The Commish's Court: Gentlemen's agreements


Golf is a "gentleman's game," or so the saying goes. This is supposed to imply is that the people who take part in the sport follow certain rules of etiquette or common courtesy much better than what you'd expect from the average person. Some of the rules certainly make intuitive sense, such as yelling "Fore!" to alert other players to an incoming golf ball. I'm not sure why you'd need a written rule to encourage you to scream a warning when you see your errant tee shot heading for the noggin of the kindly grandfather in the foursome ahead of you, but nevertheless, it is indeed a rule that serves a practical purpose. But many of the sport's rules are completely outdated and archaic.

For example, what need is there to require Tiger Woods to sign a scorecard at the end of his round? Maybe in the old days you wanted some sort of "sworn and witnessed testimony" to back up what a golfer claimed he shot. But today, every single one of Tiger's shots is being documented by a multitude of video cameras from every possible angle. If he says he shot a round of 64, we believe it. So why have a rule that would disqualify him after he's already won the tournament? It's not necessarily his fault that he signed his name to an erroneous scorecard that coincidentally happened to be prepared by his closest competitor, who could be awarded the title because Tiger failed to notice "his buddy" had "accidentally" switched the scores for two holes on the front nine. That would be like the Giants winning the Super Bowl over the Patriots, only to have the trophy taken away and given to New England because Eli Manning had signed a piece of paper saying he had thrown for 256 yards instead of 255.

Similarly, there is a place for hard and fast rules in fantasy football. But if there's no need for a strict enforcement of a ridiculous policy, why have one? Take this e-mail from Tim in Ohio:

"AJ, I love the column. It's very helpful in keeping anarchy at bay. My league had a situation this week, and it's caused a family feud. I am the commissioner of a 12-team league that includes my brother. All lineups lock at 12:55 p.m. on Sundays. I was outside working in the yard and came in around 1:30 p.m. to see how my team was doing, and I notice I've missed five calls from my brother. I listen to the messages, and he is 'having problems with his Internet' and cannot set his lineup. He wants to switch one player for another and wants me to do it for him. I, of course, had missed the calls, and it was now too late to set his lineup. So I call him to tell him this, and he gets upset, saying I should go ahead and override the scoring system for him and put the player in, which (as it turns out) would have given him a win instead of a loss. I told him that he hadn't logged onto the site since the previous Monday and he had all week to work it out, so tough luck. I explained to him that the week before, half the league had their power knocked out by those crazy winds in the Midwest and found ways to set their lineups [libraries, friends' houses with power, Starbucks, etc.], so he should have done the same thing. He is ticked off. Did I do the right thing? I mean, from my point of view, you should set your lineup early and then log in on Friday or Saturday to make sure there are no major injuries. What do you think?"

Tim, Tim, Tim. Where to begin? There is, of course, a need for enforcing lineup deadlines. After all, you don't want to have somebody switching out Trent Edwards for Carson Palmer after the Bills quarterback gets carted off the field with a concussion. There's a huge difference, though, between cheating and simply having technical difficulties. Even if I were to buy your argument that your brother should have set a lineup at some point earlier in the week so that he could cover himself in the case he couldn't get access to the Web site on Sunday, that wouldn't necessarily cover every foreseeable situation. Just this past week for example, Matt Schaub came down with a freak illness that caused him to be scratched. There was no way any fantasy owner could have seen that one coming. But even if your brother simply wanted to make a change on a hunch, and no extenuating circumstance surrounded his decision, it appears he called you before the deadline and you have a record of his intention to make that change. I don't know whether he also took the next step of phoning his opponent for the week when you didn't answer and let him know of his intended lineup change, but that would have been a smart move as well.

If the first call came in at 1:30 p.m. and your brother simply hadn't been able to reach a phone until then, you'd have been justified in your "tough luck" stance. But it appears that your brother did make this move before the deadline, and you know it. You may see it as "unfair" to make this switch for him because doing so will give him the victory. To me, it would be equally as unfair to his opponent for you to have decided against making the switch, only to have seen that decision "rescue" your brother from a loss. The right thing to do is to let the lineup your brother wanted to start be the lineup he actually uses, and let the chips fall where they may. I'm sure if you had taken the initiative to contact his opponent when you finished your yard work and explained to him what had gone down, there would have been no complaint.

This doesn't mean I'm for letting anything slide as long as the two owners who are facing each other are cool with things. Take this question from Dave in Chester, N.Y., about a so-called gentlemen's agreement he has with a leaguemate: "In Week 8, I will have both my kicker and my team defense on a bye. The team I am playing that week also will have his kicker and defense on a bye. We are considering playing the game with both of us taking zeros at those positions so we won't have to make pickups to cover the spots. Our commish doesn't have a problem with it, but I'm sure some other people in the league will. What do you think?"

I don't really have a problem with this gentlemen's agreement you two have come up with -- even in my league, in which we give teams a five-point penalty for starting a player on a bye, owners certainly are free to accept that penalty and not make a pickup, if they so choose. But what leaves a bad taste in my mouth is that you're planning this so far in advance of the actual game. It's a form of collusion.

I realize that neither you nor your Week 8 foe has any advantage by agreeing to this d├ętente, if you will. Each of you still will have an equal shot at winning or losing. But what of the owner who loses his or her game in Week 8 to the team that makes a free-agent pickup of a defense that scores 15 fantasy points, a defense that likely would not have been available if both you and your opponent had managed your team without your backroom handshake deal? Again, I'm not telling you what roster moves you need to make, but if it's customary in your league to make roster moves to avoid starting a bye-week player, this deal smells bad, and your league definitely will not like it. I think you already know this, else you wouldn't have asked the question in the first place.

Of course, having said I don't like it, I don't think there's anything I would (or could) do to stop it other than expressing my disappointment. Such an arrangement probably isn't in direct violation of any rules. Of course, that also means it is completely unenforceable. So don't be surprised if your co-conspirator decides at the last minute to drop Ryan Longwell for Adam Vinatieri and get a few extra points to tip the scales in his favor, and don't be surprised when the rest of your league shares a hearty chuckle at your expense. "Fore!" Consider yourself warned, Dave.

AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.