Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Dump This

Warning: off topic (for the most part) post ahead.

Back when I used to read the Bridge World magazines regularly, there were infrequent discussions about an oddity that was (allegedly) occurring in tournaments that they called sportsmanlike dumping.

The main gist of the situation was that the format of some of these tournaments made it so that in theory you could increase your chances of winning the entire tournament by losing a match. The issue was somewhat controversial. Some people believed that it was ethical to lose in such a situation since winning the tournament is the true goal. Others believed that playing sub-optimally on purpose was damaging to the game. I come down pretty firmly in the second camp.

There were multiple ways this type of situation could arise but a solution to one of them stuck with me as a nice answer to that particular instance of the problem.

Those of you who have discussed sports to any degree with me know that I think of the three remaining major sports left in this country (I can't count hockey anymore) basketball has the most entertaining base product out there. Meaning if I'm flipping random channels on the TV and hit a sporting event between two teams with whom I have no inherent rooting interest, I'm much more likely to watch a basketball game than the others. On the other hand, despite Bud Selig's best efforts and Bill Simmons propaganda to the contrary, I think the NBA is the worst run league out there.

There is an epidemic of atrocious officiating. Horrendous decisions have been made by the league offices during the playoffs that have ruined the competitiveness of them. Changing the ball was moronic. The dress code is stupid. But I'm ignoring all of that. What I'm interested in is the fact that dumping or tanking as it is called in the NBA seems to be an acceptable event to the commissioner's office.

Last year you had teams falling all over themselves trying to lose at the end of the season so they could drop from the fifth seed and playing the Mavericks in round one to the sixth seed and playing my Nuggets instead because of the seeding system in place then that guaranteed a top 3 seed to a division winner. So the NBA, as is typical of them, slapped a temporary fix band-aid on the problem and changed it so that division winners are only guaranteed a top 4 seed.

This year you had teams falling all over themselves trying to lose by the middle of the season so they could increase their chances of getting a top 2 pick in this years NBA draft. Fans were openly rooting for their teams to lose even going so far as to boo when their teams did something inappropriate like playing to win the game. It was very nice to see that the teams engaging in this behavior were not rewarded by the random number generator but that does not change the fact that the behavior happened.

Also this year, in theory at least Dallas had incentive to try to lose games to drop out of the 1 seed and avoid a warriors team that matched up well with them on paper and that at the end of the season was playing at a level far exceeding that of the 7 seed lakers.

In my opinion, league offices should do everything in their power to eliminate any incentive to lose.

So back to the solution that one bridge tournament did: The top seeds at the end of the round-robin portion (regular season) got to pick their opponents from the other qualified teams in the bottom half during the knockout (playoffs). This simple fix for both the first and second rounds along with seeding only by record would completely eliminate incentive to lose to allow better playoff positioning.

I understand that this would reward a team that was a 1 seed more than in the current system and would punish teams that did not finish in the top 3, but there is a saying a friend of mine likes to use in this situation: "get better". The regular season is 82 games long. What happens there should be meaningful and there should be a strong incentive to not take half the regular season off and then turn it on in the playoffs.

As to the draft situation, I really like the idea of an equal weight lottery among all 30 teams for the top three spots. The remaining picks would go in reverse order according to record. This eliminates jump points where ones expected draft position improves more by being one spot lower in the standings at some points than others. As far as competitive balance is concerned, I think doing something radical like this might convince the NBA GMs who see their yearly appearance in the draft lottery as a birthright (at least apparently from the types of moves they make) that they need to do their homework and collect pieces intelligently in free agency. If this happened, maybe we would see more turnover in the playoff teams.

Also, if you go back and examine drafts from say the past 10 years, you will find that there was typically at least one good player both available at pick five and at least highly thought of to be drafted in the top 10 picks. So a team with a poor record will still get a shot at a good player assuming they do their homework and know who he is. Every once in a while you might even be able to grab a franchise player around then.

Yes, it would be ridiculous if the Suns, Spurs or Mavericks got Oden or Durant. Ridiculously intriguing.

