One of the more commonly used terms in sports these days has become “tank.” The word is thrown around at franchises that are struggling and have little to no hopes of making the playoffs. Today, it is used mostly when referring to an NBA or NHL franchise. Tanking is something that I believe shouldn’t and doesn’t happen in sports.
From a fan’s perspective, I would never be a fan of my team tanking. For the sake of argument, I’ll pretend that I am a Columbus Blue Jackets fan. The Blue Jackets are a bottom five team in the NHL right now, but that by no means should result in the team tanking the last two months of the season.
There a few things in sports, arguably nothing, better than the thrill of a victory. To ride the ebbs and flows of a roller coaster game with your team and seeing them win it at the end is a lot more fun than losing.
Some franchises in sports (Oilers, Timberwolves, Bills) have been without playoff berths for a long time, and high round draft picks haven’t exactly gotten them to where they wanted to be. Draft picks, even the very first few, are always some form of risk.
When management drafts a player, they could have done all the scouting in the world, but they really do not know how a player will turn out.
Let’s say Columbus decides to tank for that first overall selection. If they do get there, it would require a miserable end of the season, just for a 20% chance at landing that first pick, for a player who may be a sure thing, but no one really knows that.
That’s why I would never be in favor of my team tanking, I’d rather enjoy the wins, but there are still people out there who think it happens. So does it?
From a management and coaching perspective, why would you ever want to have the label or reputation of tanking when things are not going right? First, if you are in that situation, there’s a strong chance you do not survive it and you should be fighting to keep your job. If you are relieved of your duties, you have to try to sell yourself to another team employer with a tank label hanging over your head.
As a player, is tanking even achievable? The 1919 White Sox did a masterful job of disguising the fix of the 1919 World Series, and even that was discovered. It is simply not easy to try to lose games.
Players would put themselves at risk of injury if they are not playing as the normally would or should. Also, with so many contracts in sports that do not have guaranteed money, a lot of players on scuffling teams are trying to prove that they still or do belong in professional sports. How can management sell a tank job to them?
And if for nothing else, I think all these players and front offices have pride. It is cliché, but no player or team wants to be associated with losing.
The closest thing to a tank today would be the Philadelphia 76ers. I only say that because it seems like for the last few seasons the front office has been selecting long-term players who aren’t going to help out in the immediate future, while stockpiling draft picks. Even with that said, I really do not think that coaching staff and those players take the floor every night with the intention of losing.
The bottom line is, because of all the times the word tank is thrown around in sports today, it has more relevance than it should. Sometimes a team is just flat out awful. I do not think the term or the thought process among fans when it is used will ever dissipate, but it should be understood that this just doesn’t happen.
Billy Peterson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org