As much as we fans want to believe that sport teams go out and perform their ultimate best in order to win each and every game every time, we should come to terms with ourselves that that’s just simply not the case. There are countless cases in which sport teams will purposely ‘tank’ a season in order to finish at the bottom of the standings and get a high draft pick the following year for a potential franchise type of player. In every professional sport in North America, the teams that have the worst record in the season always have the best odds of getting the top draft pick for prospects the following year. So this is where the idea came to ‘tank’ a season and try to finish a the bottom of the standings. This drive to purposely lose in order to achieve that high draft pick is an unethical sporting behavior, but certainly nothing new. The idea of purposely losing in sports has been an ethical issue for as long as professional sports have been around.
The first real case where this crazy idea of professional athletes purposely losing came in 1919. The scandal was called the Black Sox Scandal in which eight members of the Chicago White Sox 1919 team conspired with gamblers to intentionally lose the 1919 World Series. While this obvious story deals with the gambling issues in sports and how it still lingers around today, this was the first real case where it became evident that athletes did this kind of stuff. While gambling and conspiracies are still around in sports across the world today, I think its more fascinating to look at professional sports close to home (here in North America) and see how they too purposely play with a disadvantage in order to lose a match for future rewards.
The bread and butter of sports and what makes it the thrill that it is, is athletes go out competing against each other until the best deserving player wins. Sports lies at the heart of competition and athletes battling each other for a lack of a better term, until the death of them, is what makes sports so fun. The second you take that out though, you’ve lost sports. You’ve lost the idea of competition, the mere keenness that one gets when they play sports. The second you as a team owner or coach tell your players to purposely lose a game, your going against everything that sports and competition stands for.
Looking into how athletic competition and Socratic philosophy (specifically Plato’s early stuff) are alike, we see that competition in sports has important moral values. Heather Reid (2006) in her paper takes an interesting approach to what athletes gain in athletic competition. When we compete, we challenge others and ourselves, we seek ideal levels and we strive to achieve human excellence. This is all when we actively engage in proper sports and competition. With the way sports franchises are run today, asking your player to purposely lose a game goes against human excellence. We are scoffing are self-worth and practically ignoring our ‘god given’ sport talents.
Take for example what is happening in the NHL today. Connor McDavid is a junior hockey player playing in the OHL right now who is suppose to be the next Sidney Crosby, the next big superstar in the NHL. A kid like him doesn’t come around often, so an opportunity to draft a player like this to your NHL team can change the face of your franchise for years to come. If you’re a team that’s struggling to sell tickets, a kid like this can do that. If you are a real bad team that can’t win games, a kid like this does that. If you’re a team that has those qualities listed above, you are the Buffalo Sabres. Currently the worst team in the league with 4 wins and the most goals against, the Buffalo Sabres are lining themselves up perfectly to finish dead last in the league and have the highest odds of getting the 1st overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft where Connor McDavid is slated to go first overall. The media has openly said that Buffalo plans on tanking the rest of the season. The team is horrific, half the guys on the ice don’t even look like they want to play hockey and all the media and hockey analysts are calling for Buffalo to ‘tank’ the rest of the season by losing the rest of their games. From a managerial standpoint, sure it makes complete sense because next year you’ll get that player who will change your franchise for possibly the next 10-15 years. But think of it from an ethical side. It’s ethically wrong to not compete against other teams because your ruining the league for other teams and going against what sports stands for. Sports is an active competition where one person tries to beat the other in a full pledged competitive game. Purposely losing goes against this idea and shows the type of person you are for doing it; a mere coward.
This crossroad in our sports society is this idea that people think its fine for a team to purposely lose. While no owner or coach will openly admit to telling his or her players to purposely lose, it’s happening everywhere today. Look by putting on your worse starting 5 players in basketball or hockey and just letting them play isn’t directly telling them to lose, the intention is the exact same. Your putting yourself at a disadvantage right from the gecko and letting the sport play out. By not doing anything to overcome this disadvantage, you’re purposely trying to lose. Of course we won’t see players pass the ball or puck to players on the other team in order for them to win. But you will see the best players on one team go against the worst on the other. The sad thing is that this will always happen because it’s all in the constraints and rules of the game. Look if your going to do this you have to try and fail, not just fail. I think that by changing the rules and structure in these drafts by not rewarding failure, it would result in a much more ethical methodology in maintaining the competition of sports. What do you guys think?
Take a look at some other articles on this topic..
Buffalo Sabres tanking article – http://www.thestar.com/sports/hockey/2014/11/03/tanking_for_mcdavid_eichel_necessary_evil_for_nhls_worst_arthur.html
76ers Tanking Article-
Cool video from MIT Sports Analytics Conference that shows an alternate solution to ensure teams don’t tank–