TANKING IN SPORTS
An Explanation of the Concept and the Absurdity of it All
by Alex Cole
Tanking a season is a concept that has been a part of professional sports for a while now. For those who don’t know, tanking is when a team purposely loses near the end of the year in order to lower their position in the standings, which in turn gets them a better pick in the following season’s entry draft. This strategy is one that most would claim as cheating and an ultimately unethical practice. While catching a team in the act of committing this practice is almost impossible, the concept is something that has been debated time and time again by sportscasters and pundits alike. The reason for why teams would want to use this practice boils down to the fact that no one wants the season to be an absolute waste. The NHL and the NBA have 30 teams while the NFL has 32. Not being one of the bottom five teams in each league means your draft pick won’t be too high and you will not have a playoff spot. In professional sports, this is what is considered to be a wasted season. Nobody wants to miss the playoffs and not get a prime prospect out of it. This is why the idea of tanking is such an attractive idea as it is a way to ensure that a team that isn’t making the playoffs will still end up with a consolation prize at the end.
Purposefully playing to lose is something that is almost impossible to ask players to do. Athletes across all sports have too much pride to actually try and collectively lose because it is simply what the general manager wants. This is what makes “tanking” such a farfetched idea even though many believe it exists. While the theory itself is believable, the actual practice of the theory would mean bad news for professional sports. For those that claim its existence, it is the General Managers and team Presidents that make the decision to tank.
Teams that lose multiple seasons in a row and get high draft picks are usually the first ones to be accused of tanking. However, it is important to realize that sometimes teams are just bad. When the Edmonton Oilers got three number one draft picks in three consecutive years, they were simply a bad team that was struggling on the ice. Nobody likes to lose and that is why “tanking” isn’t as big of a concern as it should be.