June 23, 2016

Why do we reward the worst in sports?

by Dan Bilicki In: Basketball, Ice Hockey

With both the NBA and NHL drafts upon on us, a time-honoured tradition will continue with teams restocking their squads from the youth ranks.

But while the draft itself is a fine idea that works well in distributing amateur players, the way that the order of picks is decided is not.

Why should the worst teams be rewarded with the best picks?

While most will point to the need for parity as the top reason, that can’t be it.

There are other ways to ensure parity in sports without simply handing the team with the worst record either the best pick or the best chance at landing it in a weighted lottery.

For one, the salary cap itself is a great way to ensure parity. You can’t continually load up your team with superstars and top level players because there’s no way that you can afford to pay them in a cap-based system. Even in MLB, where there is a luxury tax that gets harsher by the year, there is parity. By limiting what teams can spend on players, you get a balance in the league.

The need for parity itself is a subject for another day, but for now, let’s just fix the draft and eliminate any notion that teams can benefit from losing.

We’ve created a system that rewards failure and it is hurting sports.

Look no further than the tops of the NBA and NHL drafts. Both the Sixers and Maple Leafs actively traded away assets this season to make their teams worse. They weren’t competing in the spirit of sport and, yet, were handsomely rewarded with the most ping-pong balls in their lotteries and came up first overall. Now, they get their choices of the top players available. Does that seem fair?

You should have to do something more than win a slanted lottery to earn the top pick, or at least put in a system that does not encourage losing.

Why can’t there be a small tournament involving every team that didn’t make the playoffs, with the victor earning the top pick? It would keep teams honest in their dealings, keep fans engaged and even earn the owners some additional revenue from the pseudo playoff games.

Another solution would be using the amount of points collected or win percentage after you’ve been eliminated from playoff contention to judge your spot in the draft. While this would keep teams competing, you would also tank out earlier to get extra points down the stretch.

Or why not use the idea of the “draft wheel,” which was proposed a couple of years ago. In this scenario, every team would get two top-12 picks every five years and a top five pick every six years. Every team would also get the first overall pick once every 30 years – no more, no less.

And, with every team knowing where they’d be picking for the next three decades, you would know the exact value of draft picks that you would be trading.

Whichever way they do it, something has to be done about the fact tanking is prevalent in North American sports and is highly rewarded. If you look overseas, the notion of losing on purpose would make fans sick.

There are very real consequences to losing in European soccer. Finishing in the bottom three doesn’t net you a chance at the next Lionel Messi, it sends you to the second division, costing the team hundreds of millions of dollars.

Now there’s a system we could get behind: Send the Leafs down to the AHL for a season to compete with the Marlies. Then we’ll see how fans feel about throwing away a season.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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