When Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban admitted to tanking in order to enhance his team’s standing in the 2017 draft lottery, it was easy to wonder what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would have to say about a pro football owner saying something like that. It’s now known what NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had to say about it.
“[I]t’s not what you want to hear as commissioner,” Silver said Wednesday, via NBCSports.com. “I will say that Mark has a long track record of being provocative, and it was something that we spoke to him directly about. I think he acknowledged it was a poor choice of words. When we looked at what was actually happening on the floor, which is most important to me, there was no indication whatsoever that his players were intentionally losing games. And so we were satisfied with that, and again, and we moved on.”
Poor choice of words? How else would he say “we were trying to lose games”? More importantly, Cuban never expressly said the players were intentionally losing games. Cuban said that “[o]nce we were eliminated from the playoffs, we did everything we could to lose games.”
Tanking doesn’t happen, and won’t happen, by players deliberately throwing games. Tanking happens at the ownership and/or executive level, with decisions made about who will and won’t be playing. In the NFL, it manifests itself by, for example, the Buccaneers yanking half their starters while holding a double-digit lead in the second half of a Week 17 game in 2014 against the Saints, eventually losing, and securing the right to select Jameis Winston with the first pick in the draft.
It was obvious when it happened, but it received scant national media scrutiny — and absolutely no comment at all from 345 Park Avenue.
Unlike the NBA, which implicitly acknowledges the temptation to tank by having a draft lottery, the NFL simply avoids the subject altogether. Would a draft lottery become a major offseason tentpole from which the NFL would earn millions? Hell yes. But the league doesn’t want to do anything that would recognize directly or indirectly the reality that, once a team knows it won’t be going to the playoffs, it makes very good business sense to remove starters, insert scrubs, sink as low as possible in the standings — and, in turn, rise as high as possible in the draft order.
Although Silver conveniently, albeit clumsily, brushed Cuban’s comments under the rug, the safest bet regarding how Roger Goodell would react to an NFL owner saying something similar is this: He’d treat it like an NSFW tweet from Jim Irsay and pretend it never happened.