On Monday ESPN Fantasy Football made the quick and controversial decision to add rb eligibility to Green Bay Packers wide receiver Ty Montgomery. In essence, they did more than that. They opened Pandora’s Box.
It all started when Packers running back Eddie Lacy hurt his ankle a few weeks ago. Fellow running back, James Starks would normally spell Lacy during games to keep him fresh throughout the lengthy NFL season and, if Lacy got injured, would handle the full workload. However, Starks hurt his knee, so despite not being 100% Lacy, like many NFL players, tried to play hurt. It wasn’t a good idea. His ankle worsened, so bad in fact that the Packers were forced to place him on injured reserve. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Packers had to play on a short week. Their next game was on Thursday against their arch rivals, the Chicago Bears. They traded for Chiefs running back Knile Davis, but with little time to learn the playbook, they turned to wide receiver Ty Montgomery to help out at running back.
On Monday, several days after the Packers-Bears game, ESPN decided to change Ty Montgomery’s positional eligibility from a wr, which is what he is, to instead rb/wr after one game- one! Montgomery had 9 carries for 60 yards. Last year qb Cam Newton had 132 rushing attempts. He doesn’t have rb eligibility. Should his position change? Hall of fame running back Marshall Faulk had more receptions than many wide receivers playing for the St. Louis Rams Greatest Show on Turf. He split out in the wide receiver position plenty of times and he didn’t have dual eligibility at wr. My points (and I have several of them) there’s a double standard and once you start making changes where does it end? The problem with ESPN doing this is once you open Pandora’s Box you can’t go back. We all know Ty Montgomery is a receiver-not a running back. The NFL has rules on which numbers players wear based upon the position they play. Wide receivers wear numbers between 80-89. In fact for those who disagree with me, name me a few running backs, preferably good ones, who wore number 88, check that I'll give you from numbers 80 through 89. I can't think of any. Looking back at the all time rushing leaders- Emmitt Smith wore #22, Walter Payton #34, Barry Sanders #20, etc. Guess what, that wasn't by accident, it was because it's an NFL rule stating that running backs must wear jersey numbers between numbers 20-49. And for the record, just in case you were curious, Ty wears number 88. Note that it's not my rule- it's the NFL's. Also, on the Green Bay Packers website they classify him as a wide receiver. Once again- it's not my website- it's the Green Bay Packers website.
Here's another reason and it was taken directly from ESPN's Fantasy Football website on Tuesday October 24, 2016 stating their rules on position eligibility.
How is a player's position eligibility determined?
The NFL sends us an updated list of every player's position eligibility, including rookies, prior to the start of each season. We simply cannot change those positions as they must remain fixed throughout the course of the season despite whatever our personal feelings are as to who should be designated as a TE vs. WR and such.
Being the savvy fantasy football veteran that you are you might also be wondering if your commish has the ability to modify a player's position eligibility to suit the desires of your league. Unfortunately they don't and we're sorry - we know how frustrating it can be when a "running back" who often lines up in the slot and gets 50+ receptions a year can't get WR eligibility. But look on the bright side - at least you probably have a flex spot to work with.
It appears they have since amended their site to now allow for additional eligibility changes. I bet they did this just to make me rewrite my article yet again. They're probably sitting there in their offices in Bristol, CT. just laughing it up. Hey- let's screw with Mark. Yeah that sounds like a plan and a half haha! I'm joking- I like writing so it's all good. Here is the updated version I noticed on October 26th, 2016
How is a player's position eligibility determined?
PRIMARY POSITION ELIGIBILITY
The NFL supplies a list of every player's position eligibility, including rookies, prior to the start of each season. Generally speaking, these will be each player's primary position within the game, although we reserve the right to designate a player differently. Once the season begins, we simply cannot change these primary positions, as they must remain fixed throughout the course of the season.
ADDITIONAL POSITION ELIGIBILITY
While a player cannot lose eligibility during the season, he can gain it, whenever circumstances warrant. Commissioners/league managers (LM) do not have the ability to modify a player's position eligibility.
It's important to note that the roster minimums and maximums within your league's settings relate to the primary position only (the first position listed next to a player), not any additional positions granted.
How convenient. This is extremely disconcerting and unfortunate. And while I appreciate them addressing it a little on the fantasy focus podcast and on twitter- even if it was not the hosts' decision- in my opinion it is still wrong. Basically ESPN changed their rules twice, and regardless of what the rule is, changing it in the middle of the season is wrong. I never did that when I ran my league. Now, I could rest my case right there and win, but let's continue. And even if they didn't change the rules, which let the record show they did, I still think it’s wrong to add this dual eligibility - at least after one game. Why you ask? Because it provides an unfair advantage and it shifts the balance of power for many fantasy football teams. Many people will use this loophole to take advantage of the system. A change which was implemented mid-season, not before, catching many owners like myself off guard and now at a severe disadvantage.
