Right or Wrong: Reversing Trade Mistakes

Written by Jeff Melbostad (@Jeff_DFW)

It’s been awhile since DFW’s Morality in Fantasy Football series has visited a controversial topic, but today we’re back with another juicy one.  I’ve said before it’s tough to imagine there being issues with “morality” in a game like fantasy football, but it’s definitely present and definitely should be debated.  Morality is, in fact, present in all aspects of our lives.  And fantasy football is no exception.  We all strive to win and to win at all costs.  That is where ethics, undercutting, and decision making comes into play.  Today I’m going to discuss reversing trade mistakes.  It’s something that can be fairly rare in many leagues and may not even be allowed in others.  What we’re trying to get at is whether it’s right or wrong and, as a result, whether you should allow it or not.  Let’s get the party started.

While I’m sure many, if not all, of you have encountered this issue I’ll still give it a quick rundown to level set before the real discussion.  Every once in a while a trade will come through in a fantasy football league that is clearly a mistake.  There could be any number of reasons for this to happen from one owner accidentally clicking the accept button, to not realizing a player or pick was excluded, to choosing the wrong players in an offer.  Regardless of the reason, the important thing here is that it was a legitimate mistake by one party or the other.  In these situations the commissioner, depending on your league setup, can reverse these mistakes so that no one is punished for what was obviously an unintentional blunder.  Things get a little more muddy when it isn’t clearly a mistake but we can talk about that more later.  For now at least we all understand the issue at hand.

As with all articles in the Morality in Fantasy Football series it’s now our job to decide whether reversing trade mistakes is right, or wrong.  As explained above, I don’t see much of an argument against allowing a reversal.  When the trade is clearly done by mistake it makes very little sense to force it to stand.  Not only would that upset the owner who made the mistake, but it could potentially upset any number of other owners and even throw off the competitive balance of your league.  I’ve often said that I would leave a dynasty league where a major trade mistake was not reversed.  Imagine being a part of a league where Odell Beckham Jr. was mistakenly traded for Malcolm Floyd and a 2nd round pick.  Maybe the owner thought he was receiving Michael Floyd, not Malcolm.  Maybe he forgot to include a critical 1st round pick or other player.  Regardless of the reason, this will almost assuredly upset the competitive balance of that league.  Especially in the scenario where the former Odell owner is one of the weaker teams and the one receiving him is one of the stronger.

So that was simple wasn’t it?!  Not so fast.  My viewpoint that reversing trade mistakes is the right thing to do isn’t so cut and dried when you introduce a little bit of ethics to the equation.  This is where the spirit of our Morality in Fantasy Football series really takes root.  As, with any “rule” in dynasty leagues there are owners that can, and probably will, take advantage of it.  When it’s not so clear whether a trade was a mistake or not is when things get really juicy.  Reversing a trade that is not a mistake, or even that other owners in the league believe is not a mistake can be a mistake of epic proportions.  It will cause unwanted, unneeded and unwelcome drama and can be far more damaging than avoiding trade reversals altogether.

So let’s explore that scenario a little more.  A fantasy owner wants to do whatever he can to win, and to win often.  We’re all competitive or we wouldn’t be competing year in and year out in our individual leagues.  Still, sometimes those competitive juices drive us a little bit too far.  A less than honest owner may be willing to accept a deal, see what the league response is and then claim it as a “mistake”.  They may also just get cold feet after accepting a deal and decide they want it reversed.  In either case if you’re in the business of reversing all “mistakes” then you could get yourself into a pickle.  Many, including myself, would say that in these situations reversal of trade mistakes is definitely wrong.

Well then, where does that leave us?  On one hand reversing trade mistakes is the right thing to do.  If you don’t do it there will be consequences.  On the other hand it’s clear that there are negative consequences to reversing trade mistakes and it is decidedly the wrong thing to do.  The reality here is that it just isn’t that simple.  It isn’t black and white.  Like most morality issues there is no single right or wrong answer, but rather variances of right and wrong based on specific situations.  Ultimately, you as commissioner of your league are the judge of whether it should be employed and thus in total control of whether reversing a trade mistake is the right or the wrong thing to do.

So how do we ensure we’re doing the right thing and this issue doesn’t cause drama in our leagues?  I can share a few techniques that I’ve employed to combat it a bit.  The first point is that this must be addressed somehow in your league’s ruleset.  I would suggest some sort of time period that a potential mistake must be notified about.  If an owner responds within 5 or 10 minutes of a trade going down you can be relatively sure that it was, indeed, a mistake.  Likewise if they wait a day or two it may not be so likely unless there are extenuating and explainable circumstances for that happening.  I would also suggest a secondary check being in place.  Commissioner approval of trades, for instance, ensures that at least someone else gets a good look at the trade before it is processed.  If anything is obviously lopsided, the commish can then follow up with the two owners to make sure it is what they intended.  This requires a very reputable commissioner, but it has worked well in the leagues I commish.  A final suggestion would be to make sure your entire league is aware of this issue and how it will be handled when it happens.  Communication is the key in any controversial situation and as long is everyone is aware of how it’ll be handled you should be relatively free of drama when it does.

What seems like a pretty simple issue with regard to ethics in fantasy football can quickly become more complicated than one would think.  In general, I am steadfast in my belief that reversing trade mistakes should be a part of every fantasy football league.  You just need to know how to differentiate the actual mistakes from the illegitimate ones.  In leagues with good owners this is a simple thing to do.  In leagues with a mix of owners you may not even know it gets more challenging.  Still, there’s no black and white rule that will make the decision for you.  You can’t simply disallow all trade reversals and you can’t allow them willy nilly as well.  The onus is on you as a commissioner to make sure that the right approach is applied in each specific case.  Using some of the mitigation techniques I’ve written about above should help with that.  It’s not a simple task, but it’s an important one.  As always, the integrity of the league is the most important consideration.  By playing the role of the morality police one will rarely make everyone happy, but the point is to minimize the damage done by this issue of morality in fantasy football.

I’d love to hear what all of you think with regards to reversing trade mistakes in your fantasy football leagues.  Any experiences to share?  Opinions on the approach I’ve laid out here?  If you think I’ve come to the wrong conclusion please let me know and we can discuss in the comments for the benefit of everyone.  Differences of opinion are what will drive the proper approach in your league and two leagues may well approach this issue differently.  If we share our experiences, though, we’ll all be better for it by having considered every angle.  I look forward to hearing what you have to say.