How does this topic relate to boardgaming? If we did leagues of some sort I guess this could arise. I dunno, any ideas?

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At 4:17 PM, May 30, 2007, Blogger Chris said...

Michael, I'm a pretty big sports fan and find this topic actually very interesting. Tanking for lottery position in the NBA draft WAS a big topic of discussion within the sports media this year, and although I've always liked Boston teams, part of me was smugly delighted to see that their thumbing-of-their-noses at the competitive spirit of the game was not rewarded with the high draft pick they coveted (oh, sweet karma). From your description of sportsmanlike dumping, the analogy seems like a good one.

I spent some time around draft time listening to various talking heads critique the draft lottery system and tried to think of a better solution. I understand the rationale of giving equal weight to all teams for the first three picks. In a draft like the recent one where the first two players are head and shoulders above everyone else, tanking doesn't improve a team's chances of acquiring them. And in a draft where there is NO consensus best pick, then again, positioning in the draft becomes less important (and therefore tanking is less likely), since players of roughly equal talent should be spread throughout the first half round to full round of the draft.

I also agree with instituting a rigid order after the first few picks based on record (as is the current system in the NBA) because I think the league has an incentive to improve the teams with less talent (and therefore make more teams competitive) rather than making the very good teams even better.

But that's also the reason I would modify your proposal just a bit. I would limit an equal shot at the first three picks to the non-playoff teams. I think San Antonio getting one of the top two picks in the draft would be GREAT (as a Spurs fan), but I think that even the possibility of that happening would seem so unfair to everyone else in the league that it would clearly never happen. But it WOULD be amusing if it did. Talking about stirring up a hornet's nest of unhappy people...

I also agree that teams might consider tanking a few games to obtain a more favorable playoff opponent, but this doesn't bother me so much, and I can live with it.

I didn't know this happened in gaming leagues, though. That's pretty wild, but since I assume that they're composed of people who are more competitive and analytical than average, it doesn't surprise me at all. I'd probably do the same if I thought the benefit to be gained was significant enough, competitive spirit be damned.

Everyone remembers who wins the tournament. No one remembers who was the most sportsmanlike.

At 5:08 PM, May 30, 2007, Blogger Brian said...

1) We really have to play bridge at some point. Anyone who read the Bridge World is a worthy partner.

2) I've proposed that idea, with the caveat that the teams picking have to pick an opponent from the bottom half. [That gives you incentive to fight for #4, so that if you match up poorly with the #1, at least they can't nail you in the opener].

2a) Incidentally, wouldn't this system make for a great watercooler discussion, when the #1 seed decides to play the #6 (instead of 7 or 8).

3) I don't really consider Simmons a proponent of the National Basketball Association (the league). He's kind of star struck by David Stern, though.

4) I think that all US leagues should have a relegation system. The worst team has to play a playoff against the best Triple AAA team, and the winner is in the league next year. [I'd also like to see league rules that forced owners of consistently terrible teams to put them up for auction.]

At 6:11 PM, May 30, 2007, Blogger Ben said...

In theory I'm always up for some form of SABG tournament play, but interest and enthusiasm has been hard to come by whenever its been proposed... the Twilight Struggle tournament withered in the first round as well. I do think a random seed, single elimination WotR tourney would be fun, with military victory VPs being bid for side choice.

I think there's only one sport worth watching consistently: Notre Dame Football, though don't get me started on the BCS system...

At 7:33 PM, May 30, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Re: Chris

The equal weight draft lottery among non-playoff teams has a big jump point at the point where one would drop from being a playoff 8 seed to being just out, gaining a 3/14 shot at a top 3 pick (whether its worth it to exploit it depends on if the team is on its way up or down in the future and the overall age of the team).

The Spurs getting the number one draft pick in a year like this would cause lots of hand wringing and distress. I'm sure I would be one of the multitude of hand wringers. But given the salary cap I think it would be interesting to see how they could possibly juggle everyones contract a few years down the road.

