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USFL changes rules to avoid tanking, winner of Panthers-Maulers gets top pick in 2023 draft

Jason Burgos
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Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

In an attempt to avoid tanking and add some interest to their Sunday slate of games, the USFL has changed its rules to give the league’s two worst teams something extra to play for in the final game of the season.

Tanking has been an unspoken strategy in sports for decades. With a winning season well out of reach, organizations will make strategic adjustments in the hopes of actually losing games at the end to land the top draft pick in the upcoming draft. It’s a move that leagues have tried to counter for just as long. It is why the NBA has a draft lottery as opposed to awarding the team with the worst record the No. 1 pick in their draft.

Related: USFL games today – Watch times, odds, and standings for the 2022 USFL season

Well, instead of a lottery — since the league has so few teams — the USFL has decided to adjust its rules in the final week of its return season. On Sunday at 4 PM EST, the Michigan Panthers will face the Pittsburgh Maulers in a battle of 1-8 bottom feeders. But instead of the loser of this battle of the teams with the two worst records in the league getting the top pick in the 2023 Draft, the league will now award the winner of this game with the No.1 selection, and more.

Winner Maulers and Panthers USFL game will get first pick in every round of 2023 draft

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Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

In a statement, the league’s Executive Vice President of Football Operations, Daryl Johnston, explained the rule change and what is up for grabs in the Panthers vs Maulers season finale.

“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,” Johnston said. “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. [We’re] making sure there’s no shenanigans going on.”

The move will surely get the attention of fans around the sports spectrum, and that is the goal. But less for competitive reasons — because next season is not guaranteed — and is more likely to draw attention to the final week of the USFL regular season. As well as to hopefully engage an audience that might return for the start of the playoffs next week.

The league can certainly use it as their games have often pulled in ratings well below a million average viewers over the first nine weeks of the season.