Concannon: Introducing the world to the Gold Plan
Jack Concannon | Monday, September 16, 2019
The NHL, NBA and MLB have all had tanking problems. Teams sought to lose as many games as they could once they were eliminated from playoff contention, gaining the opportunity to draft the next Zion Williamson or Jack Hughes in the process. This process is painstaking for fans and players alike, and causes rebuilding teams to struggle selling tickets. Sometimes fans that go actively support their team’s opponent, knowing that it is not in their long-term interest to win. Watching fans celebrate their own team’s losses is gross and not what sports should be about.
The MLB has done nothing to reform the issue, and the NHL and NBA use a lottery to award the top selections. Both of these plans have failed. While we all dislike tanking, I would argue the NBA is an even worse place now than it would be without a lottery. The 33-win Pelicans leapfrogging the lowly Bulls, Suns and Cavaliers teams that were in far more desperate need of Zion Williamson’s services than they were, for no reason other than the order in which ping pong balls were pulled, is absurd and not a good remedy to the problem.
We need a system that gives the worst teams the best chance to get the best young players and encourages teams to win their late season games. Thanks to Adam Gold, a data analyst focused on sports, we have the plan we need. Aptly named the Gold Plan, it was originally conceived with hockey in mind, but there is no reason why it cannot extend to basketball and baseball as well. The plan is simple: instead of ranking non-playoff teams in reverse order of the standings, rank the teams based on how many wins they earn after they are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. The most wins post-elimination earns you the number-one selection.
This is a great plan for a few reasons. The first is that teams now earn higher draft picks by winning, providing an incentive for players to keep playing hard and fans to continue to buy tickets and watch games on television even after their team has been knocked out. Being eliminated no longer ends your season, it just changes your desired outcome from winning the title to earning the top pick.
If the goal is to make teams win games for a better pick, why not just play an end-of-season consolation tournament, and award the winner the top pick in the draft? This would be bad because it would make it impossible for the league’s worst teams to ever pick first, as the 17-win Knicks would struggle mightily in defeating the 39-win Kings in a series to earn that top pick. As a result, the draft would fail to give the worst teams the best young talent, eliminating the entire point of the draft.
Enter a second key reason the Gold Plan works: it gives the worst teams an advantage over average teams that just missed the playoffs in securing the top pick. This is because teams that are eliminated earlier in the season will have more games post-elimination to accumulate wins. Last season, the Montreal Canadiens were in playoff contention until the final day of the regular season. Under the Gold Plan, they would have zero wins and would pick 16th, last out of all non-playoff teams. By contrast, the Ottawa Senators were eliminated on March 9, giving them a full month to collect wins.
Imagine how exciting that would make the end of the regular season. Determination of playoff seeding is somewhat interesting, but it would not even hold a candle to the excitement of a Suns-versus-Bulls late season matchup with Zion Williamson on the line. The same goes for baseball and hockey: late season matchups that were once meaningless would become critical to long-term rebuilding.
One counter point is that this would greatly mitigate the impact of the trade deadline. Currently teams out of contention part with their veterans on expiring contracts to recoup draft picks and gain assets that will help in the future. The implementation of the Gold Plan would add a new emphasis on late season wins, even for teams with no title to play for.
While I enjoy the hot stove of the trade deadline, this is a small price to pay to end tanking and adds a new exciting reason to watch sports when your team would usually have nothing left to play for. Trade deadline moves are currently an important aspect of roster construction, but teams and general managers would adapt quickly, and within just a few years, the fun of the trade deadline would be a faint memory in comparison to the far-greater excitement the Gold Plan would bring.
This plan prevents tanking, adds a new reason to watch bad teams that struggle to fill their stadium, and gives the worst teams the best chance of earning the top picks. It is an essentially flawless alternative to our current system we would all be better off with.