Bald Eagles vs. Weasel D – 3 F.J. 205 (November 3, 2011) – fantasy football trades/collusion (Jennings/Bradshaw/Tebow)

SUPREME COURT OF FANTASY JUDGMENT

Bald Eagles vs. Weasel D 

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI FROM THE FELLAS FANTASY FOOTBALL LEAGUE 

Decided November 3, 2011

Cite as 3 F.J. 205 (November 2011)

Factual Background

The Fellas Fantasy Football League (also known as the “3FL”) has been in existence since 1999 and is comprised of ten (10) 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 3FL is a franchise keeper league where each team must retain four (4) players each off-season at no cost.  The result of this setting makes players more valuable during the season.  This is because teams with more than four keeper-caliber players will attempt to acquire whatever draft pick they can for their excess keepers.  Another net result of this arrangement is that teams who are not in playoff contention are more likely inclined to make trades during the season because teams will overpay.  This is because keeper-caliber players can be acquired cheaper during the off-season.

The 3FL is hosted on ESPN’s platform and utilizes its scoring system with the following values for offensive statistics: 6 points for a rushing or receiving touchdown, 3 points for a passing touchdown, 1 point per 10 yards rushing or receiving, 1 point per 25 yards passing, 2 points for a rushing/receiving or passing two point conversion, 3 points for a 17-39 yard field goal, 4 points for a 40-49 yard field goal, 5 points for a 50+ yard field goal, minus 1 point for an interception thrown, minus 1 point for a missed 0-39 yard field goal, and minus 3 points for missed extra points.

The 3FL is governed by a written league charter which provides the rules and guidelines for the league.  The charter is posted online and is available for all teams to read.  The language of pertinent rules and definitions with respect to the subject issue is as follows:

1.2 – Owner Responsibility

All owners are expected to run their teams in a responsible fashion. This includes but it not limited too: submitting lineups on time (no players on bye weeks or injured players), responding to commissioner inquiries, and showing active interest in the league. Owners who exhibit obvious disinterest in the league are subject to a probationary period followed by replacement, all voted upon by the other league owners and requiring a 2/3 majority (6 of the 9) votes. Owners engaged in any form of collusion are subject to immediate expulsion from the league. Collusion can be defined but not limited to, making unbalanced trades, dividing any proceeds/fees, trading assets outside of the current league parameters (i.e., Additional money or goods), or promises of future trades.

12.0 – Trades

Trading is permitted before and during the season prior to Week 12 trade deadline. Trades close at Midnight following the Week 12 Monday Night Game. Trading will re-open after the NFL’s Super Bowl.

Picking-up Players will be allowed throughout the regular season/playoffs.

12.1 – Off-Season Trades

A keeper league allows for the possibility of off-season trades. Owners are allowed to engage in off-season transactions.

12.2 – Trading Draft Picks and Keeper Spots

Trading or exchanging draft picks is allowed.

* Please note, if making a trade when the draft picks do not balance out (one for one) make sure to include your last round pick if you do not intend to give them another pick.

Teams may also trade keeper spots. Because a keeper spot is considered an asset for each team within the parameters of this league, they may be traded.

On October 19, 2011, the Silverbacks and G-khilla made a trade.  G-khilla traded Ahmad Bradshaw (RB-NYG) and Knowshon Moreno (RB-DEN) to the Silverbacks in exchange for Cadillac Williams (RB-STL), Tim Tebow (QB-DEN), the Silverbacks’ 2nd round pick in 2012, and an option to trade his 4th round pick in 2012 for either Bradshaw orMoreno during the off-season.

The league charter does not specifically say what the process is for approval or rejection of trades.  Based on some of the submissions to the Court from 3FL league members, it is inferred that there is some form of veto process that can be initiated by people who challenge the validity of a trade.  The initial deal between the Silverbacks and G-khilla went through without a challenge or veto.  However, that trade was not without its detractors.  The Swamp Ducks, another team in the 3FL, reacted to the trade with the following sentiment:

“Future picks should not be able to be traded, plain and simple.  This trade is a disgrace to the league!”

