Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Cure for Tanking

America is much better than England. We left the whole “King and Queen” nonsense and never looked back. Now we are awesome, and the coolest people in England want to spend all their time over here (see: Spice Girls, David Beckham, Ricky Gervais, Adele, Austin Powers). More fun, nicer weather, better food, and cleaner teeth. A feeling best summed up by our country’s two current Poet Laureates Matthew Richard Stone and Randolph Severn Parker III when they penned “America, fuck yeah.”

While we wallow in our own bottomless pit of awesomeness, however, England has solved something that we can’t seem to figure out. And the worst part is it has to do with something that our country takes the most pride in – our sports.

The English Premier League functions much like the American Indians did with the buffalo. They utilize every part of the animal and waste nothing. The EPL has figured out how to squeeze every last drop of drama and entertainment from the very worst teams in the league. The battle to prevent being relegated to the lower division is arguably as entertaining as the battle for the league championship. The worst three teams in the top league at season’s end are forced to play in an entirely different league the following year – which has mountains upon mountains of negative implications with players, fans, and money.

This creates an incredibly dramatic end of the season that causes the worst teams to play some of their best futbol all the way to their final game – thus making it exciting for the fans. Without the presence of a player draft each year – the English soccer structure is mainly based on youth academies and deep pockets – the league has completely solved the problem of tanking. Teams cannot tank; their livelihood depends on it. Fans of any team in the league will never have a game in which they don’t want their team to win.

When people debate which sport or teams have “the best fans,” English soccer and American college football usually come up. They have “the most passionate fans.” Well there is a reason for that. Not coincidentally, both of these fans are NEVER faced with a situation where they would want their team to lose. There is a never a scenario in either sport where you could even fathom wanting your team not to prevail.

So why don’t we try harder to get our other sports to that point?

The rookie draft is the wildcard here, because these sports don’t have it. The draft is the catalyst to the problem. But don’t think we haven’t identified this problem before and attempted to fix it. We have a lottery in both the NBA and NHL. The NFL doesn’t have as much of a problem because of the shortened season and the fact that it would take a zombie apocalypse a la “The Walking Dead” to take down interest in the juggernaut of a league (and I wouldn’t be shocked if for an episode Rick and Shane had to traverse through the walker-infested Atlanta to catch a Falcons game).

The best show on televsion not named "The Challenge: Battle of the Exes."

Quick Tangent: Let’s spend a moment on “The Walking Dead” here. What a show. Very few on TV that you can argue are better right now. If you aren’t watching “The Walking Dead” right now, here are five reasons to know if you should:

  1. If you loved “Lost” and also hated “Lost” at the same time.
  2. If you like when the main character of a show – who is also a cop – caps two 8-year old girls in the head in less than two full seasons and he is viewed as the shows protagonist and moral center.
  3. If you like watching “Man vs. Wild” because you think it might help if you ever get stuck in the jungle and had to survive by yourself. This is that times 1,000.
  4. If you like Brady v. Manning, Magic v. Bird, Maverick v. Iceman, Jack v. Locke or any other alpha-male rivalry.
  5. If you like a show where only 1 character is off-limits to be killed at all times.

Back to the topic at hand…Our lack of creativity in this matter has been lazy. The lottery system doesn’t work and teams still tank to get the best odds they can possibly get. Odds shouldn’t have anything to do with it. Some have suggested a sort of “tournament” for the teams not in the playoffs competing for the right to the #1 overall pick. While this would be, as Bill Simmons calls it, “entertaining as hell,” it isn’t feasible. It still levels the playing field and loses the point of having the worst teams get the best players. In this situation, however engaging it may be to fans, it makes the worst teams in the league compete against teams that barely missed the playoffs with no advantage. Problem not solved.

For a while I put tanking in the pile of “questions with no answers” along with “should we pay college players?” and “is Hillary Swank attractive?” but I think I may have finally found an answer.

It came from a likely place: the G8 Summit of sports analytics, the “The MIT Sloan Conference,” which was held last week in Boston. One man, Adam Gold, a graduate student at Missouri, proposed his solution to tanking.

