The Commish’s Corner: “Dues” Diligence

Apr 25, 2011


By Adam Holtz
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When you pay your annual dues for a fantasy league, what happens to that money? Is your commissioner almost too happy to accept cash from you? Does he make a comment about how he can pay his rent now? Or mumble something about a gift for his latest girlfriend? Or maybe he goes straight to the vending machine, using one of your singles to buy himself a refreshment.
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The truth is that not many fantasy players actually know what happens with their dues money. All too often, commissioners will either deposit it in their bank account or spend it straight out of their wallet (that is, if you pay your dues with cash – which is probably your own fault to begin with). Then, when the season ends, the commish either struggles to pay the winner(s), or flat out doesn’t pay winnings (“I guess I forgot – I’ll take care of it soon”) at all.
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Worse yet, when the commissioner does actually pay prizes, he probably pays out less money than the winner is expecting, using an excuse of, “Well, a couple guys never paid the dues this year, so the prize money is less.”
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Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you? They shouldn’t, but you know they do. They happen all the time. Commissioners are imperfect people with good intentions (or sometimes bad people with nefarious intentions) who can (and do) make mistakes and poor decisions. People get away without paying in for the year, and commissioners get away with paying out less than they take in, as well as paying in an untimely fashion. And while these people are seldom penalized for such laziness and/or selfishness, the people who do things the “right” way are likewise never rewarded for having done so. Not cool.
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Your dues money – or more exactly, the league’s dues money, once paid – should be collected on time, kept safely in reserve, and paid out promptly. Those three points are not negotiable. No exceptions. Your commissioner owes it to your league, and all people playing in the league owe each other the respect of prompt payment. Put most simply, it is a matter of character: do the owners in your league have enough character to respect each other in this way – and if not, does the commissioner have the character to enforce these hard-and-fast rules?
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While the mode of collection and payment – as well as method of keeping the money – is open to discussion, the three main points are simply absolute. If your commissioner cannot follow those three rules for you and your league-mates, you have the following options: (a) get a different commissioner who will make sure they do follow those rules, (b) make your league a no-money league, or (c) leave the league.
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There are no excuses here, commissioners. Collect the dues money on time. Don’t insult the courtesy of those people who pay dues on time by allowing others to skate by. Enforce the deadline. Announce it weeks – even months – in advance. Threaten penalties – monetary, or maybe points, if necessary. And if someone cannot or will not pay, it’s simple: find someone else to run that team. It sounds brash, but look at it from this perspective: others pay promptly, so allowing someone a free pass for not paying on time (or at all) does those good people a disservice, and makes your life more difficult as well. Fix the problem by eliminating it. Don’t let any faux friendships get in the way, either (“Aw, c’mon, man, we’re buds – you know I’m good for it!”). Everyone agreed to pay the dues; they know the score. Now it’s time to pay the piper. However you collect the money is up to you and the people in your league – cash (not recommended), check, Paypal, bank transfer, etc. – just make sure everyone knows how they can pay, and when they need to pay.
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When it comes to holding other people’s money, it is a responsibility that cannot be taken seriously enough. It makes no difference what the amount is – it’s not your money! What belongs to the league must absolutely be kept separate from one’s personal spending money. (For a real estate broker, such co-mingling of personal and business money would land you in jail.) Whether you open up a separate bank account, put all the money in a jar in your closet, whatever. But don’t you dare use that money to buy anything for yourself – or anyone else! Not even for the cute girl who’s flirting with you from across the room at the bar (besides, you’re tipsy anyway – who knows if she’s flirting with you or with the other guy sitting at the very next table?); trust me, that money is much better off being kept in your pocket than being spent on drinks for her (this advice goes double if you are married). Again, just remember, it’s not your money!
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If you do your job on steps 1 and 2 (collecting and keeping), then step 3 (paying out) will be a breeze. Everyone who has prize money coming will know that you have it and will be able to pay them promptly. It’s not your money anyway, right? You collected from everybody, right? You’ve kept it separate from your money…right? So now you’ll pay them all immediately after the season ends…. RIGHT? So do it! Easy! ‘Nuff said.
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Now, here is where we get into the disclaimer portion of the column. No one is advocating for or against any of the companies named below. I am simply mentioning some of the most widely used companies, and I encourage readers to go and check for themselves which one they think is best for their league(s). There, disclaimer done.
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The commissioner’s job can be made much, MUCH simpler (not to mention more transparent and trustworthy) with the help of an online dues service. There are a couple of sites out there offering these services; the ones I hear mentioned most often are LeagueSafe and Fantasy Sports Vault. With services such as these, your members can securely pay dues online with a credit card or e-check, or even with paper checks to the commish or the service’s home office, who then submit electronic payments on those owners’ behalf (these options vary depending on provider and specific league settings). Then, the money is held securely by the service provider’s bank on your behalf, with a detailed accounting of who paid in what and when. After the season, prizes are paid out according to your league’s specific rules. Pretty straight forward.
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Using a service such as this will make the commissioner’s life easier in a number of ways:  Everyone gets the exact same notifications to pay their dues; everyone can see when the deadline is, and what penalties apply if they fail to pay on time; everyone knows where the money is kept; everyone knows the winner(s) will be paid promptly. And best of all, most of the services provided by these sites is completely FREE. (Some options are provided for a fee, but there is always at least one “free option” for paying dues and receiving prize money.)
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Commissioners: Your job is not always easy, but you know that. You do it anyway. There’s no problem in looking out for yourself, as well as for your league’s integrity. I’m not necessarily advocating for the use of an online dues management service; however, I am advocating for the three firm rules I mentioned above: on-time collection, legitimate safe keeping of dues money, and prompt payouts. If a commissioner can do all three without the online help, then by all means, feel free. But I don’t see a situation where using such a service makes the commish’s job more difficult. If there is one, I’d like to hear about it! Comments or emails are welcomed, as always.
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Adam Holtz is a former college sports information director living in southern Minnesota. His 15 years of playing fantasy sports – as well as 15 years of commissioner work – have given him a wealth of experience on which to draw. In fact, he’s probably a better commissioner than he is a fantasy player: his wife’s team swept him in two head-to-head games last football season. He is very eager to get some revenge – and to sleep on the couch.
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Email the Commish: adam.holtz(at)gmail.com or check out his blog at champguy.blogspot.com.

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