Re: Brian

Well, my claim about the NBA being poorly run is directed specifically at Stern. The Simmons love fest for him has always bothered me because it seems so completely illogical (IIRC he tried to make the argument that changing the ball was some master stroke to get some publicity for the NBA during the NFL season).

I meant to say specifically that the picks must come from the bottom half of the teams involved in the playoffs.

Relegation would be very interesting. Talk about water cooler discussion. Imagine if down the stretch the Yankees were in danger of being relegated. I imagine most of the people I know would be delighted and appalled at the same time.

Re: Ben

I understand that most of the SABGers have similar policies about sports. It certainly is a more efficient way to go about life.

At 9:02 PM, May 30, 2007, Blogger Schifani said...

You lost me at "my Nuggets".

At 9:26 PM, May 30, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Really? I'm actually kind of shocked since I've always considered the Nuggets and Rockies to be the types of teams that are beneath opposing fans consideration. The Broncos and Avs on the other hand...(especially the Broncos with their "dirty" blockign techniques)

The only real negative thing I can think of about the Nuggets is the ridiculously overblown "brawl" with the Knicks this year.

At 10:17 PM, May 30, 2007, Blogger Rob said...


At 10:45 PM, May 30, 2007, Blogger Schifani said...

The Nuggets are not the Spurs, therefore I hate them. I take no team lightly. Having watched about 78 out of the 82 regular season Spurs games, I bitterly remember losing to the Bucks, Cleveland twice, New Orleans-OKC, etc.

The Nuggets have good star power and need better role players to move into the top 4 of the Western Conference. They are not beneath notice.

At 11:41 PM, May 30, 2007, Blogger Chris said...

Uhhhhuhhuhuh....he said "my nuggets."

At 9:05 AM, May 31, 2007, Blogger Jeff said...

Regarding sportmanslike dumping, the solution that the DCI (the governing body for competitive Magic:the Gathering (No, you can't discuss tournament formats/rules without me chiming in about Magic (I'm geeky that way (and I love nested parentheses)))) came up with was to create rules that allowed/regulated it since it was going to happen anyway. Players can agree at any time before a match ends to call it a draw. Normally, a match win gives the winner one match point while a draw gives each player one match point. After a predetermined number of rounds, the eight players with the most match points play in three rounds of single-elimination. Two undefeated players who meet up in the final round can often guarantee that they will both make the top eight cut by drawing, while a loss will prevent the loser from making it. (Sometimes they do the math wrong and one/both of them fail to make the cut because they drew, and that's funny.) When I'm not playing in the tourney, I'm of the opinion that you should play it out, but when I'm playing I take the draw. It hurts your seeding, but getting fifty minutes of rest before the finals rather than another fifty minutes of brain-burning play is worth it. Plus, you've played hard all day and done well, so why risk getting a bad opening hand and randomly losing your shot at winning the whole ball of wax?

At 10:46 AM, May 31, 2007, Blogger seanp said...

What if you look at the overall NBA Championship as a single board game? Sometimes you pool your resources in one area and go for a big point pull, while abandoning another area because it's not worth the resources you'd spend to gain the advantage. What about a game like Power Grid, where strategic positioning matters quite a bit going into the final round? Is it bad sportsmanship to not build into as many cities as you can afford?

It really depends on what you consider the "goal" - is a single game the goal, or is the championship the goal, or is positioning yourself for NEXT year's championship the goal?

At 1:03 PM, May 31, 2007, Blogger Amy said...

Jeff said: Normally, a match win gives the winner one match point while a draw gives each player one match point.

Am I miss remembering, or did you mean to say "a match win gives the winner three match points?"

At 1:06 PM, May 31, 2007, Blogger Amy said...

Oops. I meant "misremembering."

Why can't you edit comments after posting?

At 3:04 PM, May 31, 2007, Blogger Rob said...

You can, but you need to ask the Jedi master (Ben) to grant you those Jedi powers. I think I can grant them, but alas, I'm still a Padawan, and don't know and am too lazy to figure out how to do it.

At 7:14 PM, May 31, 2007, Blogger Ben said...

Even I cannot edit comments after posting them. Just copy, delete, paste, edit, then re-post.


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