Before I go into what it is – I have to tell you that I LOVE IT. I really love it. I love it so much that if it grew old and forgot who I was because it had Alzheimer’s I would go to its nursing home every day and read it a story I wrote about our life hoping that one day it would remember me.

The basic breakdown is this (and think of it in terms of the NHL and NBA, and maaaaybe MLB): As soon as a team is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, their record is wiped clean and they begin to accumulate wins in their remaining games. Out of all of the teams who are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs – which is eventually everyone who does not make the playoffs at some point – whoever has the most points (NHL) or wins (NBA, MLB) gets the #1 overall pick.

So for instance, if the Bobcats are mathematically eliminated this year with 20 games remaining on their schedule, their record in those final 20 games will count towards their draft order. They have 20 games to win as many as they possibly can. Let’s say they go 7-13. The Nets, on the other hand, get eliminated with 10 games left. Now if they go 8-2 in those 10 games, they would get the #1 pick over the Bobcats if they were the teams with the best two records “post-elimination.”

This accounts for a fair system for teams that aren’t good for the bulk of the season, but it also prevents teams from tanking at the end. It essentially gives relevance to the final part of the season for almost every team. Your mathematical elimination, which in the past would signify the end of your season, would really be the beginning of an entirely new season, where winning was incredibly valuable. The worse off you are, the more games you get to accumulate wins (or points in the NHL).

Everyone stays involved, everyone stays on top of their game, and teams cannot tank. You just can’t. If your team even attempts to tank, you would get unequivocally blasted from fans, analysts, and anyone involved with the team. And no matter what, as a fan, you would never have the Sophie’s Choice of whether or not you want to betray your fan-hood and root for your team to lose.

Late-season ticket sales would jump for teams who previously were “out of the race.” These games would be televised and would spawn a whole new wrinkle for the NBA, NHL, and MLB to market. The league wins, the fans win, the teams win, and the players who are going to be drafted win – they go to a team that earned the right to pick them and may be better off because they played well at the end of the year.

We never want a situation where teams and players are intentionally losing – whether it is noticeable to the naked eye or not – and this would essentially get rid of it.

For some perspective: in the NBA last year, it was argued that the Timberwolves tanked at the end of the year to attempt and get the highest pick possible. They had 19 games after they were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and went 2-17. Any way you slice it, they weren’t fighting tooth and nail to win those games. It was brutal to be a Timberwolves fan those last 19 games, and no one was showing up to watch because of it. They ended up picking 2nd in the lottery. With the new system, they would have been knocked all the way down to selecting 10th overall because of their lack of effort at the end – a vastly different situation. Derrick Williams turns into Jimmer Fredette.

And speaking of the Kings, they went 9-11 in their 20 games post-elimination last year, and because of that, they had the 5th worst record and had a bad draw in the lottery: they got the 10th overall pick despite having the 5th worst record. The 9 wins they had post-elimination however would have been the most of any non-playoff team. They would have been rewarded for their success late in the year and would now have Kyrie Irving running the show. Slightly different outcomes.

Think about some of the drama in the games down the stretch. Let’s go back to the LeBron draft. It’s the last night of the 2003 season. The Cavs and the Raptors are tied for the most “post-elimination” wins and they play each other. Winner gets #1 pick, loser gets #2. You would watch that game. The teams are playing their ass off for that game. And the winner is rewarded with LeBron James. That game is televised, it gets great ratings, and the fans get to root like hell for their team to win. Like I said, I LOVE THIS IDEA.

Check out this table that would determine the NHL Draft last year in this new way:

(Graph courtesy of http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2012/03/03/how-to-prevent-fall-for-hall-and-fail-for-nail-campaigns/)

The tie would be broken by 1. Most post-elimination wins 2. Least post-elimination regulation losses. 3. Worst record pre-elimination

The Oilers, who were the worst team in the league and won the lottery, had 3x as many games as a team like the Blues to accumulate points. The Oilers, one could argue, utilized the “tanking” strategy effectively and were rewarded because of it. If they knew that they had 12 games to get as many points as possible, the outcome could have been the same, but it would have been because they played well. If you told the Oilers they would have 12 games and the Blues had 4, there is no reason, no matter how bad the Oilers are, that if the Oilers knew they were playing for something that the Blues would have more points. The Blues in this scenario ended up picking 11th while playing well down the stretch and getting nothing for it except a random selection in the lottery.

