Commentary

The Commish's Court: Ah, the pitfalls of Thursday games

Updated: November 11, 2008, 2:20 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

"This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays." -- Arthur Dent in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," by Douglas Adams

This past week saw the return of the dreaded Thursday game to the NFL schedule. While not the end of the world, as it was for Arthur Dent on that fateful fictional Thursday when the Vogon fleet saw fit to vaporize the earth to make room for an interstellar highway, it certainly can cause headaches for fantasy owners and commissioners alike. For leagues in which lineups lock at the start of the first game of the week, the pitfalls of such a policy are extremely noticeable when a Steven Jackson or a Willie Parker becomes a "game-time decision" several days after the deadline for naming your starters.

Galaxy cast
AP Photo/ Max NashTroubles with Thursday? Hey, the folks in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" did, too.
While this situation is perhaps not ideal, at least under those rules everybody is in the same boat when it comes to having to make the decision on whom and whom not to start before all the facts are in. It is a far different situation, however, when the commish bends the rules to his or her benefit.

Seth in Pittsburgh thinks this has happened in his league. He writes: "AJ, in my league, the league manager and his girlfriend each have their own team. They recently agreed to trade Kellen Winslow for Maurice Jones-Drew, which I do feel is a fair trade and not something I would advocate to veto. The only problem is that the trade was accepted on Saturday, two days after Winslow played in the Browns' Thursday night game. Therefore, Winslow is 'locked' and cannot change teams until Tuesday. But because the league manager has the ability, he vetoed his own trade once he realized that he wouldn't be able to start Jones-Drew this weekend, and then resubmitted the trade as Dominic Rhodes for Jones-Drew with the intent to 'fix it' next week once Winslow is unlocked. I'm going crazy over this, but the league manager and his girlfriend think I'm being a 'baby' about it. I just think the rest of us would have to wait until a player is unlocked, and there should be no special privileges for those who have control of the league settings and transactions. Any thoughts regarding whether or not I am blowing this out of proportion?"

There are three distinct issues here, Seth, and none of them have to do with the fact that this trade involves the league manager and his girlfriend. Like you said, the deal they initially tried to put forth seemed fair to you; as such, any personal relationship between the owners who make a fair deal is irrelevant. The first issue is the inability for an owner to trade a player who participated in their lineup Thursday in exchange for a player that they expect to appear in the same week's lineup Sunday. You wouldn't let an owner loan a player to another owner and get nothing in return, would you? Well, that's exactly what would happen if you allowed this deal to process before the end of the week's action. One person cannot be in two places at the same time, and if Winslow is earning points for Team A in Week 10, then he can't also be on another team's roster in Week 10.

The second issue is that of the league manager who vetoed his own deal and resubmitted a new deal so that he could get his hands on Jones-Drew. Now, let's give this league manager the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he honestly didn't realize the deal in question would not go through when he accepted it Saturday, since this was the first deal that has happened "post-Thursday game" this season. If this truly is a case of two owners who weren't sure of the procedure of making an in-week deal with locked players involved, then I can see a league manager giving said owners a free pass on this deal and giving them the option of pulling the trade back. However, this should have been done out in the open.

Whenever a league manager does any action that might be misconstrued as something shady, it behooves him to be upfront about what's going on. A simple e-mail -- in which he explains he was unclear on the timing of these deals and informs everyone that, in the future, accepted deals of this nature will go into effect the following week -- would suffice That's the kind of message that would have removed any suspicion of underhandedness. At that point, I would have had no problem with a new trade that would allow players to switch rosters immediately.

Of course, that does not appear to be what happened here. The implication is that once this week's play is done, these two owners will trade Winslow for Dominic Rhodes, in effect subverting the intent of not allowing a locked player to be included in a trade. At this point, it is clear that the league manager wasn't simply unaware of the procedure and wanted to rectify an honest mistake. No, this plan to "fix" things reveals that the original veto was done in an effort to use his league-manager powers for the sole purpose of creating a loophole in the rules. Because of this, I think Seth has every right to be upset.

A league manager should never wield his trade-review power as a weapon. Take this letter from Michael in Texas: "My question is about a trade on Wednesday that involves players in the Thursday night game. Our league rules state that there is a two-day review period for all trades, so this trade presented on Wednesday would have become effective on Friday. The issue is that the trade involves multiple players, but most importantly Jamal Lewis and Brandon Marshall (both playing Thursday) on opposing sides of the trade. The other players will be playing on Sunday, but Lewis and Marshall will have already played come Friday. Our commissioner has decided on the following solution, but I would like your opinion on this or any other decision you might have made: He declared that Lewis and Marshall will play Week 10 for their original teams while the rest of the players involved in the trade will represent their new teams."

This seems like a lazy ruling. If that trade took place in my league, the first thing I would do is ask the owners involved what the intent of the deal was. Did they want this deal to happen in time for this week? It seems to me they did, since the deal was agreed to on Wednesday. If they had wanted to keep Lewis and Marshall in their lineups for this week, they could have just as easily submitted the deals as two separate entities -- one to take place immediately, and the other to go into effect for Week 11. The problem is this so-called "waiting period." The reason to give a 48-hour waiting period is to give owners an opportunity to veto or make their case against a deal. But there's no reason the whole 48 hours must be necessary. If the league manager knows there are Thursday games, why can't he rule early and approve the deal if he thinks it is fair, and both owners want it to go through in time for this week?

This kind of courtesy should always be extended to your fellow owners. For example, if your league requires owners to vote on a deal, but the deal won't go through until all owners vote, it's not cool to simply delay voting so that the deal won't go through until the following week. Similarly, if enough owners have voted to allow a deal, a league manager should simply go ahead and approve it, rather than sit on his hands because perhaps he is playing against one of the teams involved and doesn't want to face the new players. The worst kind of league manager is the one who will jump on the Web site and approve his own Saturday morning trade immediately while allowing his main rival's Saturday deal to languish until after the games kick off on Sunday.

Thomas Jones
Al Pereira/Getty ImagesThomas Jones and his Jets play at New England this Thursday.
If a deal is made before Thursday's games and you can approve it, you should. Otherwise, we get this situation, as explained by Torreon from Mexico: "I made a trade that was accepted Wednesday morning of this week. The trade called for me giving up Steven Jackson and Vincent Jackson for Adrian Peterson. Of course, because this is 2-for-1 swap, the other owner had to drop an extra player and decided to drop Eddie Royal. The problem is that Royal was in his starting lineup and the Broncos played Thursday. Thus, instead of the trade clearing today, in time for Sunday's games, it is being held up until all players clear. Now I am fearful that the other owner is going to want to back out of the trade because of Royal's big game. Making matters worse is that fact that our two teams are facing each other this weekend, and I was already planning on having Peterson. I'm willing to wait until Tuesday for the trade to be settled, but what do I do if the other owner decides to back out?"

In this case, the other owner agreed to the deal. And yet, because he chose to drop a player involved in Thursday's action, the deal got delayed. Perhaps it was an intentional ploy to prevent having to face Adrian Peterson, but again, if the league manager had stepped in and settled this situation prior to Eddie Royal's playing his game, this wouldn't have been an issue, and Torreon would have been the beneficiary of a potential 78-point swing (28 for Peterson moved to his team and taken away from his opponent's team, Steven Jackson getting a goose egg, and Royal's 22 points being active instead of being cut).

That's too much power to give to these waiting periods, and a good commissioner would have stepped in and taken his resting place in the mud so that the bulldozers of controversy didn't roll in to knock his league to the ground.

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

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