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Commish HQ: The Year I Caught Someone Double-Dipping
I started my fantasy league, Cair Paravel (yup, big The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe fan) in 1998. When we first started, we played simply for bragging rights. That’s it. Although I have played on different platforms throughout the years, I started our league on Yahoo!, and that’s where we have remained. Back then, a company named Sandbox ran all of the fantasy games and such for Yahoo! It’s hard to imagine now, but these were the days where you had to wait until Tuesday in the AM, for the final scores to register. If you wanted to know how you did, you had to pull out your pencil, a legal pad, or whatever you liked to write on, and a calculator. If you still weren’t using an online platform (home computers weren’t as common), you weren’t just doing this for yourself, but you were doing this for the whole league. The Monday edition of USA Today was the go-to choice for many. Some people got the league standings and league news e-mailed to them, while others might get their info via fax or, yup, even U.S. mail.
The original nine people I had assembled were mostly cousins, but also one brother-in-law. People that I was currently working with rounded out the lot. We were all new to fantasy football. Brand new. At that time, most people had no idea what fantasy football was. We’re talking light years away from its current popularity and the massive media-supported industry it is now. Fast-forward a couple of years and I found myself needing to find two people to fill vacated slots for the upcoming season. You have to remember, the story I’m telling doesn’t happen in 2023, nor does it happen anytime in the last 20 years or so.
In a Galaxy Far, Far, Away …
It’s funny to tell this story to younger people because they can’t think of a world where Facebook, Twitter, and Google doesn’t exist (Yahoo! was the major search site king back then). There were no smart phones, and cell phones in general where nowhere close to being as omnipresent as they are now. A lot of us were still using pagers. Oh yeah, there was no such thing as texting. Yes, back in the Cro-Magnon era, we called people we knew on landline phones if we wanted to talk to them. There was also a very popular online service called America Online, which was NOT the internet, although most people thought it was. That’s another topic of discussion that we won’t have here.
The point is, at this moment in time, the actual internet is much more robust than it was back then. Presently, it takes no effort at all to communicate instantly with millions of people on the internet who have similar interests as you. In 2023, we have TikTok, Twitter, and Pinterest. I can pretty much go on and on with examples. However, back then, our equivalents were relegated to text-driven message boards (not unlike Quora) also known as (electronic) bulletin boards. You could have conversations in chat groups on America Online, or go to an internet site and hop on a message board if a site offered one.
Desperately Seeking … Somebody
Back to my predicament: I couldn’t find anyone to join my league, and I was feeling desperate, so I posted on some boards that I was looking for two people to join my league. I got two responses. Up until then, I had known everyone in the league. This was going to be the first time that complete strangers not only to myself, but also to the rest of the league, would be playing with us.
We had our draft. The season began. Things ran smoothly without a hitch. Some time just past mid-season, if I recall correctly, a trade took place. This was when trades got voted on, which was the default setting. I got rid of that years later. There was nothing generally crazy about the trade. No red flags. Luckily, we’ve never had people in the league who would wield the act of voting against trades as a weapon against fellow league mates just because they can. The waiting period ended. Fantasy life continued.
Shortly after that, another trade took place between the same teams. Again, the trade didn’t raise any hackles among the league populace, but it got my attention, because I really didn’t see the benefit of this particular trade. Mind you, I’m the first to tell people it’s not your place as a commissioner to veto a trade that you wouldn’t do yourself because we all value players differently. You have no idea what’s going on in someone’s head. In this case, I couldn’t veto it anyway, it was up to the league to do that.
I noticed that the trades individually were okay. However, when combined, it looked to me like one team, let’s call it Team A, was diluting its strength by giving away their best players to Team B. Don’t ask me who these players were, I don’t remember, but I do remember Fred Taylor was on Team B. I was slightly suspicious. When the third trade popped on the board within the next week, that was it, I was sold. No one else in the league had anything to say. If they thought something was fishy, they didn’t say anything to me. A number of the original members are still in the league today, and their reaction now would be completely different. Our acumen as players have also evolved and matured over time.