On November 2, 2011, the Bald Eagles and Weasel D made a trade.  Weasel D traded Greg Jennings (WR-GB) to the Bald Eagles in exchange for Davone Bess (WR-MIA), the Bald Eagles 3rd round pick in 2012, and an option to trade his 8th round pick in 2012 forJennings during the off-season.  This trade elicited heated opposition and was the impetus for this case submission.

Procedural History

The first trade was not vetoed and was subsequently approved.  After the second trade was made, several members of the 3FL vociferously challenged the validity of the deal between the Bald Eagles and Weasel D.  There are several factions of league members all arguing differing methods for handling this situation.  One group argues that both trades constitute collusion and should be both be rejected.  Another group argues that only the second trade is ripe with collusion and the first trade should not be considered in this dispute.  The final group argues that neither trade constitutes collusion, and that they should both be approved.

The person who authored the league charter is also the owner of the Bald Eagles, the team that acquiredJenningsin the November 2, 2011 trade.  He has testified that the intent of the “promise of future trades” language was to prevent an “I’ll scratch your back now, and you scratch mine later” scenario.  League members who oppose his trade argue that his interpretation of his own language is invalid because it is bias.

Issues Presented

(1)      Is trading future draft picks or options to trade future drafts picks considered a promise of a future trade?

(2)      Should one, both, or neither of these trades be rejected because they are collusive?

(3)      What, if any, punishment or conditions should be placed on any offending teams?

Decision

1.         IS TRADING FUTURE DRAFT PICKS OR OPTIONS TO TRADE FUTURE DRAFT PICKS CONSIDERED A PROMISE OF A FUTURE TRADE?

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 3FL’s charter specifically permits the trading of draft picks under Section 12.2 (Trading Draft Picks and Keeper Spots).  When the rules of a league are delineated in a written document, they should be adhered to unconditionally unless there are extenuating circumstances that would justify a deviation from the document.  See Justin Verlander’s School for People Who Don’t Pitch Good v. Angel Pagan Worshippers, 3 F.J. 105, 106 (August 2011).  There do not appear to be any extenuating circumstances why teams shouldn’t be permitted to trade future draft picks.  Draft picks in subsequent seasons are assets commonly bartered in keeper leagues.  Just by the very nature of a keeper league, fantasy owners must make critical decisions that affect their teams in the present and the future.  See Winners v. Seven Shades of Shite, 3 F.J. 97, 102 (July 2011) (holding that when a league owner in a keeper league no longer has any hope for contending in the current season, he/she must make a critical roster management decision of whether to trade off established players in exchange for unknown entities in building for the future).

The author of the charter stated his intent when he chose the language “promises of future trades” in his definition of collusion.  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).  The Court defines collusion as a secret agreement or conspiracy especially for fraudulent or treacherous purposes.  See Steel Curtain v. Rusty Trombones, 3 F.J. 201, 203 (November 2011).  Based on this, the Court understands the author’s intent behind his definition.  However, the Court does not agree that trading draft picks is considered a promise of a future trade.

When either of the subject trades was made, players were exchanged along with intangible assets such as future picks and options to trade.  Future picks contain unknown players at the current time, but it is a guarantee that the pick will be used at a later date to obtain a player.  The drafting of a player in the future is merely the culmination of the already agreed-to trade.  It is akin to acquiring a “player to be named later.”  There is not a separate transaction in place where more compensation is being exchanged.  As a result, trading a future draft pick is not considered a promise to make a future trade.

Likewise, the terminology of an option to trade a future draft pick does not fall within this definition either.  An option is exactly what it says it is – an option.  It is purely at the discretion of the team that acquires the option whether he/she chooses to exercise it.  The fact it is called an “option” undermines any argument in support of the contention that it is considered a promise.

The Court does acknowledge that the net result of the transaction could effectively return the player originally traded back to his original team.  This would classify the transaction as a rental for the truncated period of time one of the teams has that player.  But that is part and parcel to the strategy of a keeper league where future draft picks are as much an asset as a current player.  Based on the foregoing, the Court concludes that neither trading future drafts nor providing an option to trade future draft picks are considered promises to make future trades as defined in the league charter.

