George vs. League Commissioner – 4 F.J. 294 (October 26, 2012) – Fantasy Football Trades of Waiver Spots

SUPREME COURT OF FANTASY JUDGMENT

George vs. League Commissioner

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI FROM
THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN

Decided October 26, 2012
Cite as 4 F.J. 294 (October 2012)

Factual Background

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 in August 2012. 

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 in the form of a constitution.   The relevant rules pertaining to this case are as follows:

5.  TRADES  

5.1 All trades are subject to commissioner approval. Trades involving the commissioner require approval of the deputy commissioner and trades between the commissioner and the deputy commissioner must be approved by Ike.

5.2 Trades will be approved unless collusion is suspected or the commissioner deems that the trade could upset the competitive balance of the league (taking into consideration a comparison of the statistics between the players involved in the trade, the roster needs of both teams, consideration of where both teams are in the standings, etc.) Collusion is defined as “an agreement between two or more teams with fraudulent intent to benefit from undermining the rules”. The commissioner has the authority to reverse trades where he believes collusion has occurred. If a member of the league feels that collusion has occurred involving the commissioner they may make an appeal to The Fantasy Judge.

5.5  Trades must be completed with all players changing teams at the same time (e.g., it is not acceptable to keep a player until after he plays an additional week for his current team).

5.7  Trades of draft picks and/or draft position are permitted only during the off season. Trading during the draft is permitted. Any trading of draft picks must be submitted to the commissioner for approval.

8.  FANTASY JUDGE

8.1  Any league member that wishes to dispute a commissioner ruling may do so by requesting that their case be brought in front of The Fantasy Judge. Both sides will present their arguments and the Fantasy Judge will issue a final ruling. Each team will be allowed an unlimited number of challenges until they lose three that were initiated by them in one season, at which point they will no longer be allowed to dispute a commissioner’s ruling. All challenges to the judge must go through the commissioner.

On October 25, 2012, a trade was made between George and Iceman.  George traded Rashard Mendenhall (RB-PIT) and the 4th waiver wire position to Iceman in exchange for the 1st waiver wire position. 

Procedural History

The trade was consummated properly utilizing the league’s website and was subsequently vetoed by the league commissioner.  The commissioner determined that only receiving a waiver wire pick in exchange for an actual player constituted future consideration which is prohibited according to the league’s rules.  George has appealed the commissioner’s ruling and seeks intervention from the Court.

Issue Presented

(1)   Was the trade of Rashard Mendenhall in exchange for the first waiver position properly rejected?

Decision

The first issue that must be cleared up is the fact that the LOEG commissioner informed the Court that the league’s previous trade involving Ben Roethlisberger in exchange for Rashad Jennings was not reported accurately.  See Evil Empire vs. George, 4 F.J. 289 (October 2012).  The case submission intimated that Jennings was already obtained via waiver acquisition and was subsequently being traded for Roethlisberger.  However, it has now come to the Court’s attention that the deal involved the rights for the first waiver position which ultimately ended up being Jennings.  Had this been known to the Court at the time, the decision to approve the trade may have been different based on it not involving an actual player.  However, the Court can only issue its rulings based on information known at the time.  As a result, the decision in that case stands and will not be reversed.

It is well established that the Court strongly advocates that commissioners employ a written constitution or charter to govern their fantasy sports leagues. John Doe vs. Fantasy Football League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 21, 22 (October 2010).  One of the primary reasons is because all league members are made aware of the rules and guidelines in place that govern the administration and function of the fantasy league.  This gives league members actual notice of the rules and shifts the burden onto them to adhere to the rules that are delineated.  Shawn Kemp is My Daddy vs. Fantasy Basketball League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 24, 25 (October 2010). 

The LOEG’s constitution grants all league members the ability to make trades with each other.  People pay money to participate in fantasy leagues, and generally they should be afforded the freedom to manage their team accordingly.  Whether success is bred from that individual’s decision-making is purely left to some skill, luck, dedication, and savviness.  See 4 Ponies vs. Carson City Cocks, 3 F.J. 13 (May 2011).