There was the waiting period, so I had a little time to query the two parties before the trade went through to determine if there was something nefarious afoot. I had to prove it first. I looked at the league transactions up to that point, and noticed that Team B had been active like a number of us. However, Team A had never made any transactions at all. Also, the trade offers were always initiated by Team B. I started to get the feeling that one person was managing both teams. I emailed both teams. One responded, the other didn’t. I asked the one player (Team B) about the trades, and let’s just say, they got overly defensive pretty much immediately. I got an assortment of vehement denials like, “How dare I say they’re cheating,” and “I don’t know the other guy!” I was convinced that this person had joined with two teams. The way they responded led me to believe the person was an older teen or perhaps someone in their early twenties
In the current era of fantasy football, there’s a lot of tools at the disposal for a fantasy commissioner to use. A lot of the free tools we take for granted now, you had to pay for back then. It’s easy now for a commissioner to lock someone out of the league. It takes seconds to manage or commandeer someone else’s team. Then, we were just playing for fun, so I wasn’t paying for the “premium” service when that’s all it was for us. We were competitive, always, but the stakes for winning the league weren’t as high.
After this first exchange, I contacted Yahoo!. I told them what was going on, and that I needed to lock the person out of the league and take control of the teams. Yahoo! informed me, there was nothing they could do since I was using the basic service. Of course, in a premium league I would’ve had the lock feature at my disposal. So basically, I couldn’t kick this guy out of my league. That was the story.
Meanwhile, I get another email from the guy. He calls me some choice names, uses some really colorful language, big time, and basically taunts me about the trade going through. He then overplays his hand - and says there’s nothing I can do about it.
Of course you know, that meant war.
I was really angry. I felt guilty because I was the one who let this person into our league, and they were going to ruin it. I’ve always taken pride in running my fantasy league, even in the early years. I took what this punk was doing personally. I thought of all the games that had been played with both of these teams. We all had accumulated win-loss records against the “two teams.” The season felt false to me. I had to do something.
In the meantime, I hadn’t told the league what I discovered, or what was happening. I was determined to keep them out of it if I could. I pulled up Yahoo!’s rules and started reading. I found a solution, but it wasn’t going to be easy to pull off. I had pretty much one shot.
The Honey Trap
If you use Yahoo! as your platform, you know they have a message board where people usually go to talk smack more than anything else. As it turned out, Yahoo! does have a code of conduct policy. You can’t just go on their boards and say whatever you want. While I couldn’t expel him from the league myself, Yahoo! could if the dude violated any of their rules. Remember that colorful language that Mr Team A & B used in our email exchange? Well, he couldn’t drop that same sort of talk on Yahoo!’s platform. What if I could pull our conversation to the message board?
I email him one more time. I don’t hurl any harsh invectives his way, but I do go hard at pushing their buttons about cheating and how immature it is, that sort of thing. I then immediately go to the message board and drop a post, almost as a continuation of what I just sent them. Now, only if I can pull them out in the open. I have to be careful so I don’t snare myself with my own bait. I post something very innocuous, like one or two sentences, that wouldn’t seem bad at all on the surface, but I’m hoping it’s enough to goad ol’ AB into continuing his verbal assault on me in public. Only they would know what I was referencing.
It doesn’t take long. He doesn’t fail to disappoint. He drops not one, but two messages laced with all kinds NSFW language. Got him. I report him to Yahoo! and they kick him off the platform.
I Will Say, “Never” Again
I wrote a letter to the league explaining what the out-of-the-blue bombing on the message board was all about, and I apologized, because as I said, I felt really guilty. I was responsible for bringing that person in our league. I vowed I would never let something like this happen again.
We played out the rest of the season. I didn’t get anyone to take over the teams. With the rogue interloper banished, we made do with the matchups and had fun finishing out the season with each other.
What happened that year helped shape my perspective as a commissioner and set Cair Paravel on a different course going forward. My major takeaways:
• I had to know each person in the league personally
• I started keeping a reserve list with replacement managers
• We were going to start playing for money
I figured we needed to raise the stakes for Cair Paravel. After going through that drama with Mr. Two Teams, I wanted our seasons to really matter. I thought that bragging to family and friends was one thing, but if money was on the line, people would be less likely to doink around. Remember, early years. That’s what I thought back then. I’ve since learned, that in some leagues, playing for money doesn’t necessarily insure a league from ill behavior. Every season, I get the letters that prove it.
I learned to be more protective of my league, and more protective of the people who are in it. I hope commissioners out there can glean something from my tale that may help them avoid unnecessary pitfalls waiting around the corner. Good luck.
Send your questions to The Commish: firstname.lastname@example.org