The Court Reporter – November 6, 2015
The Court is presented with several cases every week, most of which are trades. Most trades that get submitted for review simply require an evaluation of whether the compensation being exchanged is fair and equitable. However, every so often a trade acts as an onion and several layers need to be peeled when there are allegations of collusion.
A 14-team fantasy football keeper league in its 10th year of existence submitted a case where two teams made the following trade: Tom Brady (QB-NE) in exchange for a 3rd, 4th and 5th round draft pick in 2016. That in and of itself seems harmless enough and would be approved. However, it was revealed that the two teams also had an agreement in place where Tom Brady would be traded back to the original team after the season in exchange for that same 5th round draft pick. The rationale behind this arrangement made sense from both teams’ perspectives in terms of aligning with the dichotomy of keeper league trades. Additionally, there were no rules within the league’s settings or constitution that prevented such an arrangement. This was challenged by a league member arguing that it constituted collusion. Another league member requested that his game the previous week against one of these owners be forfeited because of the purported illegal arrangement. There were also sanctions imposed against the two trading partners.
Allegations of collusion are not taken lightly as few other things can undermine the integrity of a league to such an extreme degree. Collusion is defined as a secret agreement or conspiracy especially for fraudulent or treacherous purposes. See Steel Curtain vs. Rusty Trombones, 3 F.J. 201, 203 (November 2011) (holding that a secret agreement between teams to use the first waiver position as a means to move a player to another team further down the list was collusive because its purpose was to circumvent the established rules). It cannot be stressed enough how serious an issue it is to allow teams to make individual agreements with each other to circumvent the rules for personal benefit. See John Doe vs. Richard Roe, 3. F.J. 197, 200 (October 2011). What we have here is an apparent agreement between two teams to essentially rent Tom Brady for the rest of the 2015 season and then trade him back for 2016. It is claimed that this arrangement was not disclosed when the initial trade was made sending Tom Brady in exchange for a 3rd, 4th and 5th round draft pick. The record is devoid of any information on how or when this arrangement was eventually discovered, but it is irrelevant either way.
It is conceded that there are no rules in the league which prohibit trading a player for draft picks and then re-acquiring the same player at the end of the year or in advance of the following season. Normally this type of arrangement takes place during the season where two teams trade players and then trade them back in short order. This is called a “tradeback” which is defined as a deal made between two teams whereby a player is returned directly to the team that previously traded him from the team he was directly traded to. Nub Vader vs. 4 Ponies, 4 F.J. 233, 235 (September 2012). These could be precluded if a league’s rules specifically prohibit them.
Since there are no rules prohibiting an arrangement between two teams to rent a player for draft picks, there cannot be collusion. That is not to say these two teams did not take advantage of the omission of such rules. If there is concern amongst league members that this could create a slippery slope and promote such transactions, then we recommend the commissioner implement rules for next year prohibiting such activity. We do not endorse changing rules in the middle of a season. In addition, we recognize a commissioner does possess autonomy and discretion to handle issues of first impression that fall outside the purview of the league’s rules. But in this case, the two trading partners did not violate any rules as none were in place prohibiting such an arrangement. The trade itself of Tom Brady in exchange for a 3rd, 4th and 5th round draft picks is fair and equitable in terms of analysis within a keeper league. Brady is an elite quarterback and warrants a significant enough return. These three draft picks represent sufficient compensation in terms of future value for a team that has conceded the current season.
Given that the underlying trade was fair and equitable coupled with the fact that there are no rules in place preventing the essential renting of a player, we cannot conclude that there was any collusive activity in place between these two teams in an attempt to circumvent the rules. It is also not recommended to sanction the two teams or forfeit any previous games. The trade was accepted when submitted and there is no requirement that teams disclose any future plans or intentions with respect to the players or draft picks being required. If the league seeks to prevent such activity from taking place, it should amend the rules for 2016. The trade should stand and sanctions should be lifted..