The Joy of Ambiguous Fantasy Rules

This post requires some “class participation”, so if you’re reading along I would really appreciate you weighing in on what has become a highly active debate within Ottoneu leagues.  Even if you don’t play Ottoneu, the concept of ambiguous fantasy league rules applies to all, and today I’m looking for potential (creative) solutions on how to enforce the following rule:

Rule 1a: Each team should maintain at all times a roster of 22 major-league players that can fill out a starting lineup. The remaining 18 roster spots can be used for reserves, consisting of both major and minor leaguers.

With Ottoneu leagues consisting of 40-man rosters (and 12 teams), the clear intent (“spirit”) of the rule is to set a consistent, foundational level of roster activity and economics for all teams so that owners (even those that find themselves “out of the money”) remain engaged.  It’s not surprising this is “Rule #1”, and I’m guessing pretty similar to rules in your fantasy league.

But it’s not so simple.  However, some needed context before we proceed, from Rule 1e:

A team’s starting lineup consists of one slot at each infield position (catcher, first base, second base, third base, and shortstop), five outfielder slot, one additional middle infielder (second base or shortstop) slot, one additional hitter from any position (utility slot), five starting pitcher slots, and five relief pitcher slots.

There’s your 22.  As Rule 1a makes clear, that leaves you with 18 roster spots build the rest of your roster as you see fit.

So here’s where I need your help: What happens when a team intentionally chooses not to roster 22 major league players, per Rule 1a? Is that roster illegal? If so, how should a commissioner enforce it, and when? If not, does it even matter?

I’ll list a few of the common arguments on both sides of this debate and let you use the comments section to let us know where you’d come down.  But what we’re really after here today is crowd-sourcing solutions for a debate that can leave leagues in flux, so your recommendations are welcome.  

But let’s make some assumptions first:

  • Assume you cannot change the Rule 1a.  It stands as is, so the debate is how to interpret and how to enforce it, not how to change it.
  • Assume you’re rebuilding your team.  You aren’t competitive this year but are doing everything for the future.
  • Ottoneu purposely leaves the enforcement of this rule up to individual leagues, so your suggestions below are relevant and potentially useful.

Point (A)

  • “The rule is really just a guideline.  Rebuilding owners should be allowed to build and run their rosters any way they choose, even if that means rostering less than 22 major-league players.  I shouldn’t be mandated to (re)build in a specific way.”

  • “How strict are we interpreting this? What if I only have 4 OF or RP? Are you telling me I have to drop one of my prospects just to pick up a replacement level reliever that has zero future value?”

  • “What if my only MLB 3B hits the DL? Do I now have an illegal roster because I can no longer “fill out a starting lineup”? Are you going to spot check my roster every day to verify?”

  • “If I’m rebuilding and have paid my league fees, I should be able to rebuild any way I like, even if that includes carrying 30 prospects.  As long as I’m doing what I think is best for the future of my team, I shouldn’t be restricted.”

  • “So what if I break it? What’s the penalty? It’s vague, and if there’s no real penalty, then it’s not a real rule.”

Counter-Point (B)

  • “It’s not only a rule, it’s the very first rule, so if you break it, you’re illegal, and you should be required to make every effort to legalize your roster immediately.”

  • “Allowing teams to break this rule has a detrimental effect on parity and balance, as it raises replacement levels and essentially makes a 12 team league function more like an 11 or 10 team league.”

  • “Why would an owner even want to carry more than 18 minor leaguers? That’s just poor strategy, and is doomed to fail.  The rule is good for the league but also designed to help prevent owners from over-correcting the rebuilding process since prospects are inherently risky.”

So how do you interpret this rule? Where do you side? And based on your answer, how would you enforce it?

Seriously, I’m taking all recommendations here, as this debate rages on.  Do you have similar rules in your league, or have you dealt with the challenge of interpreting and enforcing ambiguous rules?

If you want to read more context on this issue you can check out more of the debate here, but I look forward to your comments, because this one is a challenge.

We hoped you liked reading The Joy of Ambiguous Fantasy Rules by Trey Baughn!

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Trey is a 20 year fantasy veteran and a five time Ottoneu champion, including the 2015 winner of the Ottoneu Champions League. He currently administers the Ottoneu community, a network of ~1,000 fantasy baseball and football fans. More resources here:

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Ottonea makes it tricky because of all the minor leaguers. Typically, i’d say you have to have someone active on your team at every position. That could include a DL’d player. Sometimes that happens and you just can’t have a healthy body playing a position…but you should have to a starting roster spot should be assigned to one player….