Every time the Knicks step onto the court these days, it’s clear — their strategy isn’t based on trying to win games this season. Their strategy is completely about the future. They won’t use the word, but everyone knows what they are doing. It’s called tanking.
The issue of tanking has become one of the most compelling subjects in sports. While it may have originated decades ago, it feels as if it’s more prevalent now than ever. It’s a polarizing philosophy that engulfs organizations, media coverage and fan bases.
That prompted The Post to explore this fascinating subject. In this ongoing series, we’ll examine how and why tanking became so prominent, reveal how fans view the strategy and propose our solutions to fix it.
When it comes to tanking, the NFL has an advantage in the nickname department over other sports but not much else.
“Suck for Luck,” “Suck for the Duck” and “Suck for Sam” were all fun to talk about. But when it comes to actual tanking in the NFL, very few teams have done it, and no one has proven it can result in a championship like it has in baseball for the Astros and Cubs.
The team that is used as the most frequent example of tanking in the NFL was the 2011 Colts, who went 2-14 and then used the No. 1 pick to take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck in the draft. It was a perfect handoff from Peyton Manning to Luck for Indianapolis. But ask the general manager of that team, Bill Polian, if they were tanking, and he will get fired up.
How fans feel about tanking in sports
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“Tanking is not in my vocabulary,” Polian said two years ago and then pointed out the Colts won two of their final three games that season. “We tried to win every single game.”
That season the Colts lost Manning to an injury, so it was not clear-cut whether they just wrote off the season. Some would argue they did not do much to replace Manning, therefore they tanked.
Even if you believe the Colts sucked for Luck, it has not resulted in a championship. The Colts have gone to the playoffs four times with Luck but have not reached the Super Bowl.
That is one of the reasons that tanking in the NFL is not as good of a plan than it is in other sports. It is difficult for one player to turn around a franchise, and it is difficult to predict who is a can’t-miss player a year before they will be in the draft. Luck was one of the best quarterback prospects in the past 35 years. Even he has not been able to overcome a lack of good players around him.
The only position to even consider tanking for is a quarterback, so that limits even a thought of tanking to the years when an elite quarterback or two is in the draft.
Another factor that makes tanking tougher in the NFL is the length of the season. The longer the season is, the easier it is for you to lose enough games to be the worst team. In football, even if you set your roster up to lose, a few upsets could cost you in the draft order. The 2017 Jets looked ready to go 0-16. Instead, they went 5-11 and had to make a trade to move up in the draft and get Sam Darnold.
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There is also a safety component. If a baseball team chooses to field a minor-league level pitching staff, the team ERA is the only casualty. If an NFL team puts out a subpar offensive line, people will get hurt.
It is also difficult to get coaches to go along with a tank. They know it will be hard for them to survive it. It appeared Hue Jackson was never on board with the Browns’ plan to tank. Todd Bowles insisted the Jets were trying to win the Super Bowl in 2017 as the front office eyed the next spring’s draft.
Fans, however, seem more and more willing to accept tanking, which could lead to teams trying it more. It looks like the Dolphins will not be competitive this season in hopes of landing Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
“Tank for Tua” has a nice ring to it.