In the present case, another trade has been made involving waiver spots which amounts to the right to acquire a player.  The LOEG commissioner confirmed that he has approved trades like this over the years.  The LOEG constitution is, at worst silent, and, at best vague, about whether trading waiver positions is permissible.  In instances such as this, league commissioners have the authority and discretion to make decisions so long as they are in the best interests of the league.  George vs. LOEG Commissioner, 2 F.J. 42, 44 (October 2010).  In the rules cited above with respect to making trades, there is no specific provision which either allows or prohibits the exchange of waiver positions.  There is a specific preclusion of the ability to trade draft picks and draft positions during the season.  These are commonly referred to as intangible assets because they represent the right to acquire a player in the future.  It is clear that trading future considerations is prohibited in the LOEG.  The issue that must be settled here is whether waiver positions are intangible assets or can be considered a player for the purposes of making a trade.

The ability to trade a player in a fantasy league hinges on the ability of a team to control or own that player in the first place.  If a player is not currently on a team’s roster, then he does not have possession of that player or the ability to control any transactions he is involved in.  See PrimeTime vs. The Swani, 4 F.J. 220, 223 (August 2012) (holding that a team cannot be accused of colluding to trade a player he never actually drafted or owned).

One of the arguments presented by the LOEG commissioner regarding the Rashad Jennings trade which was the subject of Evil Empire vs. George was the fact that Jennings was the unanimous choice for the first waiver acquisition.  As a result, he was able to place a value on the intangible asset known as the first waiver position.  This reasoning is flawed.  While Jennings may have objectively been considered the best available free agent on the waiver wire at the time, it does not mean that we can unequivocally guarantee that he would be the first player chosen through waivers.  Perhaps a team had enough depth at running back and needed a player at another position more than he needed Jennings.  The point is that we cannot ultimately conclude that Jennings was guaranteed to be the first pick. 

This also served as the LOEG commissioner’s distinction between his approval of that trade and the rejection of this trade.  He argued that he could place a value on Jennings under the assumption he was the de facto first waiver pick.  In the subject trade, waivers will not run again until Week 9 and there is no way to predict or evaluate who will be available at that time.  In fact, there is no guarantee that George would have ever used the waiver spot at all depending on how things eventually unfold.  As a result, he could not evaluate the value of the first waiver position in the Mendenhall trade.

The Court understands the distinction the commissioner made and agrees with the decision to reject the Mendenhall trade.  However, the problem lies in the fact that the commissioner has previously approved trades involving waiver picks in the past.  Because the commissioner has the authority to make decisions when the league constitution is silent or vague, he also has the right to change his mind so long as his deviation from past precedent is justified and rational.  Machine vs. League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 1 (September 2010). 

To assist the LOEG commissioner in making this decision, the Court can draw inferences from the rules even when the league constitution is silent or vague.  See Jersey Shore GTL vs. Professional Amateurs, 3 F.J. 1 (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).  Because the LOEG is a non-keeper league, trading draft picks or draft positions is only permissible during the offseason.  This makes sense.  The Court can reasonably conclude that there is intent to prevent the current season from influencing future seasons.  Overall, there appears to be a strict prohibition of trading future considerations within the league.  This has been confirmed by the commissioner.

In addition, Rule 5.5 expressly states that “Trades must be completed with all players changing teams at the same time (e.g., it is not acceptable to keep a player until after he plays an additional week for his current team).”  The constitution does not provide a definition of what a “player” is.  However, the Court can reasonably conclude that a waiver position is not a player, but rather it is the right to acquire a player at a later time. Furthermore, this rule requires that the players involved in the trade must change teams immediately.  This cannot be complied with if a deal involves a waiver position which cannot be executed until the next scoring period.  It is true that the intangible asset of a waiver spot is being exchanged, but the player to be selected will not be acquired immediately.  This is in clear violation of the rule.

The pervading argument against the commissioner’s decision is that he has allowed trades like this in the past.  The Court concedes that point.  However, because the constitution is ambiguous, the commissioner has the discretion to make these decisions and ultimately change his mind if he feels it is in the best interests of the league.  This does not mean that a commissioner should be able to flip flop and arbitrarily pick and choose which trades to approve.  What this means is that a league commissioner is not eternally bound by past precedent when there is valid justification for amending his position.  If he is going to do so, he should provide a thorough explanation for this departure from precedent and lay a firm foundation going forward.

Based on the foregoing, the Court upholds the commissioner’s rejection of the Rashard Mendenhall trade which also involved the swap of waiver positions.  The Court recommends that the LOEG commissioner provide a thorough explanation on why this trade was rejected and is distinctive from previous trades of waiver picks that were approved.  The Court also recommends that the league prohibit trades involving waiver spots for the remainder of the season to avoid any further uncertainty and ambiguity.  During the offseason, the commissioner can revise and amend the league constitution to clarify this issue going forward.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

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