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Saturday, April 21, 2007
Tanking: The Fan's Perspective

Will Leitch, the editor of Deadspin, has an interesting op-ed in the New York Times wondering how fans can be so accepting of their teams tanking. This is a different perspective on the issue of tanking that Michael considered here and here.

Leitch's point is that being a fan (as opposed to being the team's GM) is a game-by-game, short-term consideration, rather than a long-term, big-picture commitment. You want the team to win this game once it begins; you are not thinking about how a loss may help you three months down the road.

Money line:

"Because I am a fan. And if a fan doesn’t root for his team to win, who is he, exactly?"


I'd imagine that the majority of Boston Celtics fans wouldn't mind seeing the team lose to the Memphis Grizzlies in April if it means there is a greater likelihood of Greg Oden playing center for the next decade.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/21/2007 5:46 PM  

in a sport where 1 player makes a difference, why not? once you are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the best thing you can do is start losing games. the "lebron" and "oden" argument goes a lot farther than the "integrity" argument.

could you liken tanking games to point shaving? the vegas odds have to be skewed if some people know you are going to be tanking for a pick. i'd say that would be a great bet at the end of a season if you know that a team needs to lose to say get a lebron or oden.

worst example of anti-tanking in football is the jets' justin miller returning a kick against the bills late in the season to win the game the season before last. this cost the jets either the 2nd or 3rd pick (perhaps reggie bush or vince young).

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/21/2007 6:57 PM  

I think people overestimate the "positive" impact tanking has on lottery chances. To me it seems like a situation where you can apply a sort of prisoner's dilemma. You have the situation where nobody tanks, then if the Celtics tank, but their closest lottery competitor(s) doesn't, the Celtics will improve their position, but if the both teams (or all teams involved) tank nobody gains an advantage, assuming that tanking has a uniform effect. So the end result is likely that no team gains any advantage as per lottery odds, and in the process alienates their fans and risks hurting their revenues.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/22/2007 1:45 AM  

I really disagree that a fan can't root for his team to tank. As a fan, I think you're rooting for your team to win a championship, first and foremost. Therefore, you root for the best possible situations for this to take place. It's why a Mavericks fan (like myself) would rather see the L.A. Lakers in the conference finals than the Suns or Spurs. Sure those are more interesting matchups for the Mavs, but I'd rather have the easier path to the Finals.

It's the same thing here. The best possible situation to get a championship is to get one of the top two picks. Rooting for tanking in this situation is rooting for what's best for your team.

I do see the complaint of the season ticket holder, though. If you're paying to go to these games every night, I think you deserve to see the teams you're paying for try their hardest.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/22/2007 11:11 AM  

IIRC the draft lottery was put in place precisely to discourage tanking. If teams are still tanking anyway, methinks a stronger deterrent is needed.

Here's a thought: Hold parallel playoffs for the teams that don't make the regular playoffs. The first-place team gets the #1 pick; the remaining first-round picks are distributed as usual. The worst teams would get the first-round byes, but winning the #1 pick would still be quite a challenge, so the bye probably wouldn't be a strong enough incentive for the teams to tank.

(I thought about also giving the worst teams home-court advantage, but then tanking might be encouraged by the extra money a team makes by hosting a playoff game.)

Blogger Joshua -- 4/22/2007 3:33 PM  

What are the legal implications of tanking? When I pay my $$ for a ticket--what exactly am I paying for? Am I paying for the chance to see two teams throw the ball around for 60 minutes, or am I paying for the opportunity to see to teams use all of their resources the win the game? In other words, could there be backlash from fans who think they have been "cheated"/that the team did not perform their end of the bargain by tanking?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/22/2007 7:57 PM  

Change the word tanking to rebuilding and it is a completely differnt story

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/22/2007 8:02 PM  

I disagree with the claim that being a fan is a "short term commitment." Many people follow their teams for years and years through good seasons and bad. Fans in that category may indeed be willing to accept a few more late-season losses in the hopes of getting a franchise player in the draft.

Anonymous Peter -- 4/22/2007 10:37 PM  

I think you need to look at the dynamics of each sport. The NFL has 22 starting positions (excluding special teams) that it needs to fill. You could argue that within those 22 posiitons, there are 8 really "different" positions each needing a different skill set (QB, WR/TE, RB/FB, OL, DL, LB, Safety, CB). So a team like the Lions does not neceassrily need the #1 or #2 pick in a certain draft to get the best QB or RB because they can still grab the best OL or LB with the 5th, 6th, or 7th pick. And one could argue that the best OL or LB in a draft may be just as valuable to a team then the best RB. In the NBA there are five positions that need to be filled with at most three different skill sets (G, F, C). So an NBA team drafting in the 8 position is getting maybe the 3rd best guard of forward. Therefore, NBA teams are more likely to want to get in one of the top spots than NFL teams.

Another explanation is that the best college player in a given year has a legitimate shot of helping the worst NBA team in his rookie season to the playoffs (especially now in the Eastern Conference). Whereas the best collge football player has a very slight chance of ever helping the worst team in the NFL make it to the playoffs in his rookie season. Therefore, there is much more incentive for an NBA team to grab a top pick.

Anonymous Bobby Z -- 4/23/2007 3:05 PM  

bobby z -
Tanking is also less likely in the NFL because teams often are in playoff contention until very late in the season. A team like the Celtics, in contrast, was pretty much out of contention with 15 or 20 games to go.

Anonymous Peter -- 4/23/2007 10:27 PM  

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