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Ask The Commish - Need a Ruling



TWO D'S OR NOT TWO D'S? - THAT IS THE QUESTION.
By Bill Davies and Bill DeSimone

All rise! Court is now in session. Presiding over the 2004 Footballguys.com Commissioner's Court will be the dishonorable Chief Injustice Bill "The Commissioner" Davies and Associate Injustice Bill "DeCommish" DeSimone.

TODAY'S DOCKET: State of Our FFL League v. Half Perspectives
THE CHARGE: Duplicity. Or is it?

There was a great deal of debate over last year's Tampa Bay pass that was intercepted and the interception was subsequently fumbled and returned for a TD. Everyone knows the play in question - Monday night's game with the Keenan McCardell fumble return for a TD.

Basically, in spite of all of the confusion, there is only one fact at issue - do offense and defense change when there is a change in possession? The answer is that when there are two changes in possession (or any even number of changes in possession for that matter) the answer to this question doesn't matter. In all cases it cannot be a defensive TD for Tampa Bay.

Conventional wisdom in fantasy leagues is that when a team starts a play on offense, the opposing team is on defense. This is how we have things like interception returns and fumble returns for TD. This has more or less gone unchallenged for all of time.

From the NFL rulebook Rule 3, Section 35, Article 1: "Whenever a team is in possession, it is the Offense and, at such time, its opponent is the Defense." The rule, along with Rule 3, Section 35, Article 2, states: "The team that puts the ball in play is Team A, and its opponent is Team B. For brevity, a player on Team A is referred to as A1 and his teammates as A2, A3, etc… Opponents are B1, B2, etc… The rule goes on state through notation: "A team becomes Team A when it has been designated to put ball in play, and it remains Team A until a down ends, even though there might be one or more changes of possession during the down. This is in contrast with the terms Offense and Defense. Team A is the offense when the down starts, but becomes the defense if and when B secures possession during the down, and vice versa for each change of possession."

We, as fantasy footballers, have rejected this interpretation. If we accepted it, there could never be defensive TDs - by definition. As soon as the defensive team gained possession, it would be the offensive team, by rule. Since these rules are written for officials for a purpose different than fantasy football, we've let common sense prevail and we say, "No, the players that started the play on defense are defensive players. If they intercept the ball or recover a fumble and return it for a TD, it is a defensive TD."

However, let us debate the opposite. Let's agree, ONLY FOR THE SAKE OF ARGUMENT, this NFL rule does apply. In this particular case, when the play began Tampa Bay was on offense and Indianapolis was on defense. When Michael Doss intercepted Brad Johnson's pass, Indianapolis went on offense and Tampa Bay went on defense, per NFL Rule 3, Section 35. By the same rule and section, when Keenan McCardell recovered Doss' fumble, Tampa Bay went back on offense and Indianapolis went back on defense. When Tampa Bay went back on offense, McCardell regained his status as an offensive player. His in-play designations were Offensive Player-Defensive Player-Offensive Player-TD scorer. We reject this notion. We only point it out for two reasons. First, it demonstrates that the facts lead to the same conclusion whether we use the NFL rule book or common sense. Second, since so much of the confusion in leagues revolves around fantasy players using the change of possession to demonstrate that Keenan McCardell was on defense after the interception that by extension he must have gone back on offense when he recovered the fumble. You cannot recognize one change of possession and arbitrarily reject the second.

There is a movement out there that seems to think once possession changed, both teams were on defense. We are not aware of any fantasy football or NFL rule that would permit two defensive teams on the field at one time. Rugby, maybe. Not in the NFL.

So we really have three possibilities:

  1. Tampa was on offense the whole play


  2. Tampa was on offense, then defense, then back on offense


  3. Tampa and Indianapolis were both playing defense at the same time.


Here are the scoring summaries under each scenario:

SCENARIO #1 - TAMPA WAS ON OFFENSE THE ENTIRE PLAY (THE COMMON SENSE APPROACH)

  • Brad Johnson - credited with 1 pass, 1 interception, 0 receptions and 0 yards


  • Keenan McCardell - credited with 1 fumble recovery and 1 return TD*


  • Michael Doss - credited with 1 interception, 15 return yards and 1 fumble


  • Indianapolis defense - credited with 1 interception, 15 return yards and 1 fumble


  • Tampa Bay defense - no credit received, they were never involved in this play
    * - McCardell's points can only be awarded if your scoring rules permit points to WRs for fumble recoveries and TDs resulting from fumble recoveries. McCardell receives neither rushing nor receiving yards.


