On Charging a League Inactivity Fee

As the founder and commissioner of my local fantasy baseball league, perhaps the most difficult part of my job is to police owner inactivity. That actually falls under the larger challenge of simply finding good owners. One of the traits that makes an owner a strong asset to the league is that he is active. By active, I mean that his lineup is always set with healthy players, he manages his DL slots, and he makes transactions that are logical, like dropping the guy just demoted to the minors who is clearly not going to accrue any value for the rest of the season. Every year, we have owners either drop out for personal reasons or kicked out because they violated my most important rule of remaining active. Why is it so difficult to find an owner that pays attention for the entirety of the season?!

Last year, I penned a similar article, but the focus was more on keeping owners interested during the last month of the season, even if they had no chance of finishing in a money spot. In that post, I shared three ideas I came up with to ensure owners remained active and asked readers to weigh in with their own.

After reading through all the comments, I had seemingly made up my mind on the best solution — the preemptive inactivity fee. I described it as follows:

Add a small, but meaningful additional amount to the entry fee which will be refunded at the end of the season if the team remains active all year. This fee will not be returned if an owner is inactive, with specific rules to be developed to determine “inactivity”. Inactivity fees collected go into the final prize pool.

Pros: This attacks the issue head on with additional money tied directly into an owner remaining active. If an owner knows that he won’t get his money back if he becomes inactive, he’ll be significantly more motivated to stay active.

Cons: Some owners in my league, and I’m sure yours, have sometimes expressed financial difficulties, in that they need some extra time just to pay the entry fee. If the entry fee itself has to be scraped together, then requiring owners to come up with even more could be problematic.

I am most concerned with the Pro here. This truly attacks the issue straight up. You stay active, you get your money back, you become inactive, you lose your money. It should be motivation enough to stay active, as long as the fee is high enough. The Con can certainly be an issue, but the inactivity fee I proposed to my league would be just a quarter of the entry fee. If you cannot afford another quarter of that entry fee, then your entry fee is probably better spent elsewhere to begin with. I am purposely not divulging the entry fee or inactivity fee because I don’t want this to be about whether the inactivity fee is set at a proper amount.

So now the questions are as follows:

Is charging an inactivity fee before the season even begins fair and an effective way of preventing owner inactivity?

How do I define “inactive” and make the determination that an owner will not be getting his fee returned at the end of the season?

My goal is to create rules to add to the league constitution that are as black and white as possible. I want to leave little, if anything, up to interpretation that could lead to a debate. I don’t want to have to make an executive decision or put anything up to a league vote on whether an action or inaction would be considered inactivity.

Here’s the background of my league — single-season (no keepers, auction entire player pool every season), 12 teams, standard 23-man active roster, 6 bench slots, 2 DL slots, FAAB for free agents, anyone can be picked up, weekly transactions with lineups locking on Monday just before the first game of the day (this is important, as you have a much greater chance of inactivity in a daily transaction league because it’s easy to forget setting your lineup on any given day…I know, I’ve been guilty and I’m sure you all have as well)

The most obvious sign of inactivity is when I find an injured (is actually on the MLB disabled list) player sitting in an owner’s active lineup for several weeks. In the past, I would send the owner an email asking him why he is starting an injured player. Invariably, I’ll get some excuse and an apology, he’ll fix it, and then a month later, there’s another injured player sitting in his lineup. At that point, he usually gets the boot…mid-season, which isn’t good for the league. Whatever rules are created to define inactivity must include a provision for players on the official MLB DL and found in a fantasy owner’s active lineup. There is almost no excuse for such action.

I say almost no excuse because of course there will always be the possibility of extenuating circumstances. Sh*t happens, and often times it’s unexpected. No one sets their lineups days in advance in case something crazy happens that would prevent them from setting it just before the deadline. So I’ll need to add something that allows for some believable excuse.

There is also the case of an owner going on vacation or knowingly being without Internet access where he is physically unable to make the necessary moves. If this was planned, then the owner should notify me beforehand so I know in advance and don’t accuse him of inactivity. This is really easy to do, but I feel like most owners will just disappear and then a week later pop back and apologize for being on vacation. Great, I hope you enjoyed your vacation, but tell me before you go so I’m not wondering why you aren’t responding to my emails!

What I do not want to include in this rule is anything relating to keeping specific players active or on the bench that a competitive fantasy owner would question. No, I have no idea why you have been holding onto Javier Baez on your bench all season long in a shallow league in the hopes he eventually gets the call. Unfortunately, this is something I cannot include a provision for because it becomes subjective and I would like to avoid that.

So at this point, I think I have laid out all my thoughts and the groundwork for a clear set of rules added to our league’s constitution. Now I would like your help to guide me and my league on exactly what I should include and how to word the terms. So I ask again…

How do I define “inactive” as objectively as possible and make the determination that an owner will not be getting his inactivity fee returned at the end of the season?

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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I agree with the idea that, if a player is on the MLB DL, there are few reasons for why he would be in a starting lineup. One of the best reasons might be that the player went on the DL within some number of days of lineup-setting – like, for instance, Sunday night, or even Monday morning. In this case, I think it could be forgiven.

In this vein, to make the rule objective – and reasonable in a league where attention is required – you might set a minimum number of days that a player might be on the DL ahead of when lineups are set. Exceed that number of days, and you’re dinged for inactivity; but if the player is on the DL for fewer than that number of days ahead of setting lineups, the league’s position is that one could plausibly have set lineups for the coming week and simply let it ride for a weekend with the family/in the country/at the ballpark.

The Real McNulty
The Real McNulty

if a player just went on the DL (let’s say before Sunday to give some leeway) and it’s a 15 day DL (no chance of returning), require the owner to remove him from the lineup, even if there is no replacement. That at least shows signs of life, and makes him think about finding a replacement the next week


My concern is that there are only 2 DL spots and 6 reserve spots in this league. Forcing a team to remove a guy who is on the DL is, quite possibly, disadvantageous to that team.

Let’s say Posey hits the DL. The team’s 2 DL spots are already full so now he has to use a reserve spot. But wait. He has some great bench guys that he rotates in and out based on weekly match-ups, plus a top prospect who might get the call real soon . . . and now he has to drop someone (say, Lucas Giolito?) for some bozo replacement catcher (Robinson Chirinos?) that he has no interest in and who is just as likely to hurt his fantasy team as he is to help it.

My point is that, in this league with its smaller roster sizes, I would not support making it a rule that you have to switch a player on the DL. If you want this rule, then increase the number of DL spots to 5 or more.