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By Will Korn 

Talking Sports: Long term, the NBA could benefit from a shortened season

 


Two future first ballot NBA hall-of-famers – Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James – are both in favor of a shortened regular season.

The NBA has played an 82-game season since 1967, when the San Diego Rockets and Seattle Supersonics joined the league as the 11th and 12th teams. Since then, the regular-season format has never changed.

Now Nowitzki and James, among other players, are all for reducing the season to an amount of games in the mid-60s range – a slash of about 20 percent of the current slate.

Let’s be up front though: as appealing as this might sound, the league would never make this change. When you factor in attendance for roughly 20 games for all 30 teams – the average NBA arena has about 18,500 seats multiplied by between $15 and $5,000 per ticket, plus concessions, merchandise and television revenue – there is just too much money to be lost. The greedy owners would never stand for such a financial hit.

The league has always claimed player safety and well being among its highest priorities though. And if it’s true to that claim, it would strongly consider this proposal.

Not only does a move to, say, a 65-game season cut down on the wear and tear of the players’ bodies, it also caters to a faction of an increasing number of NBA fans – the ones who say, “I’ll start watching in April when the playoffs start” or “Who cares? It’s the first game of the season.”

Does the NBA really need 82 games to determine the top eight teams in each conference? The short answer is no.

Making this change would be a financial loss to the league, the owners and the players up front. Fewer games equates less revenue.

The benefit would be a more competitive atmosphere that a shorter season creates. Each game would take on extra significance, as teams would know fast starts would come at a premium and slow starts could quickly bury a team’s playoff hopes.

It’s the same issue that many believe is plaguing Major League Baseball right now with its 162-game regular season. Nobody really panicked when the now World Series-bound Kansas City Royals only went 24-28 in their first 52 games.

Trimming the NBA season by approximately 20 percent could draw in larger, more-engaged audiences throughout the opening few weeks of the season. In an 82-game season, its unlikely that many people would flinch if the new-look Cavaliers were to struggle in their first 15 to 20 games.

With a shortened season, a poor start for a contending team would become far more interesting to the average fan. Knowing nearly a third of the season is already gone, some of them might feel the rush that comes with anticipating that the conference race could be wide open. So in the end, there’s a respectable chance that the league could actually benefit more than expected from fewer games. It could start pulling some of those “I’ll watch in April” fans back into the reach of early-season action.

On the players’ side, there’s another advantage to a shorter season. Games on consecutive nights could be reduced, if not eliminated altogether. Some players and coaches believe they enhance a team’s focus, as there isn’t much downtime to celebrate a big win on the first leg of the back-to-back. Others believe it’s an exhausting task that can set a team back physically for several days.

With this change, players’ bodies could be fresher for the playoffs, which is by far the league’s biggest moneymaker. There is simply no reason any NBA team should have to play four, or even five games, in a week. It’s a major injury risk and everyone knows that the league suffers when its players – especially All-Stars – go down.

One major complication with this would likely be adjusting the schedule for all 30 teams. As currently formatted, the season is laid out like this: every team plays every other team in their conference four times with the exception of one team, which they only play three times – the selection of this team is randomized each season. Every team plays 13 teams in the other conference twice home and away, one only once and another not at all.

With 65 games, each Western Conference team could still play every other West team four times and one team three times. That comes out to 55 conference games. For the remaining 10 games, a west team could simply be scheduled to play two complete Eastern Conference divisions and then rotate triangularly.

For example, the San Antonio Spurs would play their 55 conference games and then play each team in both the East’s Atlantic and Central divisions once, with five of those games at home and five away, determined randomly by the league office. In the following season, San Antonio would play each team in the Central and Southeast divisions once and so on by the same format.

If I were NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, I would think long and hard about this potential change. At the end of the day, the players are the ones risking their bodies on the court to make the NBA product as legitimate as possible, while the owners relax in their luxury suites.

Therefore, the players’ voice should be heard above all others. And since the players are the owners’ primary source of revenue – looking long term – protecting the players is the right call.

 

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