Another factor to consider is using the fantasy baseball model. In fantasy baseball it takes several games for a player to gain dual eligibility (like around 20). The argument was made by some, including people that I respect like ESPN fantasy football analyst Matthew Berry, that since the football season is shorter- the wait period should be shorter as well. Okay, I’m a reasonable guy, I can understand that, but after one game? 9 carries??? I know I'm not exactly Vince Lombardi, but the main criteria of a running back is, well, to run.... right?? 9 carries qualifies for dual eligibility for the rest of the season??? I respectfully disagree. Here’s the problem- ESPN made Ty Montgomery eligible at one of the weakest positions- running back. So you ask, ”Hey Mark, what’s the big deal? Just be like whateves dude.” Here’s my issue with it. Ty got 12 points in a non ppr standard league, it's even more in ppr, at arguably the weakest position in most starting lineups- running back. The top tier running backs, the elite bell cows, like David Johnson and Zeke got 17 points the last time they played. There is no way Ty Montgomery should be valued that close to elite running backs on a pure technicality. And that’s what it is folks- a technicality. Those guys are undisputed 1st rounders. They’re guys you build your team around. Johnson in my opinion is the #1 overall player at any position and one of the reasons for that is the point differential between him and most of the other running backs. It’s off a cliff. This is the type of ruling that changes the balance of power in leagues because people can put Ty in the rb slot when they should really be putting in lesser players such as Gio Bernard instead. The people that drafted David Johnson or Zeke in the first round should be rewarded, yet this move devalues that investment. You can’t look me in the eye with a straight face and tell me that Ty Montgomery is a running back or at the minimum of making my point is an all pro running back that should be scoring almost as much as the elite players at that position. I’m sorry, but that’s a tough sell and I’m not buying it. Ty Montgomery is NOT an elite running back in the NFL. David Johnson is. Ezekiel Elliott is. LeVeon Bell is- end of story. Which running back should be leading their fantasy teams to championships- Ty Montgomery or David Johnson? The fact that I even have to ask that question speaks volumes. Yet, one of the messages ESPN is sending, whether it's directly or indirectly, is that yeah David Johnson your good, but it doesn't matter, Ty Montgomery is almost as good as you. My response to that... umm no he's not.
When looking at fantasy baseball it’s important to remember that baseball doesn’t have bye weeks like football does. By changing position eligibility it has an even greater impact because the choices on the waiver wire are that much slimmer. Ty Montgomery was a waiver wire pickup whose eligibility changed after he was picked up. I am sure if many owners, myself included, had known ESPN was going to pull an end around on them (see what i did there... end around and he's a wr- that's just pure natural writing talent there folks haha) anyway...most would have bid very differently and set him much higher in their waiver priority. This will have a huge impact on leagues. Also, fantasy baseball has larger starting lineups- at least 9 or 10 hitters plus pitchers. Fantasy football, on the other hand, has smaller starting lineups – for example my league starts 1 qb, 2 rb, 3 wr/te so that’s a total of 6 players not counting a defense and kicker. That’s a bigger percentage of a team’s total score that’s affected by this move. Another thing to consider, what if when James Starks returns the Packers decide to use Ty mostly at wide receiver? The current rules at ESPN would allow Ty to retain his eligibility for the rest of the season regardless of where he is lining up. The more I think about it, I believe the positional eligibility of a player should stay the same during the season. Let players prove it for one season and then make whatever necessary changes the following season so everyone can rank them accordingly and draft them fairly. However, there might be exceptions. A fellow fantasy football fan brought up a good point on twitter. He asked me, "Mark would you feel the same way if Terrelle Pryor played 5 games at qb?" Hmnn... in that case I'd suggest changing his position from wr to qb- instead of adding to it. The goal as I see it is to make it right, to make it as fair as possible, not to create loopholes for owners to take advantage of.
I’ve played fantasy football for 26 years. During that time I was a commissioner and ran my own league for several of those years. I always prided myself on being fair and objective, and tried to see another person’s point of view. I’m proud to say that we never had any major issues and we had a lot of fun. Hey, it’s great to compete and win, but at the end of the day fantasy football is about having fun and hopefully making a few friends along the way. I think a move like this is very weasel like. Hmnn....I wonder if my no good friends Chad and Kelly are behind this? Those miserable slugs who have cost me so much fantasy football grief and heartache over the years by sniping the players I coveted in drafts right before I picked, beating my teams in the playoffs, denying me multiple titles. I bet they are, but I digress. Hmnn… where was I? Oh yeah, this is the kind of change that will create a bunch of arguments and in my opinion is bush league. I don’t mind losing. I don’t like it, but I don’t mind it as long as it’s fair. Put your best against my best and let’s see who wins. However, that’s not what this is. This is a loophole, a technicality, it's the small print at the bottom of the page, it’s changing the rules in the middle of the season and that’s not cool. And I guess that’s what rubs me the wrong way. I mean I'm not saying Ty Montgomery shouldn't have any eligibility- I'm just saying he shouldn't have any at running back. Overall I think ESPN does a great job. I enjoy their website and their fantasy football analysts (especially Matthew Berry who, despite my disagreeing with him on this issue, is still one of my favorite analysts). I think all of the folks at ESPN are very insightful, entertaining, and generally seem like good people. However, whoever made the call on this one dropped the ball in my opinion. I should add that I firmly believe it's okay to disagree with people as long as you do so in a respectful manner. Heck, we do it all the time with our rankings and preseason sleeper and bust picks. Sometimes we see things differently and that's all this is- a respectful disagreement. As much as the folks at ESPN believe Ty should have running back eligibility I am equally as adamant that he should not. We both love fantasy football and want to make it the best it can be, but I think ESPN is opening up Pandora’s Box by doing this. And once you start changing a player's position eligibility, changing the rules, etc. mid-season here’s the real problem...where does it end?
Senior Fantasy Analyst / Writer/ Editor In Chief
Mark is a veteran fantasy football player. He has been playing fantasy football since 1991. He started playing in college with his friends at Northern Illinois University.