Friday, September 20, 2013

Losing Should Never Be Rewarded in Sports


They do not trade their best players after 2 games for draft picks. They do not blow it up to hit rock bottom.

They do in the NFL.

The shocking thing? Many NFL writers believe this is a good thing. And that’s sad.

trent richardson traded
This week, the Cleveland Browns traded Trent Richardson for a first-round pick next year. Richardson was a first round pick just last year, third overall in fact.

The spin after the trade – at least from Cleveland and writers in favor of the trade – is that Richardson had been underperforming. It’s a curious position to take. Considering all summer, the Browns were pumping up Richardson as their back of the future. That they were going to use him on every down. That he would get more carries, more touches and more catches.

Instead, the Browns revealed their lack of interest in winning this season. On the first drive of the 2013 season, Trent Richardson carried the ball 4 times for 26 yards. That 6.5 yards per carry average was good enough for only 9 more carries the rest of the game. Brandon Weeden threw the ball 50+ times. The Browns lost. The season was already over.

Richardson’s career, however, is not. The Browns have given up on him after one season for reasons that are obvious and deeply depressing. They are tanking.

The Browns would be better served as a franchise if they didn’t win another game this season. In fact, there is no reason for them to even try. They will not make the playoffs. The only positive outcome for this season is the #1 pick in a 2014 draft loaded with potential franchise quarterbacks.

How does that make you feel as a fan?

The draft system in American sports is deeply flawed. It’s always been deeply flawed. It’s just become more deeply flawed as the games have evolved. Smarter men are now General Managers and they’ve identified the loophole.

The NBA attempted to fix this with the pure draft lottery instituted in the mid-1980’s. Though the conspiracies that the NBA fixed the first one for Patrick Ewing to end up on the Knicks, there is no doubt that it was enacted for the right reasons.

Even the draft lottery has fallen apart. Now there is a “weighted” system where you are still rewarded for embarrassing your city and your franchise by tanking on purpose to lose games.

It’s a simple fix. Go back to a true draft lottery in the NBA – and institute one in the NFL.

The Cleveland Browns, in no uncertain terms, should never be rewarded for what they did this week. The fans of Cleveland – those poor, tortured souls – shelled out thousands of dollars for season tickets and hundreds of dollars for Trent Richardson jerseys. Their reward? Nothing. A promise to get better in the future – after more tickets have been sold.

What is a Browns fan to do? There is no recourse. You have to sit back and watch your team lose, basically on purpose, for the next three months.

This is all done in the name of “parity,” which is the worst possible goal any sports league could chase. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world because parity most certainly does not exist – the rich get richer, the other teams need to build up to that.

Look at college football, a sport that is defined by its defiant lack of parity. The bluebloods rule the sport. It is good for the sport. As a UConn fan, Michigan comes to town on Saturday and it will be the biggest crowd in UConn history despite UConn trotting out the worst team in its brief FBS history. Why? Because Michigan is always good. The sport thrives on the top teams being the top teams year after year. It’s why John F. Kennedy said, “Why does Rice play Texas every year?” and why that means so much. You strive for greatness by playing the best.

I could continue to list the examples, of how sports hit their peak when there was a dominant team – the Heat of LeBron, the Bulls of Jordan or the Yankees of Jeter, Mo and Andy.

Even the NFL, the poster child for parity, hit its stride when parity was non-existent. And I’m not talking about the glory years of the early 1990’s when the Cowboys and 49ers existed on a different planet than the AFC.

I’m talking about 2007, the clear demarcation of the NFL taking off from not only its sports brethren, but all other forms of entertainment. Why did that happen? In part, live events were becoming the only communal television events.

But more important, the NFL had a remarkable season. The Thursday Night package on the NFL Network was legitimized when the 10-1 Packers took on the 10-1 Cowboys. The sports world almost literally stopped – NBC, CBS and the NFL Network all aired the Patriots last regular season game against the Giants to go 16-0. This was driven by greatness.

The success of the NFL does not hinge on the Cleveland Browns. It will not be undermined by tanking. Whether the Browns go 0-16 or 4-12 this year, the NFL will still be the biggest monster in the room.

It’s not right though. Relegation will never come to American sports. But there must be something put in place to prevent travesties from what occurred this week from happening again. Fans deserve better. Put in a true lottery in place and prevent tanking from being a sound strategy.

Until then, Cleveland fans would be wise to do the unthinkable this year – root against their team.

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