COURT OF FANTASY FOOTBALL
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Index No. 5105
Date: December 14, 2009
League Type: Fantasy Football
Dispute: Injured Reserve Rules
Authoring Judge: Marc Edelman
Concurred By: Stuart Shiffman
COMMISSIONER’S RULING UPHELD
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The plaintiff in this case, the Double D Fantasy Football Team (“Double Ds), has asked the SportsJudge.com Court of Fantasy Football to resolve the league’s fantasy football dispute and overrule Commissioner Nelson’s ruling that kicker John Carney is ineligible for injured reserve status pursuant to the league’s “OUT Rule.”
The basis for the court’s ruling is that John Carney is not injured, but rather inactive due to what Carney’s real-life coach perceives as poor on-the-field performance. Demotion for poor on-the-field performance is not grounds for an injury replacement based on the clear reading of the league rule, nor was it necessarily one that the parties would have included within the scope of the rule had the issue been broached.
In addition, even if the rule is in some ways harsh, it was the rule to which the fantasy football league members had accepted, and a rule that teams had the opportunity to consider in setting their late season rosters (for example, The Take Down Fantasy Team carried two kickers for probably that reason). It is a rule that Double Ds should have considered more carefully when choosing not to select a backup kicker for the playoffs, even though each team is allotted a generous seven reserve slots.
A. The League Rules
Commissioner Ken Nelson has overseen his fantasy football league for the past 15 years. The league runs on a blind pickup system, in which each week teams submit bids for free-agent players. The teams that submit the highest bid gain rights to that player.
To prevent collusion risks, this league ends its regular free agent signing process after week 12, with rosters generally frozen at that point. However, the league maintains a limited exception to the free-agent freeze rule, which applies when a player on one of the teams’ rosters is injured and thus certain not to play. Under this rule, a team with an injured player may place that player on injured reserve (“IR”) and replace that player with another on that player’s same NFL team if that player is listed as “OUT” by ESPN, Sportsline, Huddle.com or Rotoworld.com. Thus, these four sources serve as the exclusive means of information about player status, and a listing of “OUT” is the only basis for initially moving a player to IR.
In addition, the rules for picking up an “emergency player” to replace an IR player after week 12 state as follows:
Your player must be listed as OUT as of each Thursday. THIS MEANS THAT IF YOUR PLAYER IS DOUBFUL ON THURSDAY THEN IS LISTED AS OUT ON FRIDAY - YOU'RE [OUT OF LUCK]
Further, once a player is placed on IR pursuant to these rules, the rules become somewhat more lenient on keeping the player on IR. According to the rules “[i]f a player’s status is moved from OUT to doubtful or inactive the next week - you can still keep them on IR - but if they PLAY - you will lose that player and get a ZERO for their position … YOU MUST EMAIL THE COMMISH ON THURSDAY OF THIS.”
B. The Fantasy Football League Dispute
The most recent dispute in this fantasy football league involves the issue of whether the Double Ds may replace kicker John Carney subsequent to week 12 in the season pursuant to the league “OUT” rule. What makes this proposal controversial is that John Carney was not in fact injured nor listed as “OUT” on any of the four approved websites. Rather, for each of the past two weeks Carney was designated as “inactive” 15 minutes before kickoff. This means Carney was one of the eight players on the Saints’ 53-player roster who was designated by his coach not to make the team’s starting lineup that week.
Upon reviewing this matter, Commissioner Nelson ruled that Carney was ineligible for replacement because “[a]lthough not explicitly stated in the rules, but certainly implied - IR moves and emergency pickups are set up for players Injured.” Commissioner Nelson went on to recognize that in his view this was “a fluke with regard to kickers” but not necessarily something leading to a need to change the league rules.
Thereafter, Double D’s put forth an extremely thoughtful and well-written brief, seeking to appeal on three separate grounds: (1) league rules are ambiguous on IR moves, internally inconsistent and unenforceable based on their spirit and intent; (2) the emergency pickup rule was intended to protect teams such as Double D from an “unforeseen event,” and (3) even under the literal interpretation of the rules, the IR move should be allowed because Carney was inactive for the prior week’s game.
