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Fantasy Football Etiquette -- How a Little Good Behavior Goes a Long Way
Joe Levit
July 18, 2005

A few years back my wife recommended I buy a how-to book on basic etiquette. She was hoping I’d decide to engage in an update of my dining decorum, among other improvements. Like a complete idiot, I have barely leafed through the manual, and there are certainly no dog-eared pages to indicate a particularly crucial comment, or bookmarks to prove my progress. Though I clearly may still pick up the wrong fork while eating a salad, I’d feel remiss to drop the ball when it comes to applying the same principles of protocol to fantasy football.

There was a time when I thought nothing of my manners when running a fantasy team. It seemed like boorish behavior and fantasy football went together like peanut butter and grape jam. But things changed. I got tired of reading one too many ridiculously low-ball trade offers online. I got sick of suffering a close loss while my main competition won because his opponent failed to turn in a lineup. I grew weary of that one guy who always whines about a rule change right when it would suit his circumstances.

Somewhat surprisingly, I found I am not the only fellow who wished to hang a harangue on the few owners in every league who make life more difficult for the rest of us, the collective group of guys whose shenanigans suck the life out of a pastime that often means more to most of us than life itself. So let’s put a code of conduct in place by dashing through a typical fantasy season with this list of Do’s and Don’ts.

Before the Draft

DO decide which type of league you want to join

Spend some time before the season to figure out whether you really want to commit to that keeper or dynasty league. Choose between an auction or serpentine approach to drafting. If you enroll in a league after you have an understanding of the experience and expectations involved, you will be much more likely to remain a happy member.

DON’T join too many leagues

When you pledge participation in multiple leagues, it becomes much harder to take an active role in all of them. If you are a beginner, choose one league and get your feet wet. For experienced owners, remain realistic about what you can handle. It is easy to spread yourself too thin, failing to make a lineup change in time, or purposely ignoring a team in a particular league because it is not performing well. Not only will this neglect be unfair to other owners in some leagues, it may keep you from winning because your attention is divided.

DO give everyone your contact information

This seems like such a simple request, but think about that time you wanted to offer a trade to “Phil”, who he was on vacation and you didn’t have his email address. Recall when nobody could contact “Bob” about the fact he hadn’t changed his lineup in three weeks? In order to facilitate trades, relay waiver wire transactions and convey commissioner decisions, it is essential for everyone in the league to have the full name, phone number(s), and email address of every other member.

DON’T quit on a league within a week of the draft

Remember how Ricky Williams left Miami without many options when he decided to quit football last year right before the preseason games? It wasn’t cool, and neither is the decision to leave your fellow fantasy owners in the lurch by pulling out of a league right before your draft. If you aren’t sure you want to be in a league, don’t sign up. Barring that, respect others enough to at least give them the time it takes to find a replacement for you.

For years I held a grudge against a guy who started our keeper league season in a tailspin by resigning minutes before a league draft. His decision influenced a friend of his who also quit. The league was forced to go from 12 to 10 teams, and we lost premium players expanding back to 12 the next season. It affected our league for two years. This kind of action is often grounds for a black eye.

DO pay your dues before the draft

Most fantasy football owners are willing to put their money where their mouth is – before the season starts. But when you start looking at a 3-6 season, you have a lot lower incentive to “remember to pay” the entry fee. Though it’s usually for small-time stakes, it isn’t fair for the winner to receive less than what he or she should simply because you are having a bad season, or are forgetful. You’d certainly want everyone’s ante accounted for if you came out on top.

DON’T team up with someone to cheat in a league

Fantasy football is about your ability to predict who will perform well, and when. It isn’t about making money. It’s a sad fact that some people, though a small minority, wish to try to cheat the system.

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.

DO come prepared to your draft

If you wish to simply show up with a late-breaking cheat sheet, that’s fine as far as the rest of us are concerned, but have an understanding of the league rules, and at a minimum, know which players are retired, out for the season with injuries, or in jail. There’s no excuse to try tabbing Emmitt Smith this year in drafts.

At the Draft

DO arrive on time

Look, we’ve all got things to do, so it’s pretty simple. Once you bind yourself to a particular time and date, don’t be late. If you saunter in forty minutes after the start time you had better be in the newspaper the next day as the hero saving someone from imminent harm. Otherwise, don’t be surprised at the imminent harm that is bestowed upon you.

