I Hate Tanking in Sports

     If I had to pick one idea in sports that I hate above all others, it very well might be tanking.  For the uninformed, tanking is when a sports team intentionally loses games, usually in an effort to receive a higher pick in the upcoming draft, but also on occasion to set up more favorable playoff matchups.  It’s an epidemic that has spread across the sports world, already poisoning all four major North American sports leagues, but perhaps being most notable in the NFL and especially NBA.
     The reasons for the employment of the practice are pretty clear, and make a decent amount of sense.  If a team with very little chance of making the playoffs simply decides to lose all the games they play, then they can draft the next superstar and hopefully be a great team in a few years.  Many of sports’ all time greats have been drafted early in the first round of their drafts, so why not take a chance to snag one?  Because it’s not a morally right thing to do.
     I don’t understand how any person could feel okay with tanking.  When losing becomes the objective of games instead of winning, then some purity is definitely taken out of the game.  I want sports where teams and players play with integrity, and actually have pride in themselves.  As a fan, I would be infuriated if my team decided to lose intentionally.  If my team is going to be horrible, I at least want them to try their hardest.  Any team that considers tanking in the first place is going to receive a high draft pick anyway.  Intentionally losing is giving up on a season.  It’s quitting.  Any player that believes that’s okay doesn’t deserve to be playing sports professionally.  Where’s the competitive spirit?
     It also completely ruins the fan experience for an entire year.  What’s the point of watching your hometown team on TV, or getting tickets to see games live if you know that the team isn’t actually planning on winning the game anyway?  They’d rather be the laughing stock of the league than actually playing their hearts out and giving a decent effort during the games.  Just the idea of that makes a game practically unwatchable.  It’s cheating the fans and cheating the league.  It’s boring, and it’s poor sportsmanship.  It’s almost sickening to think that a whole team could come together and just decide to give up.  But teams do it all the time.
     In the NBA, the draft order is dependent on the lottery system, where even the worst team in the league only has a 25% chance of receiving the #1 pick.  Why lose dozens of games just to earn a few percentage points?  In the long run the odds aren’t substantially different.  And even if a team manages to get the #1 pick, the chances of that person becoming a star are definitely not 100%.  Just in the 21st century, there have been several busts from the #1 spot.  2007’s top pick Greg Oden has had a notoriously horrible, injury-ridden career which has seen him play in only 114 career games, not even one and a half full seasons, and only average eight points per game.  Anthony Bennett, the Cavaliers’ surprise top draft selection in 2013, has done just about nothing in his two league seasons, suffering from many problems including asthma, sleep apnea, and fitness issues.  He’s been nothing more than a sub-par role player through two seasons.  Other #1 picks such as Kwame Brown and Michael Olowokandi have also been nothing short of underwhelming.
     The NFL especially suffers from one particular consequence of tanking.  In the NFL, the season is very short by the standards of other leagues, with each team playing just 16 games.  A tanking team is basically giving every other team in their division a free two wins, which can easily make all the difference between a team making and missing the playoffs.  If a mediocre team gets two free victories, they can easily go from being a 8-6 team in the middle of the wild card race to a 10-6 team which will likely make the playoffs.  The unfortunate fact is that their opponents in the wild card race don’t get this two win advantage, and might not even play the tanking team once.  Giving away free victories could easily ruin the system, turning making the playoffs into a game of schedule luck instead of actually playing skill.
     There is a strategy that calls for making trades in order to accumulate draft picks, and I’m okay with that.  If you want to move a few pieces around to have more picks come Draft Day and more cap space in free agency, go right ahead.   No one’s stopping you.  Just make sure you actually still give a decent effort to win.  The New York Knicks forgot about that last part this season.  By trading away nearly every decent player on the team besides Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks put up a blatant display of tanking.  Undrafted rookie Langston Galloway was signed to a 10-day contract in the middle of the season and within a week became a starter on the team, and held the position for over 40 games.  A straight-up walk on instantly became one of the best players on the Knicks.  This is how bad they were.  Undrafted rookie Travis Wear got solid minutes after being signed to a 10-day contract, and Lance Thomas also became a starter out of nowhere.  I’m convinced I would’ve had a decent chance at making the Knicks roster.
     It wasn’t just the Knicks, however.  The year seemed like a huge losing contest between the Knicks, 76ers, Timberwolves, and Lakers, with the T-Wolves taking the crown at the end.  It was an absolute joke to see any of those teams play.  And they call themselves professionals?  Their whole mindset as teams were to be contestants in the Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor sweepstakes.
     That’s a huge problem with tanking.  When star talents are being hyped so strongly, the emphasis of the entire sport can sometimes shift away from the actual good teams and onto the fight for last.  I remember the entire 2011 NFL season was referred to as the “Race for Luck”.  Sometimes it seemed to take precedence over all other news in the sport.  It was interesting in a pathetic way to see who wanted to suck more.  Hey!  The Colts lost again!  Oh, but the Redskins really got crushed!  Don’t count out the Browns!  They’re on their third-string quarterback!  It’s unbelievable.
     Tanking has even begun to plague non-professional sports, such as high school basketball.  Earlier this year a story came out about how two girls basketball teams were both eliminated from the playoffs after intentionally trying to lose to avoid playing the defending state champs.  The game included blatantly missed free throws, backcourt violations, and even players asking to be called for three seconds in the paint.  Now typically tanking teams at least make it look like their playing to win, and putting up a decent fight.  This was just taken to a whole new level.  A line is crossed when a team attempts to score in the other team’s basket.
     How much of it is strategy?  In this situation, the actions kind of make sense.  I mean, in my fantasy football league there were talks about intentionally benching entire lineups just to get to play a team perceived as weaker.  It never actually happened, but you bet it was considered.  In the end, I think it’s just unprofessional.  Coaches shouldn’t advocate the strategy.  At the end of the season, their jobs are at stake.  Players should listen to the famous words of Herm Edwards when he said, “You play to win the game!”  It’s shows a lack of heart and integrity to not try, and especially for people being paid to play, it’s sickening, and fundamentally wrong.  I know no other way of describing it than just saying that it makes of mockery of the game.
     I think the worst example of all at showing how the idea of tanking is harming sports comes from a game between the Lakers and 76ers, two of the league’s worst teams, from earlier this season.  The Lakers won the game in overtime off a last-second shot from one of the team’s few bright spots, Jordan Clarkson.  And then the fans booed.  The situation had become so horrible that defeating a pathetic team was viewed as a missed opportunity to close the gap between fourth and third-worst team in the league.  The fans’ actions, while understandable, are nothing short of sad.  The team won, and yet they couldn’t please the fans too caught up with visions of the future to remember the actual purpose of playing and watching sports: competition and winning.
     So yes, while there is a decent argument that can be made for tanking to exist, I really hope we can find a way to prevent it.  Take soccer leagues like the Barclays Premier League, for example.  In the BPL, the three worst teams at the end of the season are relegated from the league, and are replaced by the three best teams from the league under it.  While a system like that in the NBA, for example, where D-League teams replace NBA teams is unrealistic, a change should be found in the future, for the love of the game.  After all, it shouldn’t be this difficult to get teams to want to win.

Readers Comments (1)

  1. Good topic. Be a winner not a tanker


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