The "Fixing The Lottery" conspiracy, or tin hats for sale

The Washington Mystics failed to get one of the top-3 picks in the 2013 WNBA Draft. I guess Crystal Langhorne's getting no help next year. - Steven Bisig-US PRESSWIRE

With adverse results come conspiratorial thinking. In some quarters of WNBA fandom, a hypothesis has been advanced that the lottery had somehow been "fixed". In general, the proponents of this theory fall into two groups:

a) very unhappy Washington Mystics fans, and

b) those who feel that the Phoenix Mercury should have been punished for perceived tanking, and feel that somehow the Mercury have "tanked and banked".

My claim all along is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary arguments. If you can claim you can fly, I want to actually see you fly, up close, and have a great window of opportunity to do so. If you claim that Phoenix tanked, then I want to see the documents or listen to the tape recordings of the conversations that prove this.

In general, in order to prove a crime, you need three things. Let's go down the list.

1. You need a motive. If the WNBA fixed the lottery, you need to provide a plausible motive for them to do so. And frankly, I don't see the plausible motive. Given that the whole "tanking" issue has come up in the national sports media, why on earth would the WNBA want to award the first pick to the team in the middle of the controversy? Furthermore, why would the WNBA want to give the fourth pick to one of its weakest franchises, a decision that might endanger that franchise's health and the entire health of the WNBA? If I were Laurel Richie, I would have chosen some other outcome than the one that happened if I had the power to prevent it.

2. You need a means. I cannot see that means not involving the active cooperation of Ernst and Young, who conducted the lottery. Either that, or the means would have involved them actively looking the other way, and I don't see that happening - a fix puts their reputation as an unbiased firm at risk, and that reputation is prized very greatly among accounting firms? What could the WNBA offer them to put that reputation at risk?

3. You need an opportunity. If Ernst and Young are cooperating - which is highly unlikely - then a fix is easy. If they would not cooperate, it becomes difficult. What would prevent them from reporting you to the media if you asked them? It would make them look great and the WNBA look horrible.

So then how do you make a fix happen? Weight the ping-pong balls? Ernst and Young have probably provided their own machine. Switch the envelopes? When is that going to happen? Does a WNBA intern shout "Hey, a starling!" and when the accountant isn't looking, the envelopes are switched? And who made the envelopes.

The argument for a conspiracy breaks down the moment it is seriously examined. One needs a better argument than "I don't like the result, something must be wrong." A sports league's reputation for honesty is worth its weight in gold. Remember Tim Donaghy's accusations that the NBA fixed the Lakers-Kings series? It dogged the league for a long time. There are still those out there who believe the 1985 NBA Draft Lottery was fixed.

So what is your plausibility rating for a WNBA lottery fix on a scale from 1 to 10? I'd put down a "1" and that's only because I can't put down a "zero".