2.         SHOULD ONE, BOTH, OR NEITHER OF THESE TRADES BE REJECTED BECAUSE THEY ARE COLLUSIVE?

The first issue to address here is whether both trades should be analyzed for potential collusion.  The first trade was made on October 19, 2011 and was approved.  It is only now being challenged because of the emergence of the November 2, 2011 trade.  There is not necessarily a statute of limitations on when an issue can be brought to the Court for review.  However, each trade is, on its own, a separate cause of action.  The October 19, 2011 trade was approved by the league despite the dissent from the Swamp Ducks.  It is being lumped together with the November 2, 2011 because both trades contained the exchange of future draft picks and options to trade future picks for one of the players involved in the trade. 

The Court earlier held that trading future draft picks and options to trade future draft picks are not considered promises to make future trades.  Based on this, the October 19, 2011 trade should not be included in this analysis.  That trade itself certainly benefits the Silverbacks now with the acquisition of Bradshaw and Moreno, but G-khilla has the benefit of obtaining a 2nd round pick in the 2012 draft.  This decision is precisely what the Court described earlier in terms of the strategy employed in a keeper leagues.  Besides, Bradshaw has been spotty all season and is now dealing with a broken bone in his foot.  Moreno has never been able to sustain any success during his career.  So on its face, this trade is fair and equitable.

The Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment typically favors individual fantasy sports participants and teams’ ability to make moves, transactions, and trades.  People pay money to purchase a team in a league and have an expectation of freedom to draft and manage their team accordingly.  See 4 Ponies v. Carson City Cocks, 3 F.J. 13 (May 2011).  Whether success is bred from that individual’s decision-making is purely left to some skill, luck, dedication, and savviness.  The Court recognizes that this case is not a typical trade dispute.  Rather, it is a question of whether the trade is so inequitable and unfair that it should be overturned. 

It is important to note that the league charter’s definition of collusion includes “making unbalanced trades.”  While some trades are objectively unbalanced, it does not mean the teams that made the deal are colluding.  The Court will usually defer to the language written in the league’s charter as the guiding principle of how the rules are interpreted.  However, in this case, it would be unjust to simply conclude that an inequitable trade constitutes collusion merely because it is inequitable.  This is because the league charter also states that “Owners engaged in any form of collusion are subject to immediate expulsion from the league.”  This is a very harsh penalty with severe consequences, so the Court must intervene and ensure that no excessive actions are taken unless undoubtedly justified.

The scope of the Court’s authority is to govern and advise when there is a dispute as to the validity of trades, rulings, decisions or other issues that arise within the league.  See Silveramo v. Nation, 2 F.J. 38, 41 (October 2010) (holding that making a judgment on whether an individual did something stupid falls outside of the Court’s jurisdiction).  The Court has always held that the approval or rejection of a trade is based purely on its fairness, free from collusion, and in the best interests of the league.  See 4 Ponies v. Beaver Hunters, 3 F.J. 26, 27 (June 2011). 

Outside of financial theft or monetary deceit, there is no more serious allegation in fantasy sports than collusion.  Nothing undermines the integrity of a fantasy league more than collusive conduct.  See Team Zero v. Samcro Reaper Crew, 3 F.J. 177, 179 (October 2011).  This is because there is an unwritten and generally accepted code of conduct within the fantasy sports industry that is premised on good faith and fair dealings within leagues and amongst league members. See John Doe v. Richard Roe, 3 F.J. 197, 199 (October 2011); Going, Going, Gonzalez v. Fantasy Baseball League, 1 F.J. 29, 30 (May 2010).  When the sanctity of a fantasy league is tarnished with skepticism and speculation over everyone else’s intentions, the fun and competitiveness come to a screeching halt and the league’s fate is usually impending doom.

