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The Commish's Court: The birds and the Brees (and bees)

According to a report out of Sydney, Australia, scientists have discovered that bees are more intelligent than previously believed. In fact, even though the insects have a brain smaller than a Tic Tac, researchers found that they had the ability to count to four. That's right. Soon worker bees might well be trained to hold those down markers on NFL sidelines, and since they also have a heightened sense of distance, perhaps they can also be able to detect to the nearest millimeter whether or not a team has gained the yardage necessary for them to buzz along further toward the end zone, sticks in tow.

I'm pretty sure bees don't play fantasy football, but I am sure that issues with counting seem to have swarmed my mailbox of late. Maybe it's just the time difference from England to the States that has this anonymous contributor a tad confused: "I'm wondering how my league should handle Drew Brees' run for a safety. I'm of the opinion that Brees should receive negative points for losing 26 yards on the run, but my league manager is saying we don't use any negative scoring. He says that without positive yardage, he gets a zero for rushing -- end of story. I don't understand how a loss of yards can't hurt you. Am I wrong to be upset? I lost my game by one point, and my opponent had Brees."

This doesn't come up too often, and it's rare to see a player get only one carry for such a huge loss. Now, if your league's scoring normally awards points for every individual yard gained, then my Mr. X letter-writer is probably out of luck here. After all, it is quite common for a quarterback to end a victorious game with a stat line of "two carries for negative-two yards" as he takes a knee to run out the clock. If your league has never penalized a quarterback with negative points for such a performance in the past, then clearly you can't ask your commissioner to start to do so today just because Brees' "take-a-knee" went above and beyond (and behind) the norm.


However, if your league's scoring rules award one point for every 10 yards gained, then the argument can certainly be made that "gaining negative 20 yards" earns you "negative two" points. Again, if this is the first time it has come up, and your rules simply state "one point for every ten yards gained," then your commissioner must make a ruling to handle this particular situation. It's not making a new rule. It's providing clarification of a pre-existing rule, because one could reasonably argue either way on this one. Personally, I would side with those who think Brees should get a "negative two" in this case. Regardless of the circumstances, this play did happen, and the yards were lost. If Brees had started that play with six carries for 55 yards, which would have earned him five fantasy points under this "one-per-10-yards" scoring system, and after the play he now had seven carries for 29 yards, I doubt anyone who plays the game would argue that Brees should get anything other than two fantasy points. You wouldn't ignore the play entirely and let him keep the five points. So why should we ignore the play and let him get away with having zero points simply because it was his only carry?

Well, Joe from West Caldwell, N.J., would argue that we should do just that. "Fantasy football is about accumulating points, not about deductions. In the league I have with my childhood buddies, there are no negative points for interceptions thrown by quarterbacks, or for fumbles lost, or for points given up or yards allowed by a defense. Who wants to have negative points in a 'fake' game? Just have positive points and move on."

Sorry, Joe, but I can't speak positively about your argument. If it works for you, that's great. However, it doesn't make much sense to me. Under your rules, if Seneca Wallace starts a game and throws four passes, all for interceptions, and then gets pulled, he gets the same amount of points as someone who spent the whole day holding a clipboard? That doesn't seem right to me. Yes, fantasy football might not be a "real game" in the sense that after choosing our lineups we have no way of influencing the final outcome -- unless we happen to be an NFL coach, player or referee, that is -- but I think it is far more "fake" to pretend that a poor outcome didn't take place when it clearly did. The whole "no-negative-outcomes" line of thinking conjures up images of towns that don't keep score in their youth sports so that nobody loses and feels bad. Now, if that isn't "fake," then I don't know what is. Life has winners and losers -- to deny this truth simply isn't dealing with reality.

Now on to one last letter, this one from Vancouver Rob, who responded to last week's Commish's Court by sharing an extreme example of owners who took the whole "not having to start a complete lineup" a little too far: "An even better (worse?) example of not using a full lineup happened in our league last year. The top four teams make the playoffs, and (late in the season) the second- and third-place teams were facing each other. I forget the exact math, but the two teams got together and decided to bench their entire teams, ensuring a 0-0 tie and a playoff berth for both. Thankfully, neither team went on the win the championship (karma?), but we have yet to implement a required lineup rule. I happen to be the commissioner, but we're a true democracy and haven't gotten the six necessary votes to change the rules. Personally, I don't have a problem with it. The whole point of fantasy football is to get points and wins. If you have enough already and are willing to risk not going for more, that should be your decision."

Wow, Rob. You might not have had a problem with it, but I most certainly would have. First off, this was outright collusion, since the two owners conspired together to gain an advantage over the rest of the teams in the league by exploiting a loophole in your league rules. If you claim that the point of fantasy football is to get points and wins, then how could you possibly endorse the concept of two teams deciding to forego both points and wins and shaking hands on a scoreless draw? But the fact that the rest of your league didn't get all up in arms over this maneuver at the time, and still hasn't voted on a rules change to prevent this from happening again in the future, proves that you all deserve each other.

It's one thing to debate the merits of benching one player Monday night when you already have put up more points than your opponent. It's quite another to argue that deciding to not field a lineup at all is a tactic that should be allowed in any league worth playing in -- because by doing so, you're not actually playing at all. This might be the kind of hive you're looking to take up residence in, but rest assured you won't find me sampling any of the honey that you might produce. It's bound to be far more sour than sweet.

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