For professional sports teams that know they won’t be qualifying for the postseason, the reward for winning games is losing potential draft position. And so there’s a temptation to tank, even in sports that have a draft lottery.
Rarely, however, does a team owner admit to tanking. On Wednesday, one did.
“Once we were eliminated from the playoffs, we did everything we could to lose games,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told Dan Patrick. Cuban explained that a team tanks not by telling players to throw games but by putting younger players in the game, in order to see what they can do. (He also could choose to put an older player in the game, as in himself.)
Regardless of whether NBA Commissioner Adam Silver reacts negatively to this admission (he should), the question from the NFL’s perspective is whether Roger Goodell would regard such behavior as a threat to the integrity of his game. In late 2014, the Buccaneers mysteriously removed multiple starters while holding a double-digit lead in Week 17 against the Saints. Losing the game resulted in the Bucs winning the No. 1 overall pick, and the rights to Jameis Winston.
The temptation to tank is obivous. The difference between 6-10, 5-11, 4-12, and 3-13 is meaningless in the standings. In the draft order, however, the worse the record the better the spot.
Look at what the Bears gave up to move from No. 3 to No. 2 this year. Or what Washington surrendered five years ago to climb from No. 6 to No. 2.
Yes, the temptation to tank is real. Real enough for it to happen, at least subtly.
The only way to remove the tanking is to remove the temptation to tank. The only way to completely eliminate the temptation is to put all 20 non-playoff teams in the hopper with equal chances for the first overall pick in an open-air, made-for-TV event to be held in one of the cities in contention for the No. 1 overall pick that would generate a strong-to-quite-strong rating on NFL Network and/or ESPN.
A draft lottery would be good for business, both from the perspective of creating another offseason tentpole for the NFL — and regarding the tanking temptation that, for whatever reason, has never become a thing for the NFL.