According to Steve Volk, Adam Harstad just happens to be wicked, dangerous, and clever enough to be a threat to all we hold dear in fantasy football.
By Steve Volk
The trade deadline in my favorite dynasty league is coming up, on Nov. 15th, and frankly I couldn’t be happier. I note with no small degree of pleasure that the trade deadline falls exactly one week after the end of the Presidential election season, a coincidence, but one from which we might take some powerful meaning.
The election season, even a crazy and controversial one, is a time when we as Americans can celebrate our history and our status as a Democracy where we can enjoy—or at least expect—a peaceful transition of power. Similarly, annual trade deadlines are a celebration, too—of the reasons we all began to play fantasy football in the first place.
Of course, I can’t ignore and should acknowledge that the very reason I’m writing this is because these celebratory days on the American calendar have recently been challenged. Of course, on the presidential level, one candidate upset a lot of Americans by suggesting that perhaps we wouldn’t have such a peaceful transition of power—that in fact he might not accept the election results. And unfortunately, a similar kind of suggestion has been made of late—with great passion—that dynasty football leagues should abandon the trade deadline.
I write, with no small degree of urgency, that the answer to this is no. Because trade deadlines aren’t just good for fantasy football—trade deadlines are good for America. And I don’t believe we should be subjected, any further, to suggestions that we abandon the reasons we all started playing fantasy football in the first place.
Before I go any further, I want to be clear that I have no personal grievance with Adam Harstad, the fantasy football analyst who has been the most aggressive and outspoken proponent of the idea we give up on trade deadlines. He just happens to be wicked, dangerous, and clever enough to be a threat to all we hold dear.
Harstad put his argument forward (and has proceeded to repeat these talking points on his subsequent campaign) most thoroughly last November in a column at Footballguys, and without taking it on point by point—some of any madman’s ravings require no response (what can anyone say to a howling shriek of bloodlust and ill will?), and Harstad’s manifesto is no different—I’ll respond to it here. First, he claims that the chief reason is to keep bad teams from deciding the fate of leagues by offloading their talent at the end of the season. “This convention is fraught with problems,” he writes. “For starters, it assumes bad faith on the part of certain participants.”
Harstad positions himself here, rather cannily, as the guy preaching faith in the human spirit to refrain from collusion and trickery. Harstad even quotes Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the great 18th century German writer and thinker, on the subject. And so allow me to quote poet W.H. Auden, who writes, “Evil is unspectacular and always human, And shares our bed and eats at our own table.”
In short, I do not mind offering up some small guard against unspectacular evils, in the form of a trade deadline. But I fear Adam’s real crime here is not naievete—though he’s guilty of it. His crime here is simple inaccuracy.
I, for one, have not been playing fantasy football for so long or so intensely that I have lost my original motivation for doing it: I want to have an experience similar to that of running an actual NFL team. The second argument for trade deadlines, in my view, beyond guarding against moral turpitude, is simply this: NFL teams deal with them. Therefore, I want to deal with them, too.
I understand: NFL teams also deal with groundskeepers and concession operators, too. And no, I do not want to deal with those. But trade deadlines directly effect the decision-making, and the urgency of the decision-making, associated with the on-field product. That is worth replicating—not just because we’re mindlessly adhering to the NFL’s process or calendar, but because trade deadlines mimic a crucial aspect of the game: Each season, at some point, your team is your team—and the only thing to do is ride the squad you’ve built. Sure, we might still snag someone off the waiver wire—the Steelers added jouneyman Ben Tate a couple of years back, but again this mimics the NFL experience and only allows a team to change, at the last second, by some small touch.
Harstad, with a daring kind of perversity, grabs us down low and actually seeks to twist this argument in his favor. A lack of trade deadlines fails to punish teams that did not acquire quality depth, he writes, but what is he trading away for a key asset—if not depth? In other words, allowing trading beyond the normal deadline is a way of rewarding the team with real depth over the team that has failed to accumulate such talent.
