WRITTEN BY : Michael Stein, owner of FantasyJudgement.com
Kevin Maas Fan Club vs. League Commissioner
ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI FROM
THE HIGH ROLLERS FANTASY BASEBALL LEAGUE
Decided February 26, 2012
Cite as 4 F.J. 16 (February 2012)
A fantasy baseball league called the High Rollers Fantasy Baseball League (hereinafter referred to as “Roto league” or “HRFBL”) is comprised of 12 teams and has been in existence since 2008. The HRFBL, hosted on CBSSports.com, is a head-to-head roto league that utilizes an online auction draft. It is an AL-only keeper league where each team may keep a maximum of five (5) players which count for that team’s first five draft picks.
The annual entry fee to own a team in the HRFBL is $250.00. This amount has not changed since the inception of the league. As per the terms set forth in the HRFBL’s league constitution, each league owner must make their payment, in full, by February 29, 2012 in order to secure their spot in the league. However, the constitution is devoid of any penalties or consequences for failing to meet the payment deadline.
On February 24, 2012, the owner of the team called the Kevin Maas Fan Club, a league member since 2009, asked the league commissioner if he could have until April 1, 2012 to make his payment. The league commissioner refused his request and declared that if payment was not received by the established deadline, that that league owner would not be permitted to own the team.
The Court was not provided with a copy of the HRFBL’s constitution outside of a general summary of the pertinent provisions from the league commissioner. There is no written provision detailing specific penalties or procedures for failing to submit payment by the delineated deadline.
The HRFBL commissioner presented evidence of a prior failure to submit payment by a different team in the league in 2010. In that instance, the commissioner chose to pay the missing funds out of his own pocket rather than proportionately deduct the winnings by the missing amount. Thereafter, the delinquent team reimbursed the commissioner, thus making him whole. There is no apparent history of the Kevin Maas Fun Club ever being delinquent with his payments.
In response to the commissioner’s decree, the Kevin Maas Fan Club seeks an opinion from the Court regarding whether he should be entitled to an extension for the deadline to submit the payment and whether the commissioner can oust him from the league if payment is not received by February 29, 2012.
(1) Should the league commissioner force a team out of the league for failing to submit payment by a deadline delineated in the league constitution?
This case requires a delicate balancing of all interests involved because it hinges on whether someone will even be allowed to participate in a league. Further, the dispute is premised over finances, which is always a sensitive and hotly contested topic.
The HRFBL does in fact have a constitution which governs the league. Contained within the constitution is a provision that requires payment of $250.00 in full by February 29, 2012. When a league commissioner writes out the rules and distributes them to the league, it shifts the burden onto the league members to read, understand, and adhere to the rules that are delineated. See Shawn Kemp is My Daddy v. Fantasy Basketball League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 24, 25 (October 2010). If a league member has an issue, question or challenge to one of the rules in the Constitution, they are welcome to raise this with the Commissioner before signing it or agreeing to its codification. See Machine v. Fantasy Football League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 1, 2 (September 2010).
However, the constitution was devoid of any procedures or penalties for handling non-compliance with respect to submitting a payment by the deadline. When a league constitution is silent, the Court defers to premise that the commissioner has the authority and discretion to handle an issue of first impression within the best interests of the league. See George v. LOEG Commissioner, 2 F.J. 42, 44 (October 2010). The Court will also draw logical inferences based on the existing language, common sense, and past precedent. See Jersey Shore GTL v. Professional Amateurs, 3 F.J. 1, 3 (March 2011).
The only precedent that exists for an issue such as this was the 2010 incident where one team did not make its payment until after the commissioner laid out the money out of his own pocket. Even after this occurred, no language was added to the league constitution for the 2011 season.
There is no evidence or indication that the Kevin Maas Fan Club is intentionally trying to skirt on paying for the league. In fact, he has proposed an alternate date by which to submit his payment. Without evidence or testimony of foul play, the Court presumes that all parties adhere to the unwritten and generally accepted code of conduct within the fantasy sports industry that is premised on good faith and fair dealings. See John Doe v. Richard Roe, 3 F.J. 197, 199 (October 2011); Going, Going, Gonzalez v. Fantasy Baseball League, 1 F.J. 29, 30 (May 2010).
In order to maintain credibility, a league commissioner should enforce all rules equally and consistently. If an exception is made for some reason, it should be explained thoroughly why such an exception to the rules exist. See Machine v. Fantasy Football League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 1, 3 (September 2010). In 2010, the commissioner did not penalize the offending team for not remitting payment in a timely manner. Further, there was no amendment or modification of the rules with respect to how such a situation would be handled. As a result, that incident set the precedent for how such a scenario would be dealt with.
There is clearly no harsher penalty to enforce than restricting a team from participating in the league. The Court will intervene and prevent excessively harsh punishment when the consequences do not equate with an alleged offense. See Bald Eagles v. Weasel D, 3 F.J. 205, 210 (November 2011) (holding that it was unfairly excessive for a league to classify a subjectively unbalanced trade as collusive, which is cause for expulsion from the league). We must analyze whether the Court needs to intervene in this case.
It is indisputable that all league members should be responsible for making their payments to participate in the league when they are due. The commissioner is responsible for the collection, storage, and distribution of league funds. This is an important task as commissioner, and he/she has every right to demand compliance. However, there could be extenuating circumstances in people’s lives which may inhibit their ability to make the full payment by a certain date. The Court will not discern what specifically constitutes an extenuating circumstance, but it must be stated that the commissioner should attempt to be flexible with respect to a league member’s personal needs.
Here, the Kevin Maas Fan Club has given notice ahead of time that he is unable to make his payment by February 29, 2012. Additionally, he provided an alternate date by which he expects to make the payment. It seems reasonable that the commissioner should work out an arrangement with the Kevin Maas Fan Club to accommodate him in his request. For example, perhaps they can compromise by agreeing to a smaller partial payment by February 29, 2012 and then another small payment sometime in March. It would effectively be a deposit to ensure that the team will comply.
Because there is no history of malfeasance with the Kevin Maas Fan Club, the commissioner should negotiate a payment plan and terms for the extended payment plan. This result is best for the league because it allows a member to participate who wants to, and it accommodates an individual who requires some extra time to make the financial investment.
Based on the foregoing, the Court holds that the commissioner should not extricate the Kevin Maas Fan Club from the league. Instead, he should work out an arrangement where the payment will be made in full by the proposed April 1, 2012 deadline. Additionally, the commissioner should consider amending the league constitution for 2013 to include language and provisions for dealing with non-compliance of payment. The commissioner should give as much advance notice as possible when the payment is due, and the league members will have the burden of alerting the commissioner if there is any foreseeable issue with submitting the payment on time. This creates an open dialogue and forum for everyone to communicate freely so that the league’s finances are secured and in full.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Michael A. Stein. Esq.