It’s the most … dramatic … Millionaire … Maker … ever.
And now the daily fantasy sports community is sniffing this final rose, and something doesn’t smell right.
Jade Roper Tolbert, a former contestant on the reality series The Bachelor, finished first in DraftKings’ massive $20 buy-in GPP (guaranteed prize pool) tournament for the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs, collecting a cool million bucks. What seemed at first glance like a feel-good story and a jolt of positive publicity for the DFS industry quickly turned, however, into a major controversy.
Roper Tolbert is married to former Bachelorette contestant Tanner Tolbert — they met in 2016 on Bachelor in Paradise and now have two kids — and whereas DraftKings rules allow players to enter the Milly Maker up to 150 times, allegations of collusion are flying after internet sleuths noticed that both Tolberts entered 150 lineups and certain patterns to their respective lineup builds suggest a couple coordinating to generate 300 unique entries.
Here’s Roper Tolbert’s winning lineup, which included every top scorer on the four-game slate other than expensive Tennessee running back Derrick Henry:
Top DFS player Alex Baker was quick to spot the rare “celebrity” winner, while making the obligatory male excuse about being a part of “Bachelor Nation”:
I’m pretty sure this girl was on The Bachelor. I only know this because my girlfriend forces me to watch it. pic.twitter.com/fkONNR3V99
— Alex Baker (@AwesemoDFS) January 6, 2020
Jade quote-tweeted Baker, and in so doing, opened the door for questions about her lineup building:
Hahaha that’s me! And Tanner told me I shouldn’t play DK Metcalf! 🤣🤪 https://t.co/Ry25Kuq4k9
— Jade Roper Tolbert (@jadelizroper) January 6, 2020
Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf made good on his initials by posting more DK points than any other player all weekend, hauling in a 36-yard catch in the final two minutes against the Eagles to clinch the game and propel Roper Tolbert’s score into first place. However, the claim that “Tanner told me I shouldn’t play DK Metcalf!” looks curious.
As Twitter user @blaunder noticed after examining all 300 lineups submitted by either of the Tolberts, Tanner jammed in an awful lot of Metcalf for a guy who supposedly didn’t think he was a strong play:
But yet you played 88% and he played 78%? pic.twitter.com/HsCWpglZ6k
— Bryan (@blaunder) January 6, 2020
Then again, some have surmised that Roper Tolbert’s Twitter comment referred to her husband wanting her to late-swap off Metcalf to avoid duplication with any lineups she was chasing. Or it could have been tongue-in-cheek. Certainly, her tweet doesn’t prove any wrongdoing.
Which one won?
There were other suspicious elements to the Tolberts’ story. As RotoGrinders contributor Travis Mangone noted, Chris Randone, another former Bachelorette contestant, congratulated the wrong Tolbert for winning, then deleted the tweet:
Care to explain why you deleted this tweet where you congratulated the wrong person?? 🤔 You said you were on the phone with them but you forgot that Jade was the winner?? This doesn't sound suspicious at all!! pic.twitter.com/nm7CoVnrsp
— Mangone (@TravisMangone) January 6, 2020
Perhaps most damning is this breakdown of their respective lineup builds from William Bierman, a top DFS player and sports betting expert who recently tied for the top score in DraftKings’ Super Pool contest:
This is absolutely insanity and is the the clearest collusion ever. Check the QBs lmao pic.twitter.com/JudoCAT0JQ
— William Bierman (@williambierman) January 6, 2020
If, hypothetically, one was using two different accounts to build lineups, one might build 150 lineups using quarterbacks from Saturday games on one account and 150 lineups using quarterbacks from Sunday games on the other.
Of Jade’s lineups, 95.33% were built around Deshaun Watson, Ryan Tannehill, and Josh Allen, three AFC QBs who played on Saturday. Of Tanner’s lineups, 98.67% were built around Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, and Carson Wentz, three NFC signal callers who played on Sunday.
Among other players — running backs, wide receivers, tight ends — the distribution of players between Jade’s lineups and Tanner’s lineups was notably correlated. Phrased as gently as possible: It seems highly statistically unlikely that two DFS players acting independently would land on these builds.
Some were not so gentle in their phrasing:
They cheated, end of story. pic.twitter.com/urp2Mbt9HQ
— huitcinq (@huitcinqDFS) January 6, 2020
‘Conduct that would be deemed improper’
The terms further state that “conduct that would be deemed improper” includes “Colluding with any other individual(s) or engaging in any type of syndicate play” and “Using a single Account to participate in a Contest on behalf of multiple entrants or otherwise collaborating with others to participate in any Contest.”
Additionally, the DraftKings Community Guidelines page notes “Team-building complementary lineups which serve to work together AND executing a strategy that may create any unfair advantage over individual play” as an example of “Unacceptable Behaviors.”
The Twitter handle “@saulgoodmanDFS,” which changed its bio Sunday night to read “My wife now max enters every contest on @DraftKings,” suggested that if the Tolberts colluded, they would be far from the first DFS participants to do so:
+++ THIS OCCURS EVERY SLATE, THEY JUST HAPPENED TO BE OUTED BECAUSE THEY’RE FAMOUS
+++ IT’S BLATANTLY CHEATING AND AGAINST THE RULES
can both be true pic.twitter.com/S90f16vuFd
— S. Goodman (@saulgoodmanDFS) January 6, 2020
As of Monday morning, DraftKings has not issued any comment regarding the validity of the result. The last tweet from the DK account came at 9 p.m. ET on Sunday, embracing the opportunity for publicity that comes from a public figure winning a DFS tournament:
— DraftKings (@DraftKings) January 6, 2020
Most seasons of The Bachelor end with a final rose awarded … and an engagement broken off soon after the cameras stop rolling. This is a story worth watching closely, to see whether this million-dollar ring will have to be returned.
Update: DraftKings issued a statement on Monday morning to ESPN’s David Payne Purdum, saying, “We take the integrity and fairness of our contests very seriously and are looking into this matter.”
Photo by Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com