The legalization of sports wagering and high-stakes fantasy football contests creates a very real temptation for chicanery. Recently, chicanery happened.
Via David Purdum of ESPN.com, the National Fantasy Football Championship disclosed on Wednesday that “an employee used internal controls to make advantageous changes to a contestant’s roster after games had kicked off, including swapping in a player who had already scored a touchdown.”
The employee was fired, and a contest participant was banned from the platform.
As explained by Purdum, the contest swapped out a player in both the super wild-card round and the divisional round of the ongoing playoffs. It involved switching Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert for Packers running back Aaron Jones in the first round of the postseason. This past weekend, the same contestant swapped out Chiefs receiver Rashee Rice for Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, after Kelce had scored a touchdown.
The contest has a first prize of $150,000. It attracted more than 1,500 entries.
“Nothing is more important than the integrity of a pay-to-play contest,” NFFC founder Greg Ambrosius told Purdum on Thursday. “We have built up 20-plus years of integrity through transparency and everything we’ve done. And by one action, it’s put all of it in question. It’s put me and everybody associated with our company in question.”
The problem was spotted by a group of contestants who were examining the various lineups. One member of that group was Pete Overzet.
“It wouldn’t have stood out unless you were intimately familiar with how that contest works,” Overzet told Purdum. “I think this is incredibly damaging [to the fantasy industry]. We’re in an era where people want to jump to conspiracy theories. Now, not only do you know that It can occur, but it did occur, I think that’s going to spread the seeds of distrust.”
The termination of the employee and disqualification of the contestant shouldn’t be the end of this, but the beginning. Both individuals involved in the alleged scam potentially broke one or more state or federal laws. For public contests like this, the punishments shouldn’t be solely private. To deter others from trying to pull a fast one in the future in similar competitions, there should be the same kind of prosecution that would apply in other businesses where fraud and related misconduct often occur, to the detriment of others.
That might seem harsh on the surface. Without real consequences for rigging a high-stakes competitive endeavor like this, efforts to rig such games will continue. And people will indeed lose trust in the entire industry.