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The Economics of Losing Basketball Tournaments

Do sports teams tank on purpose? If so, why? A new report on tanking in college basketball looks at why a team might give a minimal effort in their postseason conference tournament if they are alrea

The Economics of Losing Basketball Tournaments

Alan Ray (Guest Host):   As they usually did, the Romans had a term for it, "cui bono"...”to who's benefit?”

In this case, we ask who wins if a college basketball team chooses to lose?  And, who loses?  Point-shaving scandals once pushed college basketball into a dark age.  But that was the '50s and this is the era of March Madness. Still, as the Mistress Elvira or Yogi Berra once said "it's like deja-vu all over again."


College basketball teams are shaving points not just because of bookies, point spreads, and payoffs which, in a way, would be easier to understand.  But now, apparently because they believe a loss in a meaningless game may put them in a better position down the road.  A new report considers why that might happen and who wins when, or if, it does.


  • Ed Balsdon, economics professor at San Diego State University. He is also the lead researcher on an article that recently appeared in the Journal of Sports Economics , titled Corruption in College Basketball? Evidence of Tanking in Postseason Conference Tournaments.