Sorry, Eiferted vs. League Commissioner (Fantasy Football Keeper League Issue)

keeper-leagueKeeper leagues are still quite popular in fantasy football thanks in large part to the long-term investment and commitment GMs make towards their league.  These types of leagues allow fantasy players to step into the role of a general manager and build franchises that go beyond the current season.  There is a lot of appeal to investing in the future of your own team because every decision you make could have a long-term implication. What distinguishes a keeper league from a dynasty league is the limitation on how long players can be kept.  In dynasty leagues, you can theoretically retain players in perpetuity.  On the other hand, keeper leagues typically contain a finite length of time that GMs can retain the rights to a player either through a previously established duration or through purchase of contract year

The concept of a keeper league is relatively simple to define, implement and enforce.  However, an issue of first impression was recently brought before the Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment that requires some additional discussion.  There was a question raised about the application of a league rule regarding the number of years a player can be kept.  In the recent case Sorry, Eiferted vs. League Commissioner, the appellant challenged the league’s rule which stated that “players can be kept a maximum of three seasons.”  The rule did not contain any other language except for a subsequent example which states “Example: You drafted a player in 2006.  You kept this player for the 2007 and 2008 seasons.  At the conclusion of the 2008 season, the player must be returned to the pool of draftable players.”  The appellant claims he is being prejudiced because he traded for a player in the middle of 2015 and was under the impression he could keep that player heading into 2016.  He argues the rule is contradicted by the example.  The commissioner argues that the example is clear and that the rule has been applied in this manner for many years.

This rule is vague and ambiguous in the manner in which it is written, especially when contrasted with the example that is subsequently provided.  The heart of the issue is how the word “kept” is defined.  The definition of the word “keep” is to continue having or holding (something); to not return, lose, sell, give away, or throw away (something).  See http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/keep.  When dealing with keeper leagues, the act of keeping a player means retaining the rights to a player in future seasons.  Once a player is drafted or acquired via trade or free agency, that GM owns the right to that player.  The ability to keep that player refers to future seasons beyond the current year that player was acquired.  Given these definitions, the example provided in conjunction with rule contradicts the rule itself.

Vague and ambiguous language in a league’s constitution or written rules is interpreted for the benefit of the league member.  General Zod vs. League Commissioner, 4 F.J. 303 (November 2012); see also Pelham Bay Keeper League vs. Squatch’s Squad, 6 F.J 447, 449 (July 2014) (holding that a rule which allows a league committee to intervene and adjust a team’s lineup should not be invoked because it is vague and unclear about what specific circumstances such power is afforded); Clay Davis Youth League vs. League Commissioners, 6 F.J. 555 (September 2014) (holding that a rule preventing suspended players from being placed on IR and only permitting players ruled OUT is not specific enough to determine whether exempt or ineligible players may or may not be placed on IR).  In this case, Sorry, Eiferted should be afforded the benefit of the vagueness and ambiguity of the rule irrespective of how the rule was interpreted or enforced in the past.  The rule itself is what governs the league as opposed to the example attempting to clarify it.

It has been argued that others in the league may be prejudiced by this interpretation of the rule or have been denied the benefit in the past.  While the Court acknowledges that this may contradict how the rule was applied before, it is more important to get it correct now that the issue has been addressed.  The commissioner’s explanation that the year a player is acquired via draft, trade or free agency counts as one of the three years for keeper eligibility is incorrect.  It is recommended that the rule be clarified heading into the 2016 season to explicitly state that the three years of keeper eligibility starts tolling following the season a player is acquired (this is assuming there are no other league rules regarding the inheritance of a player’s contract through a trade).  In order to keep a player, that player must be owned in the first place.  It is paradoxical to consider the first year a player is acquired to mean that player has been kept because the GM didn’t own the player before he was acquired.

If the commissioner desires to have an example clarify the rule, it should be made clear what defines keeper eligibility and that definition should include the terms laid out above regarding the keeper clock beginning the year after a player is initially acquired.  We cannot retroactively change previous years’ results and rosters, so all that can be done right is now correct the issue at hand and ensure there is no more confusion or ambiguity.  The Court agrees with Sorry, Eiferted and ruled in his favor.

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