The NBA is ill-positioned to demand money for integrity

The NBA insists it needs extra revenue to protect the integrity of its game despite the fact that it currently does very little about that.

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(Photo Credit: Keith Allison)

Another NBA regular season has ended, which means for weeks now, several teams have been intentionally losing games to enhance their chances of securing the No. 1 overall pick in the summer’s draft.

That’s an aspect of the league most fans accept regardless of their feelings on the matter. For a league that is spending resources in multiple states lobbying legislatures to force sports books to give it a cut of their revenues on a pretense of protecting integrity, that aspect of the league is an inconvenient truth.

This situation has become more precarious as the potential legalization of sports betting in new states becomes more likely. Several states like Mississippi, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania have already enacted laws that will take effect when/if the United States Supreme Court throws out the federal law which makes single-game wagering illegal in most of the country. Other states’ legislatures are working toward that same goal.

In almost all of them, the NBA has a presence through lobbyists. In varying degrees, the NBA has already had success in getting what it wants. Its aim is to ensure itself a cut of the action or a new revenue stream. The sales pitch for why it should be cut in becomes problematic.

One of the league’s arguments is that a sharp increase in wagering on its games creates a heightened risk of individuals with the ability to influence games doing so. That, the league argues, creates new expenses for which it should be reimbursed. It seems a reasonable argument until the NBA’s laissez-faire approach to the integrity of its game is considered.

The NBA made a procedural, toothless reform last September to its draft policy to create an appearance of addressing that multiple teams lose games on purpose every season. Starting in the 2018-19 season, three teams with the worst regular-season winning percentages will have the same odds to land the top overall pick. The team with the league’s worst winning percentage has a 25 percent chance in the current system.

It’s merely a half measure, however. The change decreases the benefit of losing but goes nowhere near the desired goal, which is to give non-playoff teams an incentive to win. The league’s history shows that throwing money at the problem won’t fix it.

Tanking games late in the season has continued although broadcast revenue for the NBA has increased over the years. Companies like ESPN and Turner have paid money to the league and its member franchises for competitive games featuring the best talent the league has to offer. When teams tank, the return on the investment of the broadcasters and those who subscribe to services necessary to view the content is lessened. The NBA knows of this but so far has done nothing of significance to address the issue.

Despite this obvious hypocrisy, the NBA continues to lobby for a cut of sports betting revenue grinding the integrity axe. Legitimate questions get raised. If the NBA gets a new source of revenue from legalized sports books, what actions to address the obvious integrity issue of tanking will the league take? Will it alert books when a team rests its best players ahead of the game so that information can be shared with bettors? Will Adam Silver hand out more fines to teams who do so?

Obviously, it’s in the best interest of bettors and books if both teams in a game are putting their best talent on the floor to win the game wagered upon. Can the NBA force teams to do that when its competitive model rewards non-playoff teams for losing games? The NBA’s short-term and long-term competitive balance interests could be set at odds, and it looks like it would be difficult for the league to find a balance between the two with sports betting involved.

What would strengthen the NBA’s argument for a cut of sports betting revenues based on integrity concerns is a concrete plan for how it would use that revenue to address the integrity issues it already has, much less any potential new issues created by increasing gaming. That has yet to happen, which says everything anyone needs to know about how much the NBA will do about the integrity of its game if it gets what it wants.

What do you think of tanking in the NBA? Let us know in the comments below.