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Ethics of Fantasy Sports

Today I will opine on equity and ethics in fantasy sports.

I am a big fan of fantasy sports. I also think that fantasy sports, like all games, should be played by the rules. Fantasy sports can be ruined if members of the league do not play by the rules. I do believe that there is a fine line between good strategy and cheating in fantasy sports. I’ve been thinking about how to define it and here is what I have come up with: any action in which all managers involved are not making efforts to improve their team’s position is cheating.

Rules vary from league to league and identifying nuances in the rules is critical to form an optimal team and an optimal strategy to perform optimally in the league. Ignoring the specific rules of a league is a sure way to stop yourself from taking home a league title. Again, strategizing based on the rules is very different than cheating. I will use some examples of excellent strategy that some people consider cheating (incorrectly, in my view).

Hording Scarcity

This strategy used to work much better in the good ol days when the only good shortstops were A-Rod, Jeter, and Nomar and Chipper Jones was a 1st or 2nd round pick because no other 3B could go 30-100. Additionally, the utility of this strategy is much lower nowadays since you see only 1-2 util slot as opposed to 2-3 various utility spots. The strategy was simple. Select the top players in scarce positions and get them early so other teams in the league would be forced to give you a beneficial trade if they wanted one of the premium players. This is smart drafting, hardly cheating. You’re trying to make your team better and no one else is trying to make their team worse by trading for a star in a scarce position.

Unconscionable Trades

You’ve all seen it at one time or another. One manager makes a trade with another player that clearly favors one side. The only questions that need to be asked are, “are both sides trying to improve their team?” and “Do both sides think that they are improving their teams?” If the answer to both those questions is yes, then there is nothing about the trade that constitutes cheating. Each manager in a league is an individual entity and they paid their entry fee to manage their team as they see fit. If they wish to make a trade that they think helps their team and the entire rest of the league disagrees with them, that is too bad I think. The league did not pay that manager’s entry fee, so they do not get a vote in whether or not that manager can make a trade they like.

Pitcher Streaming

This one’s a classic. In H2H category leagues without transaction limits and IP limits, this is a popular strategy (Anyone that plays in a roto league without inning limits is asking for trouble). Pitcher streaming is a simple process in which players drop pitchers and continually add new ones during a week when they are starting a game. If a team has a significantly higher number of starts than the opposing team, then it is relatively easy to win certain categories (W, K, S, IP, etc) and have a toss-up in ratio categories (WHIP and ERA). If you can guarantee a win in 3/5 pitching categories, you’re in great shape to cruise into the playoffs in almost any H2H league. Is this illegal? No. Do people get pissed off? Yep.