Tankapalooza: When Losing Becomes Winning
The Feb. 25 NHL Trade deadline hoves into view just as the NBA’s version of Trader Vic’s has expired. The fact that these two arbitrary dates are considered five-star attractions of the regular season tells you a lot about what a grinding bore the regular season has become in pro sports.
The endless parade of “must-win” “key” “four-point” “essential” contests— that are anything but— begins in the fall and staggers along till everyone tries to change their luck in February speaks to the paucity of the content of featureless regular-season games.
If panels of fevered media meat puppets talking up the trade mart is worth waiting four months for, what does that say about the dated concept of the 82-game schedule? Not much.
But even worse than the Trade Deadline Tracker is what follows: The season of tanking, aka Tankapalooza. Losing For Dollars. This is the unseemly spectacle where teams that denuded themselves of useful players at the Trade Deadline stagger to the end of the campaign.
Where they hope they can reap a high draft selection in the hopes of emulating the success of the Edmonton Oilers. Wait, that might not be a good example. In hopes of emulating the Toronto Maple Leafs or Calgary Flames, adding a Johnny Gaudreau or Auston Matthews.
To do so they play goalies who wear pads on the wrong leg, scorers with a wonky compass and coaches whose temperaments are this side of Beelzabub. As I wrote in this 2018 column, Tanking For Dollars: The NHL Encourages Its Poor Huddled Losers , the league actually congratulates its worst teams for their skill in sinking to the bottom.
Yes, deputy commissioner Bill Daly was Mr. Congeniality at last year’s draft selection show, praising the halt and lame for managing a shot at No. 1 pick overall. Nice message to fans paying full shot for a ticket.
In the NBA, things have been no better as hapless boobs like the New York Knicks or the Phoenix Suns scuttled any hope of winning to grab the No. 1 pick— likely Duke’s Zion Williamson. The faux effort became so embarrassing the past few years league decided that the three worst teams would all get the same odds at the premium pick. Guaranteeing at least three clubs doing the fainting goat routine at season’s end.
Which is why I suggested in 2017 that if you’re going to continue rewarding functional idjits for their ineptitude with a draft plum maybe you should flip the switch. In Make The Team Wanting The No. 1 Draft Pick Earn It-- By Winning. I proposed having the teams eliminated from the playoffs earn the No. 1 pick by winning it.
“Continue… the 82-game schedules. After 72 games, declare the 16 teams that will be in the playoffs. Have them play out the rest of the season to determine the final playoff positions. Proceed with the postseason as usual.
“The lower 14 (about to be 15 NHL) teams that don’t make the playoffs also play out the remaining 10 games. But instead of starting inferior goalies and putting players on injured reserve to tank the season, turn the equation upside down. Have those teams play the final 10 games to determine the draft order-- by winning.
The best team in the final 10 games wins the top draft pick and so on, till the team with the worst record in this 10 games gets the fifteenth draft pick.” Yes, I know. Radical. Make winning more important than losing.
Or else you can take the formula I propose in my book Cap In Hand: How The Salary Cap Is Killing Pro Sports And How The Free market Could Save Them. This system involves winning, too, so it’ll be poorly received by the tanking masses of the NBA, NHL and MLB.
What I propose— steel yourself— is a return to the system without salary caps or clawbacks or Larry Bird exemptions. Yes, a free market with relegation and promotion to determine what’s to become of teams that have screwed up their business. It allows for all teams— and maybe more— to persevere in a system where the big dogs get to eat what they kill while smaller markets won’t have to strip-mine the civic government for an ostentatious stadium or arena it can’t afford.
No more Gary Bettman threatening the mayor. No more $300 tickets in a $100 town. No more watching small-market clubs threatened with losing their team.
Say it can’t work? The English Premiership has become the richest and most powerful league in the world by doing exactly that. Worried about the best teams winning too much? Doesn’t seem to bother anyone in the NCAA where Ohio State and Alabama and Duke are always a winner. Ratings are great and sponsors can’t get enough of it.
You can see it here.
And should all of this tanking be to your liking? Well, let us welcome the start of the MLB training camp season this week with my 2018 rumination on baseball’s corruption of the winning ethic. Losing 'R Us: It's Never Too Early To Tell Your Fans You're Not Serious .
Ten teams eliminated on Opening Day? Now there’s a concept Gary Bettman can get behind.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of his website Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). He’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also a best-selling author whose new book Cap In Hand: How Salary Caps Are Killing Pro Sports And Why The Free Market Could Save Them is now available.