Every team’s effort would be maximized – which is all we really want as fans. Teams that are in the playoffs will continue to play at their highest level possible. Teams on the fringe will be doing everything they can because their hopes are still alive. And now, there will be only a small chunk of time (between when a team is aesthetically out of contention to when it is mathematically out) where teams would essentially have nothing to play for. Maybe a few teams would tank those games to try and get to that “Elimination Point,” but after that, the more they lose the worse off they are. (“Elimination Point” is also the title of  a Wimbledon-themed murder mystery starring Jean Claude van Damme that needs to get made.)

The lottery is a broken system. It is in place in an attempt to prevent teams from tanking because it makes it uncertain where your draft position will be based on your record. However I would argue it would cause more teams to want to lose because of the possibility of getting the #1 overall pick. In the NBA and NHL, where the #1 pick is enormously more valuable than the #2 pick, this is a nonsensical way to decide who gets that pick. Either do it straight up like the NFL or don’t do it at all. The lottery is a confusing and unhappy middle to the problem. So let’s take a page out of our hygienically-deficient friends across the pond, adopt “The Post-Elimination System,” and use the whole buffalo.

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What if Andrew Luck Came Out Last Year…?

It is truly amazing that this actually happened.

Prepare for 1500 words on what would have happened if Andrew Luck was gay.

Just kidding. Were talking about Luck entering the draft last year as opposed to this year. However that article may have been just as if not more interesting. We’ll put it on the backburner for now.

So like many of you, I watched the Peyton and Jim Irsay press conference today and it just felt weird. Now, I’m not on either side here. I’m not a Colts fan and I don’t particularly loathe Peyton Manning for any reason. I’m you normal, average football fan who can appreciate the 6’4’’ quarterback with a laser, rocket arm. That’s why it surprised me how weird it felt watching Peyton stand there behind Jim Irsay as Irsay seemingly was realizing as he spoke that he was really doing this.

I thought about it for a second, trying to pinpoint where my unsettled feeling was coming from. Then it hit me. This shouldn’t be happening. It was like everyone involved felt like they were in some parallel universe where this situation should have never occurred. This wasn’t meant to be. But a series of events transpired and suddenly everyone feels like Neo when he wakes up in that oozy-bubble thing with all those tubes connected to him.

The press conference that happened today was the result of a decision that did not happen recently; one that seemingly had no effect on Peyton Manning or the Indianapolis Colts at the time it was made. As Dr. Ian Malcolm once said: “A butterfly can flap its wings in Peking and in Central Park you get rain instead of sunshine.”

In our case, you can associate the following: “Butterfly” = Andrew Luck, “Flap its wings” = Stay in school, “Peking” = Stanford, “Central Park” = Indianapolis, “Rain” = Cutting the greatest player in your franchise’s history without knowing for sure he can’t compete at the same all-world level  to put an entire city on the shoulders of a 22-year old with more pressure on him than maybe any other player in the history of sports, and “Sunshine” = Peyton coming back and playing out his career in white and blue.

The fun part of this game is going back in time, changing one little detail and letting the dominoes fall. We will play this little game and see just where we might be if Andrew Luck decided to take the money and come out of school last year, which for all intents and purposes he was very close to doing.

DOMINO #1: The first thing that changes is that the Carolina Panthers select Andrew Luck with the #1 pick in the draft. No question this would have happened. Luck takes over from day 1 and becomes the face of the Panthers. This is a no-brainer pick at the time, even though the Luck-Newton debate would probably be slightly more competitive than the Luck-RG3 debate. This opens up some very interesting scenarios for Cam Newton, especially with the knowledge we have now of how good he would have been.

