By now, we are all too familiar with what a prolonged abstinence from the NBA feels like, Especially after millions of NBA junkies worldwide missed their weekly fix of professional basketball. Can anyone even wait for that season opener on Christmas day?!
This recent 2011 NBA lockout was the fourth one in its history since the league was founded back in 1946. Many of us hardly remember the last time we were deprived of a full regular season with 82 games—1998-1999, with only fifty games. By most accounts, it proved to be some of the ugliest NBA basketball we've ever seen: 64 sets of back-to-back games, plagued by sloppy and unmotivated players on fatigued legs.
The NBA now faces a similar predicament.
For the first time, December 25th will be the big opening day of this truncated basketball season. A huge event, with the unveiling of a Championship banner for the Dallas Mavericks in a thrilling championship rematch with our own Miami Heat team.
This 2011-2012 season will also be unusually and excessively compressed, with 42 sets of back-to-back games and three consecutive games at least once for every team. There will only be 48 contests between conference rivals and 18 out-of-conference meetings. To sum it up, it's a much more grueling and demanding schedule, where the quality of games is bound to suffer while ratings may not improve, compared to classic 82-game seasons.
Which brings us to a highly debated topic: Should we shorten the NBA regular season for good? Would it make for a better product, better rested and healthier players, higher ratings and similar revenues in a revitalized industry?
Most fans and sports analysts across the spectrum clearly think so.
The regular season is way too long. While seeding and home-court advantage do matter, they could be preserved with, say, a 70-game regular season. Only 16 teams out of 30 advance; the real and obvious contenders to begin with.
Then, we get two months' worth of playoffs spectacles—what everyone really wants—after the football season is over. Midweek NBA games in November between mediocre teams? Ahh, who cares?
For elite teams such as the Miami Heat, or Thunder right now, extra long 82-game regular seasons are somewhat of "an annoying prelude to the playoffs," as Ira Winderman would put it. Plus, it means extra wear and tear on players, who are usually bumped up and fatigued, if not injured on the bench, by playoffs time.
Some observers advocate a 44-game regular season instead. Others, as Jeff Van Gundy, opine that 70 games is about the ideal number but stretched out in the same amount of time, from mid-fall to early spring, to avoid fatigue, back-to-back, and the infamous "scheduled losing games," when tired teams on the road practically give the game away and coaches rest their best players.
The main arguments against shorter seasons? Loss of TV revenues and smaller paychecks for owners and players alike, basically. Local arenas also need to make money, as well as the numerous employees working directly or indirectly for every game. Stern, the owners, some players, the media—everyone wanting to make as much money as possible.
If that clearly results in an inferior sports product, so be it.
However, most NBA fans wouldn't mind enjoying a higher quality basketball season, with a few less games. And one could argue that TV ratings would actually go up with juicier matchups at the right times.
Looking at the highly successful NFL or NCAA leagues, who's to say less is not more if you do it right? What we will have this upcoming season is a veritable mess and an ugly product; way too compressed with not enough time for 66 games.
Expect fatigued or severely injured key players, over-exertion, sloppy basketball and low ratings on weekdays. The owners and players got greedy so the fans and employees of the game are the ultimate losers. And it will be unfair to certain teams while benefiting others. A few examples: Cleveland get its longest homestead in history—nine straight games—while Philly plays its first five games on the road; teams like Toronto also got unlucky with the schedule while Miami gets to enjoy 16 national airings on ABC and ESPN; older, aging teams like Boston, the Lakers or Mavs will have to pace themselves, while younger teams are better prepared for this insane upcoming grind.
On the bright side, this could be a great opportunity to re-evaluate the length of the season to come up with much smarter schedules. I'd say try 70 games, or so, for starters, for a myriad of reasons as expressed by both fans and players, and most sports analysts for decades now. I'm with guys like Jeff Van Gundy on this topic—long season, fewer games. Seventy sounds about right as a first experiment.