Tanking. The definition of tanking in the sports world is to deliberately try and lose in order to get a better draft pick. It is the dreaded word that no sports fan or player wants to hear their beloved team use. Why should they? Competition is a natural human instinct and the main aspect in sports. No one likes to lose, especially the players and the loyal fans.
According to Nicholas Dixon, There are two types of fans: Purist and Partisan. The purist in simple terms is a ‘bandwagon’ fan, one who supports a team who exemplifies the greatest virtues of the game and a partisan fan is one who is loyal to their team, win or lose. Dixon says that ideally, fans should be moderately partisan. A moderately partisan fan is someone who combines partisan aspects and purist aspects together; admiring the loyalty of a partisan fan and the realization that a team that violates rules or the spirit of the game do not deserve our support. What they should be and what they are, are not always the same. However, when you see teams tanking, most, if not all fans are moderate partisan sport fans. If a fan attends a sporting event, and they team they came to cheer for underperforms, fans will show their lack of appreciation by booing.
There are many examples in recent sports where teams are tanking and quite openly doing it as well. A couple more recent examples of these teams would be the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA and the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL. For the past several years, these teams have been deliberately attempting to lose games in order to finish lower in the standings and have a higher chance at securing a top draft pick. With the 76ers ,it was trading top players in exchange for multiple draft picks and with the Sabres, it was trading top players for draft picks and young players who are not ready for the NHL yet in hopes of securing the next hockey phenom, Connor McDavid. The thought process of these two teams is that it will make them better for the future, but is there no moral obligation to the players, the opposing teams players, the coaches, but even on a larger scale, to the league and its fans. Truth be told, fans run the league. Without fans purchasing merchandise or tickets, there is no league. How is it fair to not reciprocate to loyal fans by putting a winning team on the ice or court? By trading away top players for future assets, it takes away the skill from the current club without even guaranteeing the success of future clubs.
The leagues are supposed to provide entertainment value for spectators which is what makes sports enjoyable, the competitive game and the exhilarating action that comes with the price of admission. However, with tanking such an issue right now it is in fact quite the opposite; it is blatantly anticompetitive and the games become worth less. It is a shame that fans must pay lots of money to witness poor displays of sports only to sit and wait through this tanking phase.
It is one thing for a team to try and fail, but when a team like the 76ers over the past two seasons went a combined 37-124 in the win-loss column by trading away an all-star point guard, a reigning rookie of the year and keeping their recent top 10 pick out of the NBA fails, it is not because they are trying. They are simply failing on purpose. This is a more than just a wrongdoing to fans, it is borderline unsportsmanlike. James Keating says that sportsmanship is fairness and a high sense of honour. Purposely losing is neither of these.
When we talk about sportsmanship it is usually in reference to individual players and whether they play within the rules, but in this case, sportsmanship is referring to the rest of league play. How is it fair for a team such as the 76ers or the Sabres to skew the outcome of the season? It sounds extreme, because of the term ‘any given sunday’, any team can win on any given day, but the odds of them doing this are slim. More specifically, look at the 76ers. Over the course of two 82-game seasons, they won a measly 37 games in total. 37 games. Out of 164 games, they only won 37 times. A team that is tanking, such as the 76ers could have a huge outcome on the season. Imagine, two teams fighting for the final playoff spot, one team is facing a team that is looking to look up home court advantage and the other team is facing a team like the 76ers. One matchup will be a ‘dog fight’ to get the win, while the other matchup will most likely be a ‘cake walk’ by the team who is head over heels more skilled than the other. This is not fair, nor is it a game of honour any longer. None of this is the players fault for not being too skilled, but rather the people who assemble the roster and put lesser skilled guys on the court/ice to ensure losing more games than winning. The general managers who are trying to lose are no longer honouring the competitive aspect of sports.
There is a moral obligation in sports to compete and play hard and to put on a show for the fans. With tanking present, the atmosphere it creates shadows the beauty of sport.
Tanking. The word no fan or player wants to ever hear.
Further Readings on this topic and possible suggestions: