Commish HQ: A Commissioner Quits - The Alex Letter
The “Alex Letter” showed up on the sports site, Deadspin, in 2014. It’s a letter from a fantasy commissioner, named Alex, that he sent to the members of his league. There are a number of lessons we fantasy commissioners can learn from this tale. The same holds true for folks who play in fantasy leagues as well. Let’s jump right in.
When I first started this league I thought it was going to be a blast. I invited 11 of my friends to play fantasy football with me an activity I quite enjoyed. That is no longer the case. Over the last 13 weeks or so I have endured a myriad of unforeseen but utterly preventable problems. The list includes: 3 attempted briberies, 2 calls for my resignation, 1 call for my impeachment, 3 separate people questioning my friendship and integrity, countless of you coming to my work to complain about the league, and 1 obvious count of collusion. This all reached a boiling point over this last week when two of our owners contrived a plan in order to improve one team (via a lopsided trade) just so the other owner could get into the trade pool. When I asked the two about the trade they told me that if I did not put the trade through they wanted their money back. As I had not received any complaints from other owners I allowed the trade. After that however I received a slew of complaints from other owners. I am going to reverse this trade, that decision is final. Now before all of you get up in arms I would like to remind you of one very important point. This is just fantasy football. We are playing for $300 which is nothing to sneeze at but come on is it really important enough to cheat out your friends and colleagues? I must be the poorest and youngest of all you and I make that in two days work. You people are all out of your f—— minds. I cannot explain how utterly miserable this year of fantasy football has been. I considered all of you to be friends and people that I cared about but apparently the lure of $300 is too great and nothing like friendship or decency could get in the way. Needless to say this will be my first and last year as your commissioner. I will be withdrawing my name from the trade pool. As the playoffs are starting next week there will be no more trade. I have drawn for the pool and Ike, you win, congratulations. I would also like to use this time to let those of you who care know that I will not be in the golf league next year. I'm sure you're all broken up about this. If anyone has any questions or complaints go ahead and write them on a piece of paper, find a nice envelope, and shove it up your ass. Best of luck in the playoffs.
If you were Alex, what would you have done in this situation?
First, he said that he invited 11 of his friends. He mentions the idea being with his friends twice in the letter:
When I first started this league I thought it was going to be a blast. I invited 11 of my friends to play fantasy football with me an activity I quite enjoyed.
… then later
I considered all of you to be friends and people that I cared about but apparently the lure of $300 is too great and nothing like friendship or decency could get in the way.
I’ve said it many times, money will change folks. Or, rather, money can reveal people for who they really are. Frankly, it doesn’t sound like these folks were his friends. But it’s funny, I’ve been fielding questions and offering fantasy league advice for many years now, and time and time again, the worst drama tends to come from the folks closest to you.
For example, a common scenario when trying to collect league dues from a friend or family member, goes a little something like this: a commissioner’s best bud will ask if they can pay their league dues late. They feel they can ask for this favor because, you know, they’re best buddies. Later, two months into the season, when they haven’t paid and the commissioner asks for the money, best bud gets mad at them. Claims of harassment get tossed about. How could they treat their friend that way?! Guess who often ends up paying the prize money out of their own pocket at the end of the season?
It seems this was the very first season for Alex and his league. It sounds like Alex expected the other 11 league members to act a certain way because he considered them to be his “friends and colleagues.” When you start a league, of course, visions of unicorns wearing the jersey of your favorite team, dancing on clouds may fill your fantasy dreams. You may have expectations that everyone else feels the same way you do. What if they’re not into unicorns like that? All joking aside, the reality is, competition alone, sometimes brings out the worst in people. When you add money to the mix, things can get toxic real quickly.
I would suggest to any person looking to start their own league to not automatically expect family and friends - to act like family and friends - especially when money is involved. Temper those sentimental thoughts. Sit back and watch. You may witness the transformation of people you thought you knew really well into something quite ugly. You may have to sort out the bad apples. Time will reveal who you can trust, and who you can’t trust. You may be surprised who turns out to be the ones who just want to win even if they use scorch and burn tactics to do it, with full disregard of their personal relationships with others in the league.
Further, rules are created to protect the league. The commissioner has to be willing to apply them, no matter what, even if they don’t necessarily agree with a particular rule itself. Which brings us to what Alex referred to as the “boiling point.”
I don’t believe in league members having the right to veto trades. That right belongs to the commissioner. Trades are only rejected if there’s a case of collusion. In Alex’s story, the trade was lopsided, but not because that’s how it worked out, or because one guy was a newbie. No, the trade was worked out so that one player could gain an advantage, and his buddy conspired to help them do it. This was a case of collusion. They admitted it. Not only does a trade like that get rejected, it’s also grounds for expulsion, not …
When I asked the two about the trade they told me that if I did not put the trade through they wanted their money back. As I had not received an complaints from other owners I allowed the trade.
That’s where Alex made his biggest mistake. He knew there was an act of of collusion. He knew he shouldn’t let the trade go through, but deferred to the reaction, in this case, the lack of reaction from the rest of the league. Maybe the other league members thought Alex would take care of it so they said nothing. But, when he let the trade go through, and the rest of the league decided to speak up, the damage was already done. It should not have mattered whether the rest of the league spoke up or not. Did Alex let the trade go through to avoid discomfort with the two fantasy hooligans? Probably. He knew the right thing to do from the start. He identified collusion, but chose not to act on it. He chose to avoid conflict, or so he thought.
If Alex had come to me for advice, I would’ve reminded him that the other members should be able to trust him to do the right thing, to lead, be the commissioner. No matter how difficult the other guys were potentially going to be, he had to do what he knew was right. Heavy the head that wears the crown, eh?
To me Alex had two options:
1) Freeze the respective rosters of the two before he spoke to them. He could then remove them from the league, and give them their money back. That would be the best move to avoid nonsense.
There would be nothing left to say. The two would get their money, and would be out the league. Done. They couldn’t do further damage like dumping all their players, or making egregious trades with other people just to disrupt things before they left.
2) He could reverse the trade, freeze the rosters, refuse to give them their money back, and kick them out. This would probably create a bunch of man-drama with chest puffing and the-proving-of-the-manhood which usually ends badly.
In either case, he would absolutely need to send a letter to the whole league (including the two offenders) explaining exactly what happened in full detail.
The letter would accomplish two things. First, the whole matter would be transparent for the whole league to witness as a matter of record, which would avoid a personal behind-the-scenes battle between Alex and the two troglodytes. Secondly, it would be a clear demonstration to the league, that as commissioner, he was willing to follow and apply the rules (no matter how difficult it might be) in an official manner, that didn’t involve fist fights in the office.
In the early years of my league, I had to personally replace a cousin who did not pay their dues on time. They didn’t get special favors. He’s since returned to the league, but he’s never repeated the error, and the rest of the league saw that if I was willing to replace him, then they surely weren’t exempt. I don’t have issues collecting pool money.
Needless to say this will be my first and last year as your commissioner.
Alex did say that the problems were preventable. That’s one positive to pull from his story. I’ve always wished I could talk to Alex. I would love to know if he’s ever run another league. I’d love to see what lessons he feels he’s learned, and what he does now as commissioner because of that experience.
Send your questions to The Commish: firstname.lastname@example.org