The Verdict: handling constructive abandonment

Before we get into the substance of the article, I would like to clarify one thing about the title. This article is NOT about the legal term of art known as “constructive abandonment” which applies in family law where one spouse refuses to engage in sexual relations with the other spouse for at least one year. Perhaps that scenario applies to some people because of the amount of time we spend on our fantasy baseball teams, but that is a topic for another day. Rather, I am using the term constructive abandonment in the context of a fantasy baseball league member and his participation.

It is every fantasy player’s responsibility to set rosters and lineups in a timely manner and comport with the league’s permissible minimum and maximum requirements. In this age of technology, people can access their teams and make necessary maneuvers from almost anywhere in the world using the Internet, smartphones, and tablets. Granted, there are extenuating circumstances that would excuse someone from being able to do so. Without getting into specifics, let’s just say that some things in life are more important than fantasy baseball (as hard as that is to admit). Typically the commissioner and fellow league members would understand such a situation and extend leniency.

Unfortunately, many leagues are littered with individuals who do not have valid excuses for missing deadlines. Such recalcitrant owners are not always easy to spot, especially in leagues that are composed of friends, family members, colleagues, and acquaintances. The dilemma for commissioners is determining when enough is enough and then deciding how to handle a situation when a league member fails to submit a legal lineup so often that it undermines the integrity of the league.

In most fantasy baseball platforms, commissioners can select an automatic disqualification or penalty for teams that have illegal or incomplete rosters and lineups. This is more applicable for head to head leagues, where wins and losses are determined on a weekly or periodic basis. Electing such a setting clearly places all league members on notice that there are penalties in place for such actions. It is advisable to include such a procedure within a league’s constitution (if one exists) or at least in writing to the entire league before the season begins.

Before we get into what solutions can be offered, we must discuss the unenviable task that commissioners face when there are shades of gray in determining whether to take action. As stated before, sometimes life gets in the way of fantasy baseball. That is understandable. There are also instances where someone will have the courtesy to provide advance notice of an issue, or at least acknowledge such malfeasance as soon as practicable afterwards. This is excusable as well. But when a league member needs to be reminded or encouraged to set his lineup or bring his roster in conformity with the rules, then we may have a problem.

Generally, everyone should be entitled to one mulligan. People aren’t perfect and sometimes we forget to take care of all of our responsibilities, including setting a fantasy baseball lineup. On the first occasion of malfeasance, the commissioner should issue a warning to the offending league member. If it happens a second time, the commissioner must heighten the scrutiny and publicly announce that the offending league member is risking expulsion or some other form of serious penalty for the next offense. If it happens a third time, the commissioner should take swift and decisive action. Keep in mind, the commissioner would be well within his discretion to act this decisively on a first or second offense if he is given the authority within the league’s rules or if he lays out his intentions from the outset.

If expulsion is the decided course of action, the commissioner must decide how to proceed. First of all, the offending league member should not be reimbursed his entry fee or any other fees that have been paid. Unless something tragic happened and a person had to pull out of the league on his own accord, refunds are not part of the game. The commissioner can then seek to replace that team with a new owner and proceed from that point on in the season.

Another option could be to retroactively change the league schedule and set a “bye” in lieu of the expelled team. This would place everyone else on even ground in terms of when he was the opponent. As for that team’s roster, those players could be released into the free agent pool or there could be a redraft of those players based on various criteria such as reverse order of standings or a random lottery. That would be up to the commissioner or set to a league vote.

There is not one foolproof way to prevent something like this, nor is there one perfect method in handling such a situation. But it is something that all leagues should be cognizant of because it can happen to anyone. The most important thing to remember is that the integrity of the league must be maintained in the best interests to all participating teams. Each instance of a recalcitrant league member would need to be evaluated on a case by case basis, but these are some general guidelines you can refer to if this situation presents itself in your league.

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I once played in a public league where one guy didn’t just abandon his team, he basically trolled the league. He took exactly one action as manager after the auction (which he missed): he moved every one of his players to the bench. So he did not even accidentally accrue stats for the season.

As annoying as it was, I admired his commitment. It was team abandonment raised to the level of performance art.