DON’T whine about your draft position

Nobody cares if you have had the 11 th pick in the draft the last three years. It’s bad luck. There is no conspiracy to keep you out of the playoffs or to deny you your fantasy due. Besides, if you are a true player, it doesn’t matter where you start, it’s where you finish up that counts. You can get value and sleepers in nearly every round of a draft.

DO compliment owners on their outstanding picks

Unless you are planning on trying to acquire that specific player in the next few days, be open with your admiration on draft day. It’s akin to applauding after a concert or praising someone for her prize petunias. Acknowledging a fellow owner’s deft draft move won’t put you at a disadvantage.

DON’T forget who’s already been picked

When you consistently lose track of the selected players during a draft, it becomes more than just an annoyance, especially in online drafts where expressing the appropriate disdain takes time. We’ll give you one mulligan, but if you’ve requested Kerry Collins, Chris Brown and David Terrell after they have already been selected, you’re asking for some unsavory stares.

DO drink if you want to

The rest of us won’t mind!

During the Season

DON’T neglect to turn in a competitive roster

It does not matter to the rest of the league if you are 2-7 with no further prospects for the season. You had better be at least attempting to win games. If you go on autopilot, sporting a lineup that consists of three guys who are out with injuries, one who has a bye and another who is suspended for that week, you are doing everyone a disservice. A gimme game should not be what qualifies teams for the playoffs. Make them earn it.

DO have all owners vote on controversial trade proposals

This antitrust measure is meant to keep experienced owners from pillaging the roster of a novice, and to destroy predetermined monopolies created by two owners who deign to dupe the rest of the league. The commissioner should initiate these votes, and have the final say about which are deemed appropriate.

For example, if someone wants to trade Peyton Manning for Duce Staley, it may seem very unfair on the surface, unless you keep in mind that the first owner also had Donovan McNabb on his roster and just lost Tatum Bell for the rest of the season to a torn ACL. But, offers like Priest Holmes for Ben Watson should be nixed under any circumstances.

DON’T barrage owners with trade offers

It is perfectly okay to call or email everyone in the league looking to make some pacts happen, and it’s fine to propose a different deal if an owner comes back to you with a counter-offer. But it is not tolerable to harass someone into making a trade. If an owner repeatedly rebukes what you think is a bargain, then back off. At that point, if you keep suggesting the same trade, your constant advances become tantamount to stalking.

DO play by the rules

You had your chance to review the regulations. If you have a sudden beef with league policy, it’s probably because you are at a disadvantage after not reading the rules carefully enough. Live with it, and voice your angst in the off-season. If any issues arise that can’t be determined using the current system, the league commissioner will make a ruling on it. Deal with that proclamation. You chose the commissioner as an arbiter of fairness using your best judgment.

DON’T cheat as commissioner

As the person with the most power in a fantasy league, it is imperative that you take the responsibility seriously. I’ve dealt with a few commissioners who have cherry-picked the waiver wire because they had the power to determine when it was up and running. Taking advantage of an entire group of excitable people who have put their trust in you is a big no-no in fantasy football.

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. Something like “Geez Scott, if your kicker hadn’t gone Doug Brien on you, perhaps you would have come within 20 points of a victory against me!”

DON’T try to back out of a trade compact after the fact

Once the commissioner has signed off on the trade, or you have clicked the trade button online, it is a done deal. There are no prenuptial agreements in fantasy football. If you trade for Charles Rogers this year and he somehow manages to crush his new titanium clavicle, tough luck. Buck up and digest the misfortune.

After the Season

DO gloat about your championship win

If you won it, then you earned it. You would be doing no one favors by pretending it’s no big deal, smugly handing a pursed-lip smile to the other owners like Barry Sanders used to hand the ball to officials after his touchdowns.

DON’T fail to pay out league prizes

As commissioner, pay out the prizes quickly once the season is over, whether it means bestowing upon someone a trophy or handing out cold hard cash. Owners expect to be justly rewarded for their hard work – even if they took time off at their day job to get there.

DO switch commissioners

Designate a new league member to be the league referee for the following season. It passes the responsibility around, giving everyone first-hand experience about how difficult it can be to keep the league creative and fun, and how tough it is to iron out inevitable issues.