There comes a time during every athletic season when a team is faced with an inevitable dilemma: With no chance at making the playoffs, do they just tank the rest of the season or play it out and see what the future holds?
In the professional ranks, more times than none, teams chose the former.
Take the NFL for example.
The Detroit Lions rolled through last season’s schedule without a win and were awarded the first pick in this year’s NFL draft. Had the team not given up on the season and pulled off a win or two, that outcome might have been different. Instead the winless Lions took the No. 1 pick with open arms and drafted former Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford. Now, I’m not saying the Lions are significantly better with Stafford, but they’re in a much better position now than they were a year ago.
NBA teams also benefit from not playing out the season.
During LeBron James’ senior year in high school, the Cleveland Cavaliers were the worst team in the league and most outsiders knew that the team was doing everything in its power not to win, but to lose and get a better chance at landing LeBron. We know how that story goes.
The Cavs won the lottery, drafted the hometown hero from nearby Akron, and almost instantly became one of the best, if not most entertaining teams in the NBA. All that tanking the 2002 season did for the Cavs was deliver the face of the NBA, who brought the franchise to the NBA Finals once and, in just his sixth year, has them as one of the favorites to win this year’s title.
For Cleveland, and possibly the Lions, I guess you can say that losing on purpose paid off.
But as the level of play decreases so do the benefits of giving up on a lost season.
Colleges and high schools don’t have the luxury of rebuilding their programs with a draft pick; they need to win, because when the loses pile up, their reputation — and in college, recruiting — takes a hit.
But that doesn’t mean tanking doesn’t still happen.
College players quit on their coach, which leads to embarrassing losses and the coach’s demise.
At times the same thing happens in high school where some kids on a losing team tend to focus their attention on just getting the season over with so they can move on with their lives. Those teams also get new coaches.
But for every quitter, there is what is commonly referred to as the spoiler: a team that doesn’t care that they have no chance at making the playoffs, they just want to keep playing and hopefully get that one win that will be the crowning achievement of their season.
Last week, the East Hall baseball team had that win.
After losing three games in a row for the fourth time this season, the Vikings (8-16, 7-15 Region 7-AAA) won back-to-back games for the first time all year. But that was just the appetizer.
Two days after beating Pickens 6-3, the Vikings took on the eighth-ranked Lumpkin County Indians in a game that looked one-sided on paper.
Paper meant nothing to East Hall.
Trailing 6-2 in the fifth inning, the Vikings exploded for 10 runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth to stun the second best team in the region. Now, that doesn’t sound like a team that is throwing in the towel.
Most teams this late in the season would have just gone through the motions and taken their beating like men, but the Vikings took it upon themselves to win that one game that will define their season.
I’m sure most people will focus on the fact that Lumpkin County lost as opposed to East Hall winning, but I know those people won’t be the players, coaches or fans of the Vikings.
The people involved with East Hall baseball will remember the Lumpkin County win as one that showed that while their program may not be among the state’s elite, it can certainly play with them on any given night.
Had the players, coaches and fans surrendered this season the win would have never happened. But it did, and even though the Vikings won’t be headed to the playoffs, they can take solace knowing that they are headed in the right direction.