The notion of a team tanking -- intentionally playing badly, or at least purposely fielding a team that is below its capability -- to potentially improve draft position and theoretically create a better team in the future pits two very different and opposing notions against each other.
We would say it pits a terrible notion (tanking) against a non-terrible notion (not tanking), but we'll leave most of our strong feelings about tanking aside for the next few hundred words.
Instead, let's focus on the push-pull elements that tempt teams and fans to celebrate losing -- or conversely oppose the idea with vehemence.
From a practical standpoint, it's not hard to understand the appeal of tanking. The NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB reward the worst teams in some fashion with the opportunity to add the best potential young players to the organization. In the NFL and MLB, it's done based simply on record. In the NBA and NHL, there is a weighted lottery, whereby the worst teams have the best chance at top picks, even if bad luck could stop them from getting the very best.
So if you're a team, and you already are sinking toward the bottom with no playoff hope in sight, why not give yourself a little extra nudge to improve your chances at getting better? You don't have to have, say, Mark Madsen try seven three-pointers in overtime (ahem, Timberwolves), but you can rest key players ... and maybe even pull back on the throttle in a close game. Go ahead, why not?
It's a get-rich quick scheme with easy money -- just don't ask too many questions about where you got it.
The other side of the equation is admittedly more romanticized and less practical. Even the anti-tankers have to realize that the Vikings -- by winning at Washington and getting the No. 3 pick instead of No. 2 in the draft later this month -- cost themselves the haul St. Louis obtained in its trade with the Redskins. And it's tempting to look at the Wild's late-season winning streak as a draft curse instead of a blessing.
But if you care about the sanctity of competition, the purity of sport and the idea that trying to manufacture luck is a zero-sum game that will bite you in the end ... well, the words from Wild coach Mike Yeo earlier this week were music to your ears: "I know it's hard for people to realize, but what our guys are doing right now is far more important than two, three spots in the draft."
The logical comeback: Yeo is paid to win games, so what else is he going to say? But that doesn't change the fact that it is the correct answer if you believe in building a team the right way. Winning honestly never needs to come with an apology. The same can't be said for winning at all costs.