When it comes down to deciding ties and all else has failed, sometimes you have to resort to the simple flip of a coin. Even the NFL, with its lengthy list of potential tiebreakers for deciding who qualifies for the postseason, may eventually throw its collective hands in the air and cry, "Uncle," … and then reach for the nearest nickel. The world of politics also sometimes has to face the fact that there may be no other way to decide an election than to leave things up to pure chance. That's what happened in Denton, Neb., recently when the 68 votes cast for a seat on the town board were split right down the middle. Under state law, the seat had to be awarded by either a coin toss, the cut of a deck of cards or some other random event. The two competitors opted for a mini-lottery: Each had his name placed on five slips of paper, and then an election official pulled one slip out of a rotating drum.
The important thing in all these cases is that the outcome is decided fairly and without interference by people who may or may not have their own agendas. That's something to be avoided in every fantasy football league: having the ultimate winner decided as a result of the inconsiderate and destructive actions of people who have long since lost the right to have an impact on your league title.
This was absolutely the right move. In my longtime keeper league, I even take things a step further and don't allow any pickups at all once the regular season is over. If you lose a guy to injury one week, you have to go to your bench the next week to replace him. Now, that might not be your cup of tea, but certainly I don't want to be the top seed getting ready to square off against a team that didn't even finish above .500 and suddenly see him with Drew Brees and DeAngelo Williams in his lineup where Trent Edwards and Cedric Benson used to be, all because some jerk decided to send all his players to the waiver wire. Once your season is over and you're out of the mix, you don't get to exact some sort of revenge on the teams you couldn't beat yourself by throwing your one or two good players to another team's roster. No commissioner should allow this to take place, and to take things one step further, I'd go so far as to not invite such a sore loser back into the league next season.
The reverse of this example is also something to be avoided. Assuming that you're allowing free-agent pickups to continue throughout the playoffs, teams that have already been eliminated should not be allowed to raid the pool and claim players away from those who actually still have an opportunity to use them. It is absolute folly to allow an 0-13 team to prevent Peyton Hillis' owner from signing Pierre Thomas just because the winless wonder thinks it's funny. There's nothing wrong with an owner playing to win, and if this were Week 13, he would be commended for continuing to improve his roster. However, if he doesn't have any games remaining on the schedule, he shouldn't be allowed to make this move. And I don't want to hear the argument that playing in the consolation ladder counts as "still having games left." That's not the same, and everyone knows it.
Of course, things are different if you play in a keeper league, rather than a one-and-done, start-from-scratch league. In keeper leagues, a bad team should be allowed to make a late-season claim on a player, as long as your keeper rules allow for such a player to be kept for the following season. There's a huge difference between "picking up Davone Bess with an eye toward 2009" and "adding Bess to the bench of a team that will no longer exist once Week 17 is completed." In fact, some of the best pickups a keeper league owner can make at this late stage of the season are forgotten, injured stars, who have no value for the remainder of 2008 but could pay huge dividends next year. Earnest Graham is but one example of a player who was likely sent packing by his 2008 owner after his ankle injury, but who might come back strong next year.
Unfortunately, in far too may keeper leagues, the person who makes this highly intelligent move often faces not only the scorn of his fellow owners, but also a sudden "change" in the keeper rules from leadership that simply wasn't smart enough to consider making a pickup like this in the first place.
Brad from Illinois explains: "Our league is in its first year with keepers, so I assume all owners are trying to get used to the new mindset. I noticed the other day that as we're approaching the end of the season for some teams, Tom Brady was available as a free agent due to his injury. I picked him up, and within a few hours, the Commish sent out a message altering the keeper rules, essentially blocking me from keeping Brady for next year. Is this an unethical pickup or a sore loser Commish?"
I think you know where I stand on this one, Brad. Brady was available to all owners in your league for many weeks now, and you were the one who finally put two and two together. Now, it's certainly possible that you misread the keeper rules, and this was merely a clarification by your Commish, but if not, then he's way out of line. After all, imagine a league in which the rule is clearly written as follows: "Teams may keep up to three players for next season, provided they were drafted in the first three rounds in this season." Tom Brady was surely a player who met this criterion in nearly every fantasy league; yet when he was lost for the season, his owner reluctantly let him go. Now when you pick Brady up, does he still qualify? After all, you didn't draft him in the first three rounds. If that's what was actually intended by the rule, then I have no problem with the Commish making that clear once it becomes apparent that you misunderstood.
Of course, if it is just a case of sour grapes, then you have every right to raise a fuss, though you're likely to be screaming into the wind, as nobody is likely to stand up and take your side if it means you get to keep Tom Brady next season, rather than having him available to all. If that's the kind of league you're playing in, then perhaps you're better off discovering this now, before you put in several years of effort. Get out now, before it's too late. Oh, and be sure to drop your entire roster to the waiver wire before you go.
AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.