppose the decision. However, the Court has not been presented with any evidence or testimony of other teams that support the extension of the trade deadline. The Court is not disputing that there is support for this decision. However, without specific knowledge or submissions by these amicus parties, the Court cannot consider this hearsay testimony.
The fifth argument presented by the commissioner is that extending the trade deadline was within his authority as commissioner and was in the best interests of the league. Under Rule 7.2 as stated above, any rules or policy changes that are put up to a league vote require a majority (6 out of 10) to pass. However, the rule further states that the commissioner has the ultimate say in the approval of such a rule or policy change regardless of the poll results. This essentially contradicts the entire point of having a league vote because the commissioner can override the league consensus. But this language isn’t even applicable here because the extension of the trade deadline was never sent out for a league vote in the first place. Rule 7.3 refers to the commissioner’s power to decide issues not specifically delineated in the league rules. It also states that any issues directly involving the commissioner will be decided by the deputy commissioner. Here, the decision to extend the trade deadline was simply made by the commissioner and affects all teams in the league. Based on this, there is no need for the deputy commissioner to rule on it. The LOEG constitution is silent on the issue of changing or modifying established deadlines. Since the commissioner has the “divine power and authority” to rule on issues not specified in the constitution under Rule 7.3, he believes he has the authority to extend the trade deadline. The Court does agree with this.
Finally, the sixth argument made by the commissioner is that this decision was made irrespective of his own team’s position in the standings. The Court has no knowledge of where the commissioner’s team is in the standings. However, unless presented with any evidence to thje contrary, the Court will operate under the assumption that the decision to extend the trade deadline was made without any consideration for his own personal benefit.
Based on this anaysis, the only plausibly valid argument made by the LOEG commissioner in support of his decision to extend the trade deadline was that he had the authority to do so. This authority was granted under Rule 7.3 which permits him to make decisions based on issues that are not delineated in the league rules. Even when a league Constitution is silent on a particular issue, the Court is able to draw logical inferences based on the existing language, common sense, and past precedent. See Jersey Shore GTL v. Professional Amateurs, 3 F.J. 1, 3 (March 2011) (holding that it is logical to infer that salary cap money is considered an intangible asset even though the league Constitution does not specifically include it in the definition). The Court does not believe that the spirit of Rule 7.3 is being enforced or interpreted appropriately. As important as it is to follow the language of the league’s constitution and the rules set forth therein, it is equally as important to understand the theory and rationale that exist behind each rule. See A New Hope v. On the Juice, 1 F.J. 4, 7 (September 2009).
League commissioners cannot reasonably foresee every possible issue or situation that can arise during a season. To hold them to such a standard would be unfair. As a way to safeguard against any unforeseen circumstance, the Court recommends that league constitutions contain procedures and guidelines for issues of first impression. Here, it appears that the LOEG commissioner did in fact do this with Rule 7.3. However, he created an issue of first impression himself by making the decision to extend the trade deadline without any valid justification other than the fact that he could. The spirit of Rule 7.3 is to have procedures in place when something dramatic or unforeseen occurs that requires swift and decisive action where there is no written guidance. Based on this, the Court holds that Rule 7.3 was not intended to give the commissioner the ability to extend the trade deadline outside of valid justification.
The Court holds that there is no justifiable or reasonable need to extend the pre-existing trade deadline. The reasons set forth by the commissioner do not warrant such action. However, if the commissioner still desires to do so, he should put the issue up for a league vote as stated under Rule 7.2. If the commissioner chooses to do this, the Court also recommends that he not enforce his ability to override the results of the vote. It is recommended that the constitution be amended for 2012 and remove the commissioner’s ability to enforce his own directives regardless of the outcome of a league vote. If the league is going to be allowed to vote on particular issues, then the results of such a vote should stand.
IT IS SO ORDERED.