The NFL’s bizarre nightmare: Tanking

William Baik, Staff Writer

Every youth league player, little league competitor and every kid that’s played a sport has heard their coach say “Go out there, have fun and let’s win.” Winning: It’s the ultimate goal of the game—or, at least that’s what we’ve been told only to , turn on the TV to watch a favorite football team celebrating their loss.

Tanking—the process of intentionally losing games for higher draft picks—in the NFL is nothing new. Embracing tanking, however, is rather new, evident in its blatant display throughout the 2020-2021 NFL season. Instances such as Eagles’ Head Coach Doug Pederson’s decision to bench starting quarterback Jalen Hurts in favor of second stringer, Nate Sudfeld, in their game against the Giants on Jan. 3 have become all too common. The Jacksonville Jaguars’ team was caught obsessively cheering for their opponent to win the game as well, an undeniable sign of the integration of tanking within the sport.

But  is tanking good for the NFL and sports in general? From a statistical standpoint, definitely. It makes sense in theory to sacrifice a chance at the playoffs to heighten those chances in the future. In practice, tanking has unfortunately become a common phenomenon, resulting in frustration and boredom for loyal fans. A rebuild for even the luckiest team can take multiple years, sometimes even decades, to pay off into a feasible playoff run. Some teams never regain their short-lived glimpses of glory. And thus, this questionable theoretical strategy damages the NFL product.

But the problem is not just that tanking exists as a strategy — it’s that the NFL consistently refuses to acknowledge it is happening. Take the Eagle’s pulling Hurts from the Jan. 6 game, for example. Popular sports commentator Cris Collinsworth criticized the team’s decision, only to joke that he would be receiving calls from league officials tomorrow in violation of their policies.

“Some of my friends in New York are going to have a few messages for me after the game. I’m afraid to pick up my phone at this point,” Collinsworth said.

The league—already in the midst of lawsuit after lawsuit over its misrepresentation of player concussions—had its integrity challenged once again on the national stage. But, if tanking continues to be tacitly allowed, then reporters should call it out with  no fear. The NFL’s attempt to keep things under wraps reflects a mentality that undermines the spirit of true competition, paralleling game-fixing in the extent of its adverse effects.

Tanking ruins the core competitiveness of sports, and thus it’s enjoyment factor., The inevitability of it is unintended consequences, which could range from declining ratings to shifts in rules and regulations.  But more than being detrimental, the practice is disappointing. All fans can do is sit back and continue cheering for the teams that inspired them as kids.