Does the NFL have to fear teams tanking games to land the draft’s top pick? Judging by what the Cleveland Browns did a year ago and what the New York Jets have been up to this offseasn that idea is far from all wet.
At its core, tanking means fixing the game, in this case not by throwing it on the field but by putting on that field a team that cannot compete. The NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers raised this to an art form the past few years, and it brought them a series of lottery picks. It also hasn’t changed the fact that they stink … but it’s not for failure to tank nearly three full seasons.
The Browns never admitted they committed suicide last year by fielding a team so odorous it all but assured they’d get the first pick this spring, but those allegations have been flying for months. The Jets have only added fuel to the tanking debate by their decision to dump every NFL quality player under contract who was making more than minimum wage, thus allowing division rival New England to pick up linebacker David Harris and make the yawning gap between those two franchises even wider.
Taking a dive may be fine in European futbol, but over here we think purposely fumbling away the ball game is unseemly. They even thought that way in Philadelphia when the Sixers did it repeatedly for the past several years, and dwindling attendance proved it.
If the Sixers ever manage to turn that strategy into a playoff team it may pay dividends. But no matter what happens, what they’ve been doing is perpetrating a fraud on their fans. Is the NFL ready to allow the same thing in its game?
No one knows because, as with most serious issues, the league is mum on the issue. But there is one way to reduce the chance of the NFL going down this dark back alley. For a league whose financial foundation is built on gambling but publicly says it opposes gambling, it may be time to go to a Draft Day lottery. Since one team already is moving to Vegas, why not go all the way?
The NBA has a draft lottery, and it hasn’t stopped the Sixers from tanking. But that’s because the NBA changed the original rules, which originally did not weight the lottery toward the team with the worst record. What an unweighted draft lottery does is put a number of bottom feeders in a hat as ping-pong balls swirl. As they pop up, you find out if you won the first pick or the worst pick.
If the NFL really wanted to end what the Browns and Jets seem to have been up to … and what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers clearly did several years ago by benching most of their starters in the second half of the season finale to gain the first pick (and quarterback Jameis Winston) … it would remove a weighted draft lottery and simply put perhaps the 20 non-playoff teams, or maybe just the worst eight, into that hat.
Miss Las Vegas could then pick them out, with each loser having the same chance of winning the top pick. Under such a system, teams would have no reason to tank games because it wouldn’t improve their chances of winning the first pick in the draft by losing on the field.
Someone might still choose to tank to assure getting into the lottery, but if they’re bad enough to be a non-playoff team … or. more likely, one of The Lowly Eight … that would be unnecessary. And it would make tanking not a draft strategy but rather what it truly is: Perpetrating a fraud on the public.