I had a comical thought the other day. What if Bernie Sanders ran a sports league, like the NBA, the way he has proposed running federal government? Using his broad authority as the league commissioner, he could set about rigging - I mean fixing – the game so that it wasn’t rigged anymore. He could fix it so that rich teams couldn’t use their resources to their advantage. So that teams with the best coaches couldn’t use their superior instruction techniques to their advantage. So that players with superior abilities in different facets of the game didn’t gain an unfair advantage over their less skilled contemporaries. So that bigger and taller players didn’t gain an unfair advantage over smaller and shorter players.
How would he do it? Here are some rules he could enact for starters (but note that rules like these would inevitably beget more rules until game eventually became unplayable):
The Sanders Rules - Rev 1 of many to come
- No team would be allowed to be richer than any other team. So the estimated $4.9 billion in revenue from the the 2016 season, for example, would be split 30 ways and each team would get its fair share.
- There would also be an equal spreading of the revenue among the players on each team, with no extra money going to the super stars. Lebron James and that guy whose name we don’t know would make the same money.
- Each team would be required to have players (12 in total) of equal heights relative to the opposing team. Where there were disparities, the disadvantaged team would be points-subsidized prior to the beginning of each contest.
- No player would be allowed to account for more than 8.3333% of his team’s total points. Any points over that percentage, based on the team’s final score, would be disallowed.
- The coaches would all be ranked by “the fairness committee” from 1st to 30th. Teams would be awarded points at the beginning of each game in inverse relationship to their coaches ranking.
- Any player who shot under a certain field goal percentage would get partial points credited to their team based on their total attempts. Of course, to make it fair, that player would be required to attempt a minimum number of shots before the points were awarded.
- Owners would only be allowed to make a minimal profit. Any money over that threshold would be confiscated and used by the fairness committee to make things even more fair going forward.
With the playing field appropriately leveled, the games could be played. But who the hell would want to with all the incentives to differentiate, compete, and win legislated away?
Lucky for us all, the NBA isn’t run that way. They have a set of rules that are followed by everybody who belongs to the league for sure. But beyond the salary cap provision, which limits the amount a team can pay in total salaries, there is a distinct lack of levelness to the playing field. Before you cast your lot with Bernie on that basis though, consider that of the top 8 teams by either market value or total 2016 revenue, only four made the playoffs. Of that four, only one, the Golden State Warriors, who are ranked 6th in both market value and total revenue for 2016, made it to the second round of the playoffs. The top three teams in the financial terms cited above, the New York Knicks, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Chicago Bulls (all major market teams) were among the 14 teams not qualifying for post season play.
Even in light of the facts above, commissioner Bernie’s would contend that the game is rigged. That would leave him with two choices the way I see it. He could either implement rules like the ones outlined above which would obviate the necessity of actually playing the games – play them out “on paper” and assign the wins and losses accordingly, in other words. Or he could let the teams, coaches, and players, using the existing and time tested rules that apply to all, figure out how to best use their total sets of resources to play the games and win.
One way would result in the destruction of a viable, self sustaining industry and the other way would result in the games continuing to be won or lost on the field of play, un-level though It might be.
I would bet there wouldn't be many people who would sign up for or sign off on a league being run like I described above. What I find striking is the number of people who would apparently sign up for a government that operated the same way. How about you?