The lesson here, I think, is that talking fast can actually confuse people into believing they’ve heard a winning argument. What Harstad is actually saying here is that a team which hoards depth at a position should be able to shop for help at positions they neglected throughout the year. I, however, believe in a different vision of fantasy football, one that more closely adheres to traditional American values, which is that actions have consequences. And so does inaction.
In other words, if a team has failed to lay in enough, say, running backs, to withstand that position’s usual attrition by the trade deadline, and that failing proves fatal to their championship hopes, here’s what they should do: Lose.
Adam Harstad might want America’s children to grow up in a Libertine world, where we can fail to save money, purchase life insurance, or study in school, and still wind up with high paying jobs and brand new PS4s. But I—well, frankly, I’d like that, too. But that kind of world isn’t possible, and so I’d like my children to play in fantasy football leagues that reward, beyond all else, the prepared. And I’d like to play in fantasy football leagues that, again, mirror the real life experience of running a team:
“What happens if I suffer two injuries at a single position?” writes Harstad.
In other words, waah!
Oh my, whatever shall he do? Well, let’s turn to the real world for an example: When the Chiefs lost Jamaal Charles and Charcandrick West, they still had Spencer Ware and a productive running game. When the Steelers lost Le’veon Bell and had nothing but Josh Harris and Dri Archer behind him, they added Ben Tate—and they lost. And guess what? In terms of action or inaction and consequences, I am ok with that. In fact, that whole turn of events looks like justice to me.
There are other arguments. I believe Harstad said something about how deadlines suppress trading in one of his podcast appearances. I say I believe he did because I nearly passed out when I heard this line of talk. Gross illogic does that to me. In short, doesn’t the absence of a trade deadline suppress trading? After all, with no trade deadline, owners can just hold on to their players unless and until they suffer an injury and then start trade talks. In leagues with trade deadlines, people need to scramble to find good depth or wind up whining, “What do I do now that I suffered two injuries at a single position???”
And I am sure Harstad has argued that trade deadlines prevent bad teams from getting better. To this, I have two arguments: Again, actions should have consequences for good and bad teams. If a manager’s team is that bad, she can start looking to swing deals before the deadline arrives. Second, if dynasty league experts are so incredibly concerned about helping bad teams, why are expert leagues generally conducting the waiver process using blind bidding?
Early in the season, as players emerge, the worst teams—I’m in a league that factors in last year’s performance in the early going—should get first pick off the waiver wire. That is, if you really care about improving bad teams. The point here seems pretty clear: A trade deadline in dynasty might hurt bad teams, if they do not recognize how bad they are and act before the deadline.
Blind bidding hurts bad teams always, all the time, and every week of the season. (I await Adam’s essay on that.) As I wind this to a close, I note that Harstad doesn’t only want trades throughout the regular season: he wants them during the playoffs.
Really? Because we all remember so fondly that year when the Steelers traded for LeSean McCoy, so they didn’t have to resort to claiming Ben Tate? Oh, that’s right: Nothing like that has ever happened in the National Football League because, at some point, your team is just what you’ve built it up to be—nothing more, nothing less. Want to make drastic changes? Wait for the offseason. Just like real life. Imagine that—a fantasy league that creates an experience similar to running a real team.
Well, gang, that’s what we have right now. And I’d argue that what we have right now is pretty great. So I implore you: Stop Adam Harstad.
Keep your trade deadlines in place and if you do not have one, adopt it. Do it for Fantasy Football, for your children, and for America.
Steve Volk is a narrative journalist specializing in politics, crime, media, and music. A 2013 and 2015 City and Regional Magazine Association Writer of the Year nominee, Volk’s work has appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, Discover, Rolling Stone, Psychology Today, and the Washington Post. He is the author of the book Fringe-ology.
[Editor’s Note: I am Matt Waldman and Chase Stuart approves of this message.]