In the past 24 months we have seen an unprecedented term of sporting avalanches that have led to situations that haven’t known in a long time.
LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers, Brett Favre left the Green Bay Packers, Albert Puyols left the Arizona Cardinals and most recently, Peyton Manning left the Indianapolis Colts. Obviously each respective situation is entirely different from the next, but all have left teams looking largely unrecognisable, at least to this current generation of the organisation.
When you lose a franchise player, like each of the aforementioned have, you are immediately thrust into rebuilding mode. Perhaps the only similarity between the four is reality that all four teams lost their star without receiving anything in return.
In the case of the Packers, as it has been for many clubs in comparable states, they had ready made replacement or replacements and still boast competitive team, however this does not change the fact the team is certainly rebuilding. You cannot lose a once in a generation player and continue on your same level of production, despite how talented the supporting cast may be or may have seemed. The Colts emanated this the past season.
From this point there are three avenues of which to regain a standard of performance and be successful. You can make a series of trades to attempt to bring in needed talent or fill holes in a roster. You can address the needs of the team through free agency, bringing in players without contracts and recruiting them to buy into what you are trying to do. The other option, and the most cost effective and controlled option, is unique perhaps only to that of American sports. The Draft.
As I became enamoured with sport in America, it was astonishing to me to see the emphasis placed upon and the interest in the drafts of each respective competition. There is no where else in the world that has a process comparable, and I believe that is to the disadvantage of these other leagues.
The draft is the ultimate form of hope trafficking.
A period of time involving scouting, comparison, evaluation and eventually decision making that leads to a renewed and, at times, unrivalled feeling of ecstasy and promise within a fan base, believing that the choices they make at that time will return them to a place of glory once more.
But that is easier said and believed than done. For this to be the case, luck has always been more relevant than any amount of preparedness. That has had instances of change speckled throughout the past decade, perhaps not as noticeably but certainly controversially, and it is something that will become more common as exploitation plays a greater role in 21st century sport.
What I am trying to do here is eliminate naivety. The recent revelations that the New Orleans Saints have participated in activities that were below morale values not only of the sport, but of the country, were met with a barrage of outbursts of disgust and despair. However, the reaction from every corner of the current and former playing group has been of knowing, acceptance and certainly with no surprise.
There is no doubt that something of remote comparison has been evident in most if not all locker rooms of the NFL. The reaction from the players confirms that. Whether or not it was to the extremity of this situation we do not know and perhaps will never know, but the naivety that this is an isolated or even uncommon instance is ridiculous.
So why is it so hard for fans and media to swallow that teams would actively involve themselves in tanking to ensure long term and sustained success?
Sport is all business. It would not exist if someone was not making money off it. It will not continue unless someone is making money off it. The best way to ensure monetary gain is through success.
Win at all costs. A sporting cliche that is not relevant just to the playing field, but resonates in the conference rooms of management and ownership.
If you can lose a majority of games now to give yourself a higher chance of winning a majority of games down the line, what coach, general manager or owner does not do so? Mediocrity in sports is worse than losing. Being a .500 team is slow death. It’s killing every sports fan softly. Sure, if they are a rebuilding team on the verge of success, it is bearable, or even a veteran team that is a free agent or two away from relevance, but losing one or several stars and attempting to sustain a satisfactory level of winning is just depressing. The Denver Nuggets are an example of this.
When it became apparent to the Indianapolis Colts that Peyton Manning was not recovering from his serious and complex surgery as quickly as they would have hoped, secretly it sent the organisation into a mind frame it had not been in for at least 14 years. Are you so naive that you could not believe there was a meeting of some description between influential members of the franchise who decided it was in the best interests of this team to play losing football in the risk their star would not be able to return to the field again? Are you so naive to believe the Colts did not consider the fact Andrew Luck was the prize for the worst team in the NFL, perhaps the greatest talent produced from college football since Peyton Manning, and decide this is the best way to move into their new era?
There is no way that team was THAT bad. They were perennial division winning locks. The Colts were always one of the first teams mentioned as Super Bowl contenders. They had a near perfect mix of youth and experience on both sides of the ball. They had defensive playmakers and offensive powerhouses. Double figure Pro Bowlers. I am not dismissing the overwhelming impact a Hall of Fame quarterback can have on a team, but for a Super Bowl contending team stacked with some of the best players at their respective positions to go from first to last does not sit with me.
The Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars faced off in the final game of their seasons, with Andrew Luck on the line. Had the Colts won that game, they would have immediately put themselves out of the position to draft Andrew Luck. With one win over another terrible team, it would have all come to a startling and costly end. Their risqué experiment would have, for the lack of a better word, failed, and they would be faced with the decision to make on Manning that would determine their short and long term future.
Surely we cannot find someone so naive as to say the Colts went out trying to win that game, knowing full well of the consequences of doing so.
So if we can all admit the Colts wanted to and attempted to lose that final game, why is it not only hard to believe, but immoral to hear that they could have spent the entire season doing so?
The Cleveland Cavaliers went from the best record in the NBA to the second worst record in the NBA simply by losing one player. Sure, he was the best player in the history of the franchise and the best player in the league, and combine with the fact that basketball is the most individual heavy team sport on the planet, but most people still had them as a borderline playoff team. Do you really put it past the clinically insane Dan Gilbert to decide that the draft was the best and most efficient way to rebuild the franchise? That a high (NBA runs on the lottery system which serves as something of a deterrent for tanking) draft pick would get the team moving in the right direction once more? That they could find another player to become the face of their franchise?
Many believe it happens, many accept it happens, but a vast majority of those who do, see it as some huge breach of morale code, that anything less than a 100% desire to win a game of sport is a felony. That would be the case if sport was purely recreational, but sadly it is not. Sport is a business. Business is about making money. You will not make money being a mediocre team. You will make money being a competitive team. You will make money being a great team. Success will bring money.
Another common misconception is that this downgrades the quality of the league, of important games, of eventual standings and records, AND rewards the unworthy. The teams that are in the end-of-the-line situation of considering this method are obviously not going to be a roster of quality to begin with. No team that is considering tanking is going to challenge for a title, nor even a playoff position. They would certainly lose a significant majority of their games even if they did head into every game with 100% focus on winning.
How is the Cleveland Cavaliers tanking a season hurting the legacy of that Dallas Maverick’s Championship? How did the season of tanking evident from the Indianapolis Colts taking away from the brilliance of the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants?
I am sure there are conservative sports fans out there who will think this is utter blasphemy, and in all honesty I completely understand why. I am not in favour of the radical and controversial changes sport has voluntarily and involuntarily gone through over the past decade. The tabloid culture that has emerged disgusts me. That is what is ruining sport. The constant need to criticise, to tear down, to invade, to humiliate.
ESPN has become TMZ.
But before you commit textual murder again me, please consider empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of Dan Gilbert, of Jim Irsay, of Bill Bidwell, or Ted Thompson. By no means is it an easy decision, nor a popular decision, nor a decision anyone ever wants to make. But if you can ensure a future of on field success and financial growth by throwing away a series of irrelevant games or even a season that holds no promise to begin with, who in the world would not do it?
Try to separate emotion from reality. Be rational.
Tags: Albert Puyols Andrew Luck Arizona Cardinals Basketball Bob Bidwell Brett Favre Cleveland Cavaliers Dallas Mavericks Dan Gilbert ESPN Green Bay Packers Indianapolis Colts Jacksonville Jaguars Jim Irsay Lebron James Miami Heat MLB NBA New Orleans Saints New York Giants NFL Peyton Manning Ted Thompson TMZ