A. General Ruling
While recognizing the language in the league constitution is at times imperfect, this court upholds Commissioner Nelson’s ruling, agreeing that the plain meaning of the league rule limits the emergency pickup to a player who has been listed as “OUT” by one of the four approved websites. See Commissioner Mike D. v. Sweaty Baseballs, Index No. 3466-C (June 9, 2009); see also Hermann’s Head v. Commissioner of Yale Football League, Index No. 247 (Sept. 1, 2006) (noting that clear language in league constitution trumps all other considerations).
The rule does not even allow moving to IR a player who is listed as doubtful. Indeed, the league constitution states in no uncertain terms that “THIS MEANS THAT IF YOUR PLAYER IS DOUBFUL ON THURSDAY THEN IS LISTED AS OUT ON FRIDAY - YOU'RE [OUT OF LUCK]” (emphasis provided). Thus, it is clear the rule was contemplated to be both narrow and specific in scope, and hence should be applied as clearly written.
In addition, this court believes that even Commissioner Nelson gave too much importance to this matter by noting it as “a fluke with regard to kickers.” While John Carney may be the first discussed fantasy player demoted from starter to inactive for reasons other than health issues, this same problem could plague a team such as Beetle who is not carrying a backup quarterback to Aaron Rodgers, especially if a late-season Packers game proves meaningless in the season.
Recognizing the possibility of a healthy player being deemed inactive at any time, a properly prudent owner would have used his seven reserve slots to carry a backup at every position. Indeed, the team Take Down properly hedged for this risk at kicker by carrying two at that position. It would be unfair to a team like Take Down who properly hedged all positions at the risk of depth at wide receiver, running back or defense to now compensate a team that chose not to hedge.
B. Double Ds Defenses
While Double D’s defenses are each interesting and extraordinarily well presented, none overrides the clear language of the league rule, even where the language of the league rule is at times imperfect.
First, this court rejects the contention that the league rules are ambiguous on the issue of whether a non-injured player is eligible for IR status, and finds the issue of whether the rules are ambiguous in other areas entirely irrelevant for purposes of this dispute. While it may be true that official injury reports are not released until Friday thus making it a plausible argument that no player is ever eligible for IR status, this matter is particularly about the IR status of a non-injured player and not when official injury reports are released. The court will not get lost in that red herring analysis. Moreover, according to league rules, “OUT” status is determined by four chosen websites and night by the league’s official injury report per se. Thus, it is possible a website may deem a player “OUT” even if the official injury report has not yet done so.
Second, based on the clear reading of the league OUT rule, there is no reason to believe the rule was intended to cover any type of unforeseeable event. Rather, the rule seems intended only to cover a single type of unforeseeable event—an injury that occurs prior to Friday. While this may not seem logical to Double Ds, there is certainly an argument that demotion for poor play is more foreseeable than an injury. Indeed, with respect to Carney, various websites including Rotowire had been warning for weeks that would potentially lose his starting job due to inconsistent kicking. Thus, one could make a stronger argument that Double Ds should have hedged Carney by signing a backup kicker than that a team should have hedged a player who was performing well but injured during a game.
Finally, Double Ds argues that even under the literal interpretation of the rules, the IR move should be allowed because Carney was inactive for the prior week’s game. While this court finds this reason to be the most compelling grounds of the three, the problem with this reasoning is that the rules, as written, do not allow a player that was inactive in a given week to be placed on IR for the following week. Rather the rules only mention the term “inactive” in one place, where they state as follows:
If a player's status is moved from OUT to doubtful or inactive the next week - you can still keep them on IR - but if they PLAY - you will lose that player and get a ZERO for their position
In this context, the court believes inactive status is relevant only for “keep[ing]” a player on IR that is already on IR, and not placing the player on IR in the first place. However, if Double Ds is able to present evidence that the court in the past has allowed inactive status in a prior week as a basis for placing a player on IR, the court would be willing to reconsider this aspect of our ruling based upon this practice.
For the foregoing reasons, unless Double Ds can present irrefutable evidence of Commissioner Nelson allowing a team in the past to place a player on IR (rather than keep a player on the IR) based entirely on the player’s inactive status from the previous week, Commissioner Nelson’s ruling shall stand and Double D may not pickup a replacement kicker for John Carney.
It is so ordered.