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On Tanking

By  Dom Antonietti

The key to happiness in the world of sports is success. I’m no expert, but I know this- for a team to be good, they should win games (controversial takes like that are what bring people to this here sports column). In a world where winning is the most important thing, sometimes teams use unorthodox strategies to reach their ultimate goals. In my opinion, the greatest of those strategies is Tanking, where in order to win more games, teams choose, on purpose, to lose more games. 

Tanking is the sports world’s greatest art form. It is so bad that it’s good- just like a train wreck, reality TV, or the movie The Room, sometimes something is so hard to look at that it becomes unmissable (The Room is actually a great film, most people just don’t “get it.” In addition to sports, I also dabble in pretentious film critique).Tanking follows a similar path- teams become so bad that they make for incredible entertainment, and it fucking rules.

A cinematic masterpiece

The logic behind Tanking makes sense- in most major American sports, the teams with the worst records get the highest pick in the next draft. That means teams will purposefully not play their best players or use other strategies to lose games, ensuring losing records to get higher draft picks. These high draft picks allow for the opportunity to get the best new players, thus allowing the team to improve the most. Yeah, I just used “thus” in a sports article. I wasn’t lying about the pretentious thing. 

This process is about as entertaining as it gets. The feeling of watching a team play their worst players in order to get purposefully shat on (that’s the technical term, I swear) is unmatched. It’s confusing and funny and frankly, kind of surreal. Watching a team do the exact opposite of what they’re supposed to be doing has changed me more than any David Lynch piece ever could (I guess this is a sports and film column now). And I’m not the only one who loves a good Tank- in most cases, fans are in the same boat.

Hell yea

You would think that fans would hate to see their team lose. Just as I presented earlier, wins = good #math. An amazing thing that happens with Tanking is that most of the time, the fans are in on it too. Tanking is usually a last resort for teams, so when fans are presented with the alternative (sucking for the rest of time), it really doesn’t look that bad. Because of this, we get moments like in 2015, when fans of the Buffalo Sabres hockey team cheered on the game winning goal- against their own team. Watching fans get in on the action just adds to the beautiful shitshow that is the Tank, but end results may vary.

Tanking in the past has led to both success and failure. As the leader of the 2002 Oakland A’s Tank, Billy Beane reached the pinnacle of success. Not a championship- Brad Pitt playing you in a movie. The A’s did see great results that went on to inspire other baseball teams to tank for success, like the Chicago Cubs. In both cases, leaders used a numbers-based approach to tanking, and they used data to quantify their suck. Kudos to you, nerds. 


Other teams have proved that Tanking does not always guarantee success though. The Philadelphia 76ers famous Tanking strategy, aptly named The Process, has continued with little success and the firing of Tank guru and cult hero Sam Hinkie. Some people stand by Hinkie and his decision to Tank, while others find the idea difficult to Process. Sorry, low hanging fruit. 

Whether or not Tanking results in winning isn’t really important. What’s important is the beautiful process of watching a team do everything in its power to go against the norms of sports. It won’t always end well, but it’ll definitely be entertaining. At the end of the day, every team wants success. Sometimes, success doesn’t look like a lot of wins- it looks like a fan having a great team as their team loses by 50, or a 2011 American biographical sports drama film directed by Bennett Miller and written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin.

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