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Much ado about fantasy football: Weighing in on Pham/Pederson feud

Much ado about fantasy football: Weighing in on Pham/Pederson feud

Fantasy football made headlines on the baseball field during the Memorial Day weekend when Tommy Pham of the Cincinnati Reds and Joc Pederson of the San Francisco Giants had an altercation about an issue in a league they were in last season. We have since learned that Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout is the commissioner of that league, when Pham threw him under the bus.

What’s Trout got to do with it?

Trout’s response: “Every commissioner I know always gets booed.”

So what do veteran fantasy football players think of this story? We turned to our ESPN analysts — most of which are currently fantasy commissioners and have been playing for decades — to get their take on what is suddenly the world’s most famous dysfunctional fantasy football league.


As a fantasy football analyst, what has been your reaction to this story?

Mike Clay: It wouldn’t be fantasy sports without the occasional drama, right? This is a tough one to judge since we don’t know their rules (per ESPN regulations, Pederson did nothing wrong, but Pham claims the league had its own amendments). Of course, I can’t imagine moving one player to IR to pick someone up off waivers had a major impact on the league standings, so I’m as surprised as Pederson that this popped up a half-year after the fact.

Matt Bowen: Very simple here – no one really wants to be the commish of a fantasy league. The heat coming down on Trout is the same stuff we hear in our home leagues, right? Whether it’s scoring structure, roster size, the IR spot(s), waivers, etc. There are always complaints. Ask my cousin Michael who has run our league here in Chicago for 10-plus years. By Week 4, we all have something to tell him.

Matthew Berry: It’s the greatest example ever that leagues need to have clear rules and a strong commish. Trout clearly didn’t do enough here to make a clear ruling. That said, six months is a long time to hold a grudge about a league you quit (Pham left the league midway through). And come on, what’s the point of being in a fantasy league if you can’t take some trash-talk GIFs?


What does it say about fantasy football that it started this huge story between professional athletes?

Berry: I always say fantasy is the great equalizer. Rock stars and politicians play, as do kids and grandmothers. The reason ball players reach the major league level isn’t just great ability, but also an incredible drive to succeed and beat out other competition. It’s no surprise that pro athletes would be hyper-competitive in fantasy football. It still can’t lead to violence, though. If you can’t handle the frustrations that naturally come from fantasy football, you shouldn’t play.

Clay: Everyone loves fantasy football. I was in Charlotte for NASCAR’s Memorial Day race weekend and talked with fans, crew members and, yes, many drivers about their fantasy football leagues and the drama that comes along with it. It’s a tough, but engaging, fun, high-variance game that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Bowen: It goes deeper than just fantasy football with pro athletes. For example, we had some seriously heated moments back in the Green Bay locker room when I played with the Packers — over backgammon. Yeah, that was the game to play after meetings, or before practice started. And if you bent the rules, things went south pretty quickly.


What has happened in one of your leagues that has caused disagreement between team managers?

Stephania Bell: I have been fortunate to play in multiple leagues over many years and all disputes have been readily resolved. But if there is a dispute it seems to always come back to rules interpretation. Even when the rules are spelled out in black and white, the words may be interpreted differently by different parties. This is also called “life.” It serves as a great reminder that everyone in a league should take the time to review the rules in advance to minimize after-the-fact disputes.

Eric Moody: The biggest disputes in my home leagues have revolved around lopsided trades. Everyone values players differently, but if your perception isn’t aligned with others in the league that can cause problems. During the midway point of the season, a fantasy manager was checked out and began trading away his best players. That didn’t sit well with the commissioner and others in the league, as you can imagine.

Eric Karabell: I can’t say that a situation involving injured reserve ever caused a riff for me, but mainly we see uneven trades — especially among one good and one bad team — that creates friction and occasionally (and foolishly) ends friendships. It’s a shame. It’s tough to prove collusion, so it’s often better not to try.

Bowen: I used to play in a league with this unique scoring format. Made up stuff, really. Explosive plays, for example, generated ridiculous points. Playing against Derrick Henry and he rips off a 50-yard touchdown run? OK, now you’re down, like, 70 points. Brutal. And it created some heated arguments about how the scoring structure favored certain players on the roster. Yeah, I don’t play in that league anymore. Give me simple PPR or non-PPR scoring.


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Mike Trout weighs in on the fantasy football dispute between Joc Pederson and Tommy Pham.

When team managers disagree, how should commissioners handle it?

Berry: Quickly and firmly. We used to do a segment on the podcast called “Hard Justice” where we would rule on these exact types of situations. Get feedback from the league and make a ruling and that should be the end of it. It can be discussed in the offseason. One league I’m in has a three-person “competition committee” (that the commish isn’t a part of) that people can appeal to if they don’t like the commish’s ruling. And there’s an alternate for the committee in case the dispute involves the commish or a member of the committee. The league has been together for many years and I have no issues with that system.

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Clay: The best way around drama is to have a clear set of rules prior to the season. If someone finds an edge that is not a rules violation, good for them. That’s called gamesmanship. If it’s an edge that you feel should be illegal, that’s something that should be proposed as an offseason rules amendment.

Tristan H. Cockcroft: The most important role of the commissioner is to be fair, firm and prompt with rulings. You’ll never get consensus on anything rule-related, but your leaguemates will respect you most if you check in with both sides involved in the dispute (plus anyone else affected by it), make a rational ruling and deliver it firmly.


How do you handle it when a team manager tries to work around the rules?

Cockcroft People seek loopholes all the time. If it’s not expressly stated in the constitution, then I make a fair judgment and, if needed, we address or amend that rule during the offseason. Or, if it’s someone else in the commish’s chair, I make that recommendation. If it’s a deliberate attempt to break the rules, it’s a zero-tolerance thing, you’re disqualified/out. I also tell people who seek loopholes that the last thing they want is a 300-page constitution to read, so knock it off with trying.

Bell: Play by the rules or don’t play. The minute exceptions begin to be made, especially those initiated by some sneakiness on the part of the team manager, it’s no longer a level playing field. There may be unique scenarios or extenuating circumstances (health of a team manager, family emergency, etc) that warrant sympathy and rules modification, but those are likely to be extremely rare.

Moody: Being transparent is critical. The commissioner should communicate his or her observations to the league and explain why certain rules exist and how it fits into the structure of the league. And don’t wait until issues pop up. If it can be anticipated, then it’s best for a commissioner to be proactive instead of reactive.

Karabell: Update the rulebook to close loopholes and ambiguities. And if a league starts to get out of control, well, there are lots of other leagues to join. If I don’t enjoy a league, then it’s not worth it. Unless Mike Trout is running it. Then I’d stay in forever.


Parting thought …

Karabell: There are too many things in this world to worry about, and fantasy football shouldn’t be among them. Enjoy it. That’s what it’s for.


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