It may seem counter-intuitive to the layman, but there is a time-honored tradition of losing in professional sports to make your team better. The reasoning is that throwing away the season in favor of better draft positioning can potentially put your team on the fast track to the top. The Miami Dolphins did it this very year by trading away two of their top starters for a bevy of draft picks right before game one. Then they did it again before game three by trading another starter after taking a shellacking in the first two games, losing them by a combined margin of 102 to 10. Conventional wisdom really dictates that there can be more value in bringing in new young stars rather than trying to patch up holes with veterans. But, even though some teams like the 76er’s in the NBA and the Cleveland Browns in the NFL have found success after gutting their entire organizations and starting over from the top. Those successes may have been in spite of the moves to dismantle the team, and not because of them.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
A big part of the reason team executives think it is smart to lose a lot of games to make a team better is that it puts them in the driver’s seat when it comes to draft day. Being the worst team in the league means that you will have the pick of the litter when it comes to the best college players in the country, and to a lot of general managers and coaches that means the best chance of winning in the future. However, there is no telling how even the greatest college players of all-time are going to work out in the pros. Too often, teams will toss their best players to the side prematurely hoping they will bring in the future of their franchise. But more often than not their rookie prospects don’t work out how they think they will.
It’s the pickers, not the picks
While general managers and coaches salivate over all the draft picks, they can bring in to their organizations by losing. They are ignoring the fact that statistics show that it doesn’t really matter how many picks it affords you. More important than the number of picks, or where your team’s place inline is, is who is evaluating the talent. Making sure your team has the best scouts, and the best people deciding on which new players to bring is far more important than bringing in a large number of new players. So while signing that shiny new quarterback, or drafting that silky-smooth point guard may seem like your team’s ticket to the big game. The numbers show that who you have working on the sidelines might just be more important to winning.
Bad for the game
Not only is tanking the season bad for your individual team, but it’s bad for the game. Having teams essentially throwing games, and the entire season, with their eye on improving in the future, takes away from the overall product that sports offer to their fans. 2019 was the first time in the history of Major League Baseball where four teams lost 100 games or more. Not so coincidentally it was also the first time that four teams won 100 games or more. Not to take away from the accomplishments of those teams or those fine players. But without four teams vying to be the worst in the league and get a hold of those coveted draft picks, perhaps those are two records that would never have been set.