When presented with allegations or suspicions of collusion, the Court will look at the evidence in the light most favorable to the accused(s).  See Doe v. Roe, 3 F.J. at 199.  This is because allegations of collusion are extremely serious and have such significant repercussions on everyone involved in the league.  Here, the two teams involved in the trade are lumped together as the alleged offending parties because the allegations are made jointly against both the Bald Eagles and Weasel D.

The trade of Greg Jennings in exchange for Davone Bess, a 3rd round pick in 2012, and an option to trade an 8th round pick in 2012 back for Jennings does not look even on its face.  There is no question that the Bald Eagles got the better of trade right now because Jennings is one of the top wide receivers in all of fantasy football.  However, the analysis of what is fair value for a player in a keeper league is quite different than looking at a particular trade in a vacuum.  In a keeper league, teams that are having unsuccessful seasons are more likely to continue to pay attention and make moves that will set themselves up for better success in the following season.  See Smittydogs v. Moneyball, 1 F.J. 32, 33 (June 2010) (holding that teams can build for future success in a variety of ways, including acquiring younger talent that is not under contract within the league, or by dumping salary (assuming it is an auction league) and allowing greater financial flexibility to sign key players in the next season’s draft).  In non-keeper leagues, there is no need to plan for subsequent seasons.  Had this trade been made in a non-keeper league, the Court would ardently reject it.  Given this is a keeper league, the Court must cautiously balance the fairness of a trade with the subjective strategy of a fantasy owner.  Jennings is clearly one of the top wide receivers and overall point scorers in fantasy football.  His value far exceeds a third round pick, but Weasel D will have the option to reacquire him in the off-season.   As a result of this, the Court concludes that this trade is not so unbalanced that it should be rejected.

The Court must reiterate its definition of collusion, which is a secret agreement or conspiracy especially for fraudulent or treacherous purposes.  There is no indication that the Bald Eagles and Weasel D have any sort of arrangement in place to set one team up for success and share the proceeds at the end of the season.  It was submitted to the Court that these two league owners are in fact friends.  However, the fact that the league members are friends is not demonstrative in and of itself of collusion.  See Jetnuts v. Joker’s Wild, 2 F.J. 15, 16 (September 2010) (holding that family members should not be held under any additional scrutiny when making trades outside of evidence supporting a collusive effort). 

Inferences can be drawn from the evidence presented and the circumstances surrounding the proposed trade whether collusive conduct was present.  When looking at the totality of the circumstances, the evidence does not show any intent to defraud the league by entering into this trade.  Outside of written proof or verbal confirmation, there is no way to definitely prove the existence of such conduct.  See Tiger’s Blood v. Hulkamaniacs, 3 F.J. 58, 61 (July 2011).

3.         WHAT, IF ANY, PUNISHMENT OR CONDITIONS SHOULD BE PLACED ON ANY OFFENDING TEAMS?

Because there was no wrongdoing on anyone’s part, no punishments should be enforced on any of the teams involved in either of these trades.  However, to avoid any further ambiguity or confusion, it is recommended that the language of the league’s charter be amended to fix the definition of collusion.  Collusion requires intent and premeditation.  Merely having an unbalanced and inequitable trade does not necessarily mean that two teams are colluding.  Additionally, it is recommended that options to make future trades be prohibited.  If teams want to make subsequent trades after one is already made, they can negotiate those terms at any time.  The Court understands that being able to acquire the option to make a trade is an intangible asset and has value.  However, it does create a perception of impropriety because it is a roundabout way to balance out the fairness of a trade and essentially justify a short-term rental.

In conclusion, trading future draft picks and having the option to trade future drafts picks are not considered promises to make future trades.  As a result, their inclusion in both of the subject trades does not constitute collusion.  Both trades should be upheld as they fell within the rules as currently stated in the league charter, and justification can be provided by all teams for their reasoning behind making the trades.  Finally, no punishments should be administered to any team.  It is recommended that the 3FL league charter be amended and modified to clarify certain terms and eliminate the potential for any impropriety by narrowing the scope of what tangible and intangible assets can be traded.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

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