I have been playing fantasy sports for around 10 years, starting with the Daily Telegraph’s Fantasy Football League (back when Badiel and Skinner had jobs)…through many football European and World Cups…to right now, where I am currently (relatively) active in two – premierleague.com’s fantasy football and SportingNews.com’s fantasy basketball.
One thing I had never experienced, prior to yesterday, was cheating in a league. Well, cheating may be a little harsh…perhaps ‘cynical rule bending with the sole aim to guarantee an unfair advantage over your opponents’. I won’t go into the details, but it made me wonder…is there such a thing as ‘Fantasy League Etiquette?’. And if it does exist, what does it consist of?
Looking online, the vast majority of informal rules and advice for perspective fantasy managers was regarding ‘Fantasy Drafts’ – or meetings between managers (in certain types of league) where managers select players for their teams by auction (using fantasy currency) and each player can only go to one team. I have never been involved in such a draft, but I can imagine the disputes which could arise:
Manager 1: I bid $1m
Manager 2: I bid $1.01m
Manager 1: You don’t want him! You’re just trying to get me to spend more!
Manager 2: No way man, I’ve been tracking him for 4 years!
And so on. Another tactic of some managers seems to be to prey on those who have less knowledge of the sport than them (read: who actually leave nfl.com, nba.com and mlb.com for 10mins per day to take a walk outside). They will attempt unlikely trades in the hope of getting an extremely valuable player for one of their duds:
Manager 1: I’ll trade you my Shaquille O’Neal for your Lebron James
Manager 2: Erm…I’m not sure…Lebron is pretty good isn’t he?
Manager 1: Errrr no! Shaq’s got 4 championship rings! Lebron’s only been there once and he choked!
Manager 2: Ok if you say so….
So we can see that some nefarious individuals will always try to get one over on their opponents. But a draft system is not the only system of fantasy leagues, so are there any rules which span multiple formats?
Jeff Valois, at Fantasy Football Café has clearly thought this one through, and offers one bit of etiquette which I had not really considered – the responsibility of a manager to check on their team:
4. If you’re going to join a league, check your team at least periodically.
It kills a league, especially a small one, when owners lose interest and stop maintaining their teams. A full league is whittled down to three or four teams and it feels like you’re playing solitaire rather than fantasy football. It gives a huge advantage to anyone playing that team because lineups aren’t shuffled to reflect bye weeks or personnel changes. Especially approaching the playoffs, a team’s schedule strength is important. If a team on the bubble plays a non-maintained team in the last week or two of the regular season, it could make all the difference in the league.
It almost goes without saying, but keeping a league active, even if you’re not competitive any more, makes it more fun for everyone (and of course, there are always ‘mini-battles’ to win (like beating your housemates) when the ‘big prize’ has been lost).
So we have a nice league with active players…and a nice atmosphere of friendly rivalry. Friendly rivalry?!?! Give me a break. It’s trash talk time! But doesn’t talking smack about your buddies go against the etiquette of Fantasy Sports? Not according to Joe Levit, writing on IGN.com:
DO talk trash about your victories
What better way to create some serious fantasy rivalries than to revel in your blowout victories over the other fantasy owners? Braggadocio is almost a requirement of league play. This is FFL, not the No Fun League and you need not limit your jeering to mentioning how well your own players performed. It is sometimes more effective, and more rewarding, to point out how poorly the other owner’s guys fared.
I feel liberated…so a verbal assault is justified and can, of course, make a victory more sweet – but one point to remember is that anything you give, you will get tenfold when you lose! So far so good…but what if someone has found a way to cheat in the league? Levit continues:
Swindling in fantasy football can take on many forms. Perhaps an owner will purposely draft particular players while his partner in crime drafts other positions, with the idea that they will conduct outrageous trades to stack one team to win the championship. In another roster stacking arrangement, an owner may let another know when he is dropping players so his collaborator can quickly, and seemingly legally, add them to his lineup. Any of these attempts at petty theft obviously ruin the integrity of the league.
The integrity of the league. This seems, through all of the articles I have read, to be the underpinning principle of Fantasy Sports. Winning is fun, but winning unfairly? We all know that feeling. Back to Jeff Valois at Fantasy Football Café to sum up:
5. Fantasy football is about having fun. Keep it that way.
Everybody wants to win their league’s cash prize and/or trophy, snag the draft pick who ends up being the fantasy MVP, pick up the stud free agent who went untouched for four weeks, and make all the right moves to dominate the competition. Please try to keep in mind that your livelihood doesn’t, or at least we hope it doesn’t, depend on winning at fantasy football, so don’t make it seem that way. Play the game and enjoy the season.
(And if you’re banking on your winner’s check coming in the mail to make your mortgage payment, you’ve got way more problems than any list can help you with).
So play nice, or be prepared, as Thomas Moore once said, “Those who plot the destruction of others often perish in the attempt.“