The Verdict: Collusion – if it quacks like a duck…

Generally speaking, people play fantasy baseball for fun. Sure there is an opportunity for financial gain and bragging rights through the competitive nature of the activity. But the reason most people play fantasy baseball is for the enjoyment it brings as an extension of the love of baseball and the desire to interact collectively with friends, family, colleagues, peers and complete strangers.

As we all know, fantasy sports has become an extremely profitable industry and affords many opportunities for people to earn significant money. But deep down, the most passionate fantasy baseball players participate in leagues because they enjoy it, regardless of whether the league costs $0, $25, $100, or $1000.

Irrespective of whether your league is governed by a constitution or other written set of rules, I have argued that there is a generally accepted code of conduct that all fantasy players should adhere to with respect to playing in good faith and fair dealings in the spirit of competition. There should be a mutual respect afforded amongst fantasy players when it comes to interactions within a league. I realize that this sounds a bit idealistic and may even be unrealistic in certain circumstances. However, it is absolutely necessary in order for leagues to be sustainable from year to year.

There are myriad disputes that can arise within a fantasy baseball league, including unfair trades, improper rule interpretations, abuse of discretion by a commissioner, etc. Of course, dealing with the collection and distribution of league money will always be the most contentious issue there is because that could have real legal implications.

In terms of the day-to-day administration and functioning of a league, there is no more serious offense than collusion. Unfortunately, collusion is not easily discernible outside of written proof. But there are telling signs that can indicate it exists. You and your league members should know how to handle those situations, because if ignored, it could completely undermine the integrity of the whole league.

The Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment defines collusion as “a secret agreement or conspiracy, especially for fraudulent or treacherous purposes.” Collusion requires the involvement of two or more people with the collective intent to benefit from circumventing the rules. Collusion can manifest itself in many forms, but there are two particular scenarios that are most common in fantasy baseball leagues.

The first scenario involves two or more teams orchestrating an inequitable trade to stack one team’s roster in an effort to bolster their chance of winning prize money. In return, the money would be shared with the co-conspirator(s). The second scenario also involves roster stacking where two teams manipulate the waiver priority list so that one team drops a player that would normally not be dropped in order to let another team have the first opportunity to add him as a free agent. Granted, each case must be looked at individually taking into account all of the circumstances. Not all scenarios with these fact patterns are collusion. But if things like this are happening in your league, you may want to investigate further.

People in fantasy baseball leagues attempt to make uneven trades all the time. In keeper leagues, trades that are facially uneven may be approved because of the very nature of keeper leagues where people opt to sell high priced talent in an effort to build for the future. The criteria used to analyze the fairness of trades in a keeper league is different than that of a non-keeper league. Thus, not all uneven or inequitable trades are indicative of collusion. There must be something else inherently illicit going on between multiple teams.

It is quite rare that a league commissioner or anyone else would be able to prove that collusion exists. On a personal note, I actually did obtain proof of a team attempting to collude in one of my fantasy baseball leagues back in 2002. A league member was trying to solicit “partners” in the league by agreeing to make questionable trades in exchange for monetary gain. Unfortunately for him, he made these solicitations on AOL instant messenger, and the other league members were honest and noble people.

They rejected the overtures and sent me copies of the IM conversations so I had proof of what was going on. Once this was discovered, I ruled that the colluding team was prohibited from making any more trades during the season. If he won prize money, he would still be entitled to it. But he was immediately removed from the league after the season was over. Did I handle it the right way? Perhaps, but that is open for debate. I did what I felt was best for the league at the time.

Because obtaining actual proof of collusion is unlikely, you need to dig deeper to find out what, if anything, may be happening between the suspected league members. A closer look at the personal relationship between the league members is a good start. However, the fact that two people engaging in a questionable trade are either friends or family members is not demonstrative in and of itself that there is collusion.

It is helpful to know how each of the league members know each other and what their relationships are with the commissioner, who in all likelihood was the common denominator in bringing them into the league in the first place. You should also look at the trade history of the suspected members, if any exist. In addition, you should consider each team’s place in the standings and their patterns of roster management and transactions.

But remember, before casting aspersions and accusations against anyone, you should have a solid basis for your suspicion. When the Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment analyzes cases involving suspected collusion, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the accused. This is because an act of collusion is one of the most serious fantasy sports crimes that can be committed.

Without actual proof, we must look at the totality of the circumstances in order to determine whether it is more likely than not that there is collusive conduct. Collusion can exist in many forms, some of which are not overtly offensive to the league. But the mere act of conspiring to evade the rules in order to receive a benefit of any kind should never be tolerated. If you suspect teams in your league are colluding, bring it to the league commissioner’s attention and seek intervention.

The fact is that it is virtually impossible to prevent collusion. You can’t necessarily stop or prevent two people from attempting to collude. The best thing you can do is be aware of what is going on in your league and consult with the commissioner if you are suspicious. It would be equally as offensive if you unjustly accuse innocent people of collusion, so you want to be sure you have your facts and evidence in order before taking the next step.

If the commissioner agrees that there is evidence of collusion, then he should take action by undoing whatever trades or transactions were made, preventing further moves between the teams from being made, and making an instant decision on the future status of these teams in the league.

A comparative study on an unwritten rule of baseball.

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