DOMINO #2: So where does Newton end up? You have Denver at #2, Buffalo at #3, Cincinnati at #4, San Francisco at #7, Tennessee at #8, Jacksonville at #10, and Minnesota at #12. All of these would be appropriate locations for the Heisman trophy winner. Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Minnesota all used those picks to take a QB and Cincinnati used their high 2nd rounder on one.  Newton wouldn’t last past Cincinnati at #4 in this scenario, so for any of these other teams to grab him, they would have to trade up. Considering all these teams need a QB, and one of them could have fallen in love with Newton, this is a perfectly plausible scenario.

Let’s analyze the sexiest question. Could Denver have passed up Newton at #2? Knowing what we know now, you would have to say absolutely not. But at the time, it would have been an all-time difficult decision. Let’s look at it from the perspective of John Elway’s love life: Elway at the time was married to Kyle Orton – she cooks, she’s faithful, she’s someone you can have kids with, but not exactly the nicest to look at. Sort of a very unexceptional arranged marriage. Elway isn’t exactly excited about his current significant other. One night Elway gets a call from his buddy Josh who has been dating this hot young blonde. After Josh, probably too young to be dating and slightly irresponsible, blacked out from too much tequila, Elway was stuck taking home Josh’s date. Orton hasn’t exactly been appreciating Elway, so he decides to bed the young blonde even though he knows she doesn’t really have it all upstairs. The next morning he wakes up next to Tim Tebow and immediately regrets the decision. She looks great naked but he already knows she’s not long-term material. (There is way too much innuendo to even begin to get into with Tebow here, so we will just move on).

In our new Luck-comes-out-early situation, Elway now gets a third option: He can get away from the awkward one-night stand and divorce his mediocre wife and take a chance with a 21-year-old who just won Miss Universe. You aren’t sure what you are getting long-term, but it could solve all your problems. Does winning Miss Universe translate domestically, or will you be stuck with years of high-maintenance and adultery and end up losing half of everything you have?

A difficult decision indeed. I say Denver may field some trade offers a la the Rams this year, but let’s say the power of Tebow prevails once again. The Broncos pass on Newton and take Von Miller, which still gives them a franchise-calber defender and changes their path very little. This also (if this is even possible) intensifies the scrutiny Tebow is under, knowing the team passed up on Cam Newton because of him. This can only yield more entertainment and might finally kill Skip Bayless as he tries to find some way to defend this decision when Cam Newton is single-handedly saving the Buffalo Bills…which means…

DOMINO #3: With the 3rd overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills select Cameron Newton, Quarterback from Auburn University. Ryan Fitzpatrick becomes the lame-duck starter, mails it in for 4 weeks until the Bills get fed up and put in Newton. Newton performs as he did this year, but because he misses 3 games, he loses Rookie of the Year to Andrew Luck.  The Bills then don’t give that premature ejaculation of a contract to Fitzpatrick and the franchise is set up with an attack of Newton-Jackson-Spiller-Stevie Johnson for the next five years. I’ll pause here and give all the Bills fans a second to punch the nearest wall.

DOMINO #4: Ryan Fitzpatrick gets cut at the end of the season and ends up as your opening day starter for the 2012 Washington Redskins. With Fitzpatrick on the market, and the Redskins falling short of getting a QB anywhere else, this is almost a certainty to happen. Fitz goes 5-2, becomes the toast of DC, and Dan Snyder gives the bearded one The Premature Ejaculation Deal. Fitz  then goes in the tank, throws 10 picks in the next 3 games and get benched for The Sex Cannon, who the team resigned as a backup before the season. After Sexy Rexy does his thing for a few weeks, he is benched for rookie Brock Osweiler, who the Skins drafts way too high in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft, and the Redskin Quarterback Clusterfuck continues for another year. This is my favorite domino because it means the Redskins have another year where they somehow cease to make any progress whatsoever.

