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USFL changes rule to prevent tanking, winner of Panthers-Maulers gets first draft pick

With Dolphins coach Brian Flores’ allegation that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross wanted him to lose games intentionally for better draft picks, the subject of tanking has gained renewed scrutiny in the NFL. But another professional football league has decided to take a simple step to prevent tanking at the end of its season.

The USFL changed its rules this week so that the team with the worst record will no longer get the first overall pick in the draft. Instead, it will be the winner of Sunday’s game between the two worst teams in the league -- the Michigan Panthers and Pittsburgh Maulers -- who gets the first pick in the 2023 USFL draft.

USFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Daryl Johnston explained that the rule change was put into place this week to ensure that both the Panthers and Maulers were playing to win.

“We’ve got an unusual situation in our final week of the regular season in the USFL. The 1-8 Michigan Panthers are playing the 1-8 Pittsburgh Maulers. Under normal circumstances, the loser of this game would be awarded the first draft pick in the upcoming draft. But we’re going to change the rules right here, so this weekend whoever wins the game actually gets not only the first pick in the 2023 draft but the first pick in every round of the 2023 draft,” Johnston said. “Making sure there’s no shenanigans going on.”

Of course, no one even knows yet whether there will be a 2023 USFL draft because the USFL may not even stay in business into 2023. So this is as much a marketing ploy to get people to watch the USFL this weekend as it is a real attempt at ensuring competitive integrity.

Still, the NFL should take notes: Incentivizing losing at the end of the season results in a lot of bad football games being played between two teams that are already out of playoff contention. If the NFL instead changed its draft order so that the non-playoff team that won the most games after being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs got the first overall pick, late-season games between losing teams would be a lot more meaningful, and a lot more exciting to watch. The USFL may be on to something.