Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Olympian Lessons: Tanking and Paying to Appeal

Posted By on Wed, Aug 1, 2012 at 11:49 AM

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Every Olympics produces a few oddities and this year there are two contenders for "Best of Show": the badminton players thrown out for throwing their matches and the Japanese gymnastics appeal complete with a handful of cash.

Badminton is a racquet sport so it's marginally within the boundaries of this blog. I only wish the offending teams had been playing in something closer to prime time. If anyone has video, I would love to see a link. Apparently the South Koreans, Chinese, and Indonesian doubles teams were so blatantly trying to lose that officials had no choice but to intervene.

In other words, they were not so much punished for not trying, which is impossible to prove, but for being incompetent at not trying, which raises the bar on underperformance, so to speak. The longest rally in one game lasted four shots. I once saw Andre Agassi lose to Luke Jensen in a pro tennis match, and while Agassi was widely thought to have tanked, you certainly could not prove it, and Jensen, one of my favorite players, rightly claimed a career win.

The badminton bunglers were losing to win later on against a weaker opponent. This was a result of the wimpy round-robin format instead of a straight loser-goes-home, winner-moves-on tournament. In other words, the Olympics has descended to the level of club tournaments and kiddie sports where participation for one and all is the guiding rule.

Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, the South Korean badminton team. One way to raise your profile.

The second special moment, this one captured on television in prime time for all to see, was the Japanese gymnastics coach handing over a wad of bills with his appeal to the governing body of the sport. A bribe? No, more like a performance bond. The appeal was successful.

Is there a lesson for other sports? I think so. Next time a pro football coach throws that appeal hankie, make it come with some cash, and give the opposing coach the right to match or up the offer — within a designated time limit, of course. The Houston Texans meet Texas Hold'Em. And when a team exhausts its appeals, let it buy an additional one for, say, $100,000, to be paid in cash on the spot. The drama would replace what is now just dead air every time we hear the dreaded "the previous play is under review."

The same rules could apply in tennis. Call it the "Hawk Eye" Pay Per View rule. And in baseball, where the angry manager kicking dust on the umpire has become a cliche. Big-time sports is flush with cash. Put it in play. User fees have become an accepted part of every facet of our lives. It could be one of the lasting lessons of London.

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