DOMINO #5, 6 and 7: The Bengals still take AJ Green and the Cardinals follow suit with Peterson. For funzies, I think the Browns stand pat knowing Marcell Dareus has fallen to them at 6 with the Bills taking Newton instead. Knowing what we know now, Aldon Smith is the pick here, but back then Dareus was higher. The Browns selected DT Phil Taylor and DE Jabaal Sheard with their next two picks, so clearly that’s the position they were looking at. They tell Atlanta no thanks on the trade (even though it was a good one for them – and still would be here) and they snag Dareus.

DOMINO #8: The Niners now have an interesting choice to make with Julio Jones on the board. Jones or Aldon Smith? Looking at it from our perspective, it’s a tough choice. Both performed excellently as rookies – Smith probably outshining his expectations more than Jones, but both can be argued were equally effective. The Niners desperately needed another weapon on the outside in the playoffs, and Jones could have put them over the top…ever-changing NFL history by beating the Giants, Eli not getting his 2nd ring, and perhaps Tom Brady and Bill Belichick becoming one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history. Or it could be argued that without Aldon Smith, that defense isn’t as effective and nothing changes. I’ll leave this answer up to you.

DOMINO #9: For the sake of not over-speculating the draft, we will stop there. On to the season, where the Colts will still be awful as Peyton misses every game. However, Jim Caldwell and Bill Polian keep their jobs, and the Colts go into the 2012 off-season with a re-grouping mentality and the #1 overall pick. They never even consider cutting Peyton. It may not even be mentioned as a possibility. Because of the success of Newton and Luck last year, RG3 becomes the coveted prize and the Colts are in a fantastic position of being able to hold out for the highest bidder. But trust me, they DO NOT do this for Robert Griffin III.

DOMINO #10: The Colts hear lots of offers, but end up swapping their #1 overall to Cleveland for Cleveland’s 1st (#4) and 2nd (#36) round pick plus their #1 in 2013. The Colts get 3 of the first 36 picks plus a potential top-10 #1 next year. They take Trent Richardson at #4, giving them an immediate impact runner who can carry the team post-Peyton. They then get Coby Fleener, Andrew Luck’s favorite target at Stanford with the 33rd pick to give Peyton another red-zone target and a successor to Dallas Clark. They snag a offensive lineman at #36, and continue to add pieces with the #1 pick in the final 4 rounds. They re-sign Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, and Robert Mathis in the offseason, hopefully add some depth in the secondary, and come into the year with a healthy Manning/Richardson/Wayne/Garcon/Collie/Clark/Fleener offense with Mathis and Freeney still anchoring an improving defense. If you are a Colts fan, is that better than a Luck/Addai/Maybe Garcon/Definitely not Wayne/Clark offense with Robert Mathis almost for sure leaving as well with a new coach and a new GM? Um chyeah. Not even close.

This gives you another definite run at the Super Bowl with a wide-open AFC South that was unexpectedly weak last year. With Matt Schaub’s health uncertainty and Mario Williams leaving for greener pastures (and by greener pastures I literally mean fields upon fields of money), all the Colts would have to do is win 10 games with a last place schedule and Manning/Richardson/Garcon/Collie/Clark/Fleener/Mathis/Freeney and they win that division. Plus they get a Jake Locker-led Titans team and Blaine Gabbert aka Mark Sanchez Lite and the Jags two times. I like those chances.

Ipso facto, if Andrew Luck comes out last year, we get to avoid this awkward press conference the Colts had today. Luck is the new face of the Carolina Panthers, Cam Newton gives the fans of Buffalo a lot to be excited for, the Browns mortgage their future for RG3, and Peyton gets the band back together, adds Trent Richardson and some pieces and takes another run at the Super Bowl all while Ryan Fitzpatrick watches as a much, much poorer man (and a Redskin backup to boot). Quite a different picture than we have now, wouldn’t you say?

Speaking of Harvard, if this goes down, none of this Jeremy Lin stuff would have happened. Even the slightest ripple in the space-time continuum would alter the series of events that let everything fall into place for Lin. So the New York Knicks can thank Andrew Luck for staying in school. And so can whatever team ends up with Peyton Manning.