Making trades in fantasy football leagues is an art, not a science. It is so much more than offering X in exchange for Y. Fantasy GM’s must evaluate their own needs and seek a good trading partner who has the assets that are desired. Presumably after multiple rounds of negotiation, a deal can be struck and the trade is sent to be processed. After putting in the time and effort towards reaching a deal, the fate of the trade is often left in the hands of others.
There are three primary methods for how trades are processed in fantasy leagues: 1) all trades are automatically processed once agreed to by the parties; 2) the commissioner has the sole discretion to approve or reject the trade; or 3) the league votes on whether the trade is approved or rejected. There could be other unique methods employed to handle trades, but for the most part these are the three most common.
Fantasy GM’s should be afforded the right to manage their team according to their own preferences and strategies. Part and parcel to that is permitting them to make trades. But there are limitations to those rights since fantasy players have an obligation to operate within the rules of the league and the spirit of competition. Typically the only circumstances where the Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment will reject a trade are: 1) if the deal is made in violation of league rules; 2) if the deal is made through collusion; 3) the deal is so grossly lopsided that is has a detrimental effect on the whole league; or 4) if the deal makes absolutely no sense and/or fails to improve at least one of the team’s rosters in any capacity. Grand Theft Votto vs. That Wimpy Deer, 6 F.J. 39, 42 (April 2014).
But before we even get to evaluating whether a trade passes muster and should be approved, we must look at who is making that decision internally within the league. The Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment has a well-documented history of supporting league commissioners’ authority and discretion to be the ultimate decision-maker. Of course that is assuming the commissioner’s team is not involved in the trade itself and that he/she is adjudicating the deal objectively and within the league’s rules.
We recognize that there are many leagues that do employ a league voting method to determine the outcome of trades. It appears on its face to be a democratic process which allows all league members to participate in the administration and adjudication of the league. However, in reality, it undermines the integrity of the league and unduly inhibits fantasy players’ ability to make trades.
The human elements of fantasy football cannot be ignored. Most, if not all GM’s, play in fantasy football leagues with aspirations of succeeding. It is a competition, and if someone else makes a move that improves his/her team it could be to the detriment of their own team. It is undeniable that people have their own personal agendas and either consciously or subconsciously only consider the implications of someone else’s trade on their own team. Rather than looking objectively at a trade made by two other league members and evaluating the merits of the deal, GM’s are inclined to focus on how the deal ultimately affects their own position. Fixed Ops vs. Desert Cowboys, 5 F.J. 256, 258 (November 2013). This leads to thoughtless and improper votes on a trade that should otherwise be approved.
In most cases where league votes are employed, GM’s are not required to provide reasons behind their votes. This gives people carte blanche to filibuster a trade simply because of selfish and biased analysis without requiring them to justify their rationale. That promotes retaliation where the people whose trade has been vetoed are motivated to reject trades made by other league members. In some instances, the voting is blind so GM’s have luxury of exercising their veto power behind the curtain of anonymity. In the end, trading becomes impossible amongst teams.
Another issue with league voting is ensuring that all other GM’s actually cast their vote. There are different ways to handle this in your league settings in terms of the number of votes required for an ultimate decision (i.e., quorum, majority, unanimous, etc.). But there is nothing stopping people from abstaining when it comes time to vote on a trade. It is plausible that artificial penalties can be enforced if an owner does not vote, but that only reinforces why this process should not be utilized.
League commissioners have a thankless job with many responsibilities and obligations that often go unnoticed by his/her fellow league members. They should be entrusted with the authority and discretion to rule on trades because it provides one source and one voice for the decision-making. Commissioners should at least be afforded the benefit of the doubt that they will rule objectively, decisively and fairly when evaluating whether a trade should be approved within the specific rules and format of the league. In the unlikely event the commissioner abuses that power or faces strong opposition to a decision that is rendered, then the league can seek outside assistance from the Court.
Undoubtedly there are leagues out there that utilize a voting process and do not encounter any of the aforementioned issues. But that does change the fact that it is a flawed process. The overarching goal should be to allow free trade within the confines of the rules without undermining the integrity of the league. Allowing league members to vote on each other’s trades creates an environment of hostility, subjectivity, and utter chaos. Rule by many is akin to rule by none in a fantasy football league. That is why the trade review process should be centralized with the commissioner and voting should not be permitted.
Michael A. Stein, Esq. is the Chief Justice of Fantasy Judgment, the industry's premier dispute resolution service, and is also the co-host of the Fantasy Alarm podcast. You can contact him at email@example.com or on Facebook and Twitter (@FantasyJudgment),