The Commish's Court: Absentee owners, rosters

The shortest war in recorded history lasted all of 40 minutes. That was all it took for the conflict between British forces and loyalists to the new Sultan of Zanzibar to settle things. If accounts of the 1896 conflict are to be believed, just one British soldier was injured that day, or rather, that hour. Certainly, nobody on the winning British side was complaining that day about leaving for war at the break of dawn, becoming a decorated war hero and still making it back home in time for a mid-morning cup of tea. But as a fantasy football owner, it's not so much fun going up against a team that isn't even trying.

Let's face it, nobody likes playing in a league in which one owner (or possibly more) not only didn't bother to show up on draft day and had the computer select his or her team, but also hasn't made a single player move or roster change all season. But even worse is when a league's commissioner finally decides he or she has the obligation to do something about it halfway through the season.

Jarod from Cleveland shares this story: "AJ, I have a hot topic in my league that I'd like your input about. I have one team in the league I run that has been inactive up to now. The owner has made exactly zero moves and probably has never logged into the site since setting up his team. The lineup his team has been using was set by the computer prior to Week 1 and because of this, five teams have had the benefit of earning an easy win. To make sure the owner doesn't suddenly participate and cause an unfair advantage, one owner has suggested that we make the team a forfeit win for those who play him. That way, all of the other 13 teams will have the same win. I am in favor of this decision, and would like to refund any cash to the owner to make it fair. However, quite a few owners feel it's that person's right since he has paid to manage -- or not manage -- his team, and that all teams should have to face the exact same situation. The last thing I want to see is this team costing another team a chance at the playoffs by some miracle week or by finally starting to play. What would you do in this case?"

I understand what some of the owners are saying. Five teams set lineups and risked losing to this "ghost team." The fact that they all lived to tell the tale doesn't change the fact that they could have lost. So why would it be fair to turn a scheduled game into a bye week and not force all owners to face the same risk, no matter how small?

That's a good question, but a better one to Jarod would be: "What took you so long to do something?" As soon as you realized this owner didn't set a lineup, or the first time he started an injured or bye-week player, you should have been in contact with him, asking him what the deal was. Certainly, an absentee owner isn't good for a league, and you'd want to expose him as early as possible so you could replace him with an active owner, but at 0-5 and counting, that's not going to be an easy task, now is it? And your league certainly will be torn apart if in Week 14, with a playoff spot on the line, one of his buddies convinces him to finally field his strongest players or, worse, gets him to give them his password so they can go in and set that lineup themselves.

So while I'd prefer you had dealt with this situation earlier, your path now is clear. Get rid of this owner once and for all. If he asks for his money back, by all means, give it to him, but force him to be proactive and ask you for it. As for his team, since nobody has lost to him yet, I think I'd just wash my hands of it entirely. Freeze the roster because you don't want to release his players to the free-agent pool, as that would be a new nightmare for you to deal with, but I'm fine with just declaring a forfeit victory for each team that is scheduled to face him from here on out. Future opponents might not face the "exact same situation" as his first few foes, if, for example, the reason his lineup has been so awful is due to players like Marques Colston, Kevin Curtis and Maurice Morris missing so much time. Therefore, it's far more palatable to simply live and learn here and choose your owners better in the future.

But whatever you decide to do, Jarod, under no circumstances are you to take the course of action that Greg in Allentown, Penn., did. He wrote in, hoping for a "get out of jail free" card from me to clear his conscience. None shall be forthcoming:

"I had an interesting scenario unfold this weekend as the commish of a 12-team league. While I don't like going in there and changing lineups, I also don't like to see a team playing players with a bye. Last week (Week 5), however, it was my buddy who I was playing. I subbed in Brian Westbrook for Leon Washington (who was on a bye) just to invoke fair play and didn't want to hear him complain that he didn't have his team in there when he lost. Westbrook ended up with 22.6 points. At the end of the day I lost by 0.9 points, so if I would've left well enough alone, I would've had the win. Is this a good model for sportsmanship and fair play, or is this my handiwork blowing up in my face. I just did this to prevent someone from just not playing and giving out lopsided wins to their opponents. Is this a smart move or is this a practice that should be stopped?"

Well, Greg, you got what you deserved. Under no circumstances should a commissioner use his powers to go into another team's lineup to make changes not authorized by that owner, such as replacing a bye-week player or swapping out a player who was unexpectedly declared out of action because of a late injury. And most certainly, you should not alter another lineup because you simply think the owner didn't start what you deemed to be the best lineup possible. I can just imagine "helpful" Greg swapping out Pittsburgh's defense this past week for the Ravens' and having the negative-2 points they scored be the difference between a win and a loss. What a samaritan! You certainly are within your rights to contact an owner you see has a bye week or injured player in his lineup and recommend he do something to remedy the situation, but to unilaterally make that change for him without his say-so is ridiculous.

Taken to an extreme, this type of "helpful" hands-on approach to running a league is a sure way to end up starting a conflict that could last far longer than a very special super-sized episode of "The Office." Because the moment you take Patrick Cobbs and Malcolm Floyd out of an owner's starting lineup and replace them with Joseph Addai and Randy Moss in the "interest of fairness" because you think that team might be pulling a tank job, you're going to end up very, very late for tea, my friend. It's just not worth it.

AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.