Fantasy Football Definition of "Collusion"

"Collusion" happens when two or more teams in the league conspire together to effect some outcome in the league. In the NFL, owners have been accused of collusion in the past to hold down player salaries, to punish players who were outspoken during player strikes or to ostracize a player who had offended the league in some way (Maurice Clarett, for example). In fantasy football leagues, collusion is much more common (and easier to spot) than it is in the NFL. Fantasy football collusion is what we will discuss here today.

Types of Fantasy Football Collusion

There are several types of collusion that can happen in fantasy football. As stated above, this happens when two teams who are supposed to be opponents and rivals combine their efforts or conspire to affect the outcome of a game or the season in some way. Collusion might occur to help one team win and secure a spot in the playoffs. Collusion might occur when team stacking or "farming" happens. Collusion might occur to try to change the rules or undermine one team's chances of winning. Collusion most often happens when friends or family play in the same league, when money is on the line or when two or more teams have been angered by a decision in the season.

Collusion and the Easy Win

If one team wants to help the other get into the playoffs, that team can start an inferior starting lineup when it comes their time to play a friend. In this scenario, one team is either out of the playoff race or has already qualified for the playoffs. They want their opponent to also make the playoffs, so they start players who are unlikely to score many points to throw a game for their buddy. In the middle part of the season, this can happen when a team has several players on bye weeks. That player simply leaves star players in on a bye, effectively getting a zero at that position. A more subtle way to collude this way is to start a bench player instead of a starter, or to start a slightly inferior player (if truly concerned about appearances).

Keep in mind that when owners make a bad decision on starting a player when playing a buddy, that is usually not collusion. Most fantasy football players want to win, especially playing their friends. Also keep in mind that owners who leave injured players or bye week players in their starting lineup are not always colluding. Usually, they gave up on the season or they are simply neglecting their fantasy football team. Sometimes, a late inactive happens and it's beyond their control.

Collusion and Team Stacking

This is perhaps the most common form of collusion, where two teams execute a one-sided trade to give one team a better chance at winning the league. Once again, this tends to happen when two friends are in the same league together, and one friend has fallen out of playoff contention. The also-ran is certain to have a handful of valuable players and see no reason not to help out their friend with a "buddy trade", where they give their friend the use of one or two of their best players. This type of trade will almost always cause controversy in the league and headaches for the commissioner, so league rules should have a system in place to deal with this type of collusion.

Often, proving this type of collusion is next-to-impossible, even if everyone in the league knows what is going on. So it's better to have rules that address one-sided traded instead of "cheating" or "collusion", because you'll never be able to police trades if you only police trades where cheating has been proven.

Sometimes, a league owner will bring a team into the league with the express purpose of collusion. This won't be an ad hoc process once one team is out of contention, but one team is a sham or virtual sham to help one owner stash players on a team. This often happens when a player can't be at the draft or a last-minute replacement is called for, and one owner either drafts two teams or has someone new to the league or "new to fantasy football" show up at the draft. These owners might be legitimate and just stink, and are more likely to trade with the one person they know in the league. But occasionally, the second team drafted by the one player is a "farm team". Sometime during the season, this second team will make an iffy trade with the real team, which is called team stacking or farming, after the Major League Baseball practice of having Triple A Farm Teams that lend players to the Major League Club.

Collusion and the Gang Up

Collusion might happen when two or more teams combine to cause enough controversy and trouble that league rules are changed or the league is simply disrupted. Two or more friends decide to create a controversy or make one-sided trades, daring the league commissioner to veto the trade. This kind of pressure can ruin the fun for everyone, and when you have a group of teams bent on disrupting the season, it's best to just give them their money back and find new people to take over those teams (or let the "league" do it, in the last instance).

I've seen collusion happen where one or two teams were targeted with an undermining campaign, usually in the form of drafting or picking up in free agency that team's backups. While this is a legal and ethical practice if one team decides those players are potentially valuable or a team wants to pressure another team into a trade, it becomes collusion when two or more teams conspire to target another league rival in this way. This is rare, but not unheard of.

Motivations For Collusion

There are many motivations for collusion in a fantasy football league. Usually, it involves a money league with a payout in the end. If there's $1,000 on the line, then if a team falls out of contention, the team they are colluding with might offer to recoup their league entry fee if they will trade a player or two to them. Maybe the two teams go into the season with the agreement that, whichever team is doing better midseason, they will trade the best players to that team and split the winnings evenly at the end of the season.

Collusion can happen for less tangible reasons, though. Often, a real or imagined controversy will happen and a couple of the team owners will get angry or resentful. In this case, these teams have reason to collude, simply to "show those other teams" or to ruin the rest of the league's fun by winning the league any way possible. There are countless forms collusion may take, and countless reasons why teams might collude.

In the end, collusion is an ugly act in fantasy football. If you believe collusion is happening in your league, it's best you get it out of the league as quickly as possible. Either kick those owners out of the league immediately, or bear with it through the end of the season and make sure those owners aren't invited back next year.

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