At the 91st Academy Awards ceremony, longtime New York Knicks lover Spike Lee, mouthed the words “We’re trying to tank,” after Samuel L. Jackson informed him that the Knicks had won against the San Antonio Spurs after an 18-game home losing streak. As a die-hard Knicks fan, one might wonder why Lee showed little excitement over the Knicks’ rare victory. However, this is the unfortunate reality of US sports. Teams with poor performances are incentivized to do worse through the draft system. The worst teams are given higher chances of getting the best picks. In contrast, many sports leagues in Europe have a system of promotion and relegation, where low performing teams drop down a league and successful teams in lower leagues have the chance to move up.
This incentivization within the American system can encourage poor-performing teams to forfeit the present season in exchange for a chance influx of talented stars. The current lottery system for the NBA draft gives the three teams with the lousiest seasons, each a 14 percent chance of getting the number one draft pick. The Knicks are competing with the Chicago Bulls, the Phoenix Suns, and the Cleveland Cavaliers for that pick, so according to the Washington Post, the Knicks have “some losing to do if [they] want to cement [their] place among that non-power trio.”
European soccer leagues do things differently. Though some leagues have small variations, the standard promotion system sees the season’s worst three soccer teams sent to the next league down. The stakes are high – playing in a lower league attracts less money, fewer fans, and lower quality players. In this system, underdogs can climb the ladder into the big leagues; the three best teams from the league below are elevated into the league above. This system keeps teams on their toes, ensuring fans a cutthroat season, free of teams throwing in the towel.
American teams face a few key obstacles in their path when weighing the benefits of a relegation system. Star power fills seats, so if a team falls prey to an unlucky injury for their top player and is relegated to a lower league, fans could be less inclined to watch games. There is also the financial consideration of the impact on televised sports. TV networks want enthralled fans, so a league filled with big names and stationary teams accommodates that more than the moving around of a fan’s team.
Overall, the relegation method is a worthy system that incites a healthy dose of competition. Likewise, the American system is inherently competitive and works well for big names and money. For now, fans will have to deal with both the race to victory and the hardship that accompanies it.