SCENARIO #2 - TAMPA WAS ON OFFENSE, THEN DEFENSE, THEN OFFENSE AGAIN (THE TECHNICAL, NFL RULEBOOK APPROACH)

  • Brad Johnson - credited with 1 pass, 1 interception, 0 receptions and 0 yards


  • Keenan McCardell - credited with 1 fumble recovery and 1 return TD*


  • Michael Doss - credited with 1 interception, 15 return yards and 1 fumble


  • Indianapolis defense - credited with 1 interception, 15 return yards and 1 fumble


  • Tampa Bay defense - credited with 1 fumble recovery
    * - McCardell's points can only be awarded if your scoring rules permit points to WRs for fumble recoveries and TDs resulting from fumble recoveries. McCardell receives neither rushing nor receiving yards.


SCENARIO #3 - TAMPA AND INDIANAPOLIS WERE BOTH DEFENSE AT THE SAME TIME (THE ILLOGICAL APPROACH)

  • Brad Johnson - credited with 1 pass, 1 interception, 0 receptions and 0 yards


  • Keenan McCardell - credited with nothing because he is suffering from a terrible identity crisis as a WR. In fact, he could not return the fumble. He was looking to the sidelines wondering what he was doing out there where there were supposed to be two defensive teams on the same field


  • Michael Doss - credited with 1 interception, 15 return yards and 1 fumble


  • Indianapolis defense - credited with 1 interception, 15 return yards and 1 fumble


  • Tampa Bay defense - credited with 1 fumble recovery and 1 TD return
    * - McCardell's points can only be awarded if your scoring rules permit points to WRs for fumble recoveries and TDs resulting from fumble recoveries. McCardell receives neither rushing nor receiving yards - mostly because he doesn't exist, as an offensive player
    (NOTE: We have already rejected this possibility by allowing for defensive TDs. If you have a defensive team, by definition you must also have an offense on the field. Otherwise, it would be like a civil war in France.)


Some leagues rely exclusively on their online league management system. We understand and appreciate that position. However, we reject it as a copout. We think these situations are what make the Commissioner's job what it is. But if yours is a fun league that does not live or die by this stuff, it can simply refer to its league management site or software for guidance. Most major league management systems allow for Commissioners to make manual adjustments to scoring, if the league feels it is appropriate, for situations like this.

One point that helped to confuse the matter on this is that there was a categorization of this TD as a "Def TD" by www.NFL.com. This is interesting and confusing. However, if you look closely, www.NFL.com does not have a category for this TD. They stuck it in there because in many ways a fumble recovery looks like a defensive TD - hence our entire discussion. However, there is no category for fumble returns for TDs under the offensive categories because it happens so rarely. Fantasy owners clinging to this mis-categorization are really reaching. It is like going to a used car lot and seeing a Harley motorcycle there. Now putting a motorcycle on a used car lot does not make it a used car. It is still a motorcycle, but they are not going to open and rename a lot for the rare time that there is a motorcycle there. There is simply nowhere else to put the item, so you put it where it most closely fits and hope that people will apply common sense and see the item for what it is.

There are some website management services, like www.CBSSportsline.com, that also treat this as a defensive TD. Their argument is that the Doss interception switched designations. CSBSportsline used the following verbiage:

McCardell Fumble Recovery Will Be Scored as Defensive Touchdown

10/7/2003 - The play in which Keenan McCardell picked up Michael Doss's fumble and ran it in for a touchdown will be scored as a touchdown for the Buccaneers defense. The reason is as follows: once Michael Doss intercepted Brad Johnson's pass, there was a change of possession and the Bucs become the defensive team. Doss then fumbled the ball and McCardell recovered the fumble and returned it for a TD. Even though McCardell is typically an offensive player, he was considered a defensive player at the point he took possession of the ball. As a result, the Bucs defense will be credited with a Defensive Fumble Recovery and a Defensive TD.

For the reasons described above, their answer and ruling is flawed. This is a case when possession changed twice and either you do not recognize either (as we do on a weekly basis) or you recognize both. You do not get to choose which changes of possession you'll accept and which you won't. Too CBSSportsline's credit, they permit league commissioners to make manual adjustments, when necessary and appropriate.

This issue is not nearly as complicated as we made it. If there is a change of designation, then with two turnovers the original designations return. It is the whole double-negative thing we slept through in math class. If there is no change of designation, like we all have been playing the game for decades, then McCardell never lost his status as an offensive player.

The important thing that we recognize is that whether there was a change in designation or not, McCardell was functioning as an offensive player when he scored the touchdown.

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