Since the 1967-68 NBA season, the NBA has had an 82-game regular season. Over the past few years though, the lengthy schedule has become an issue for the league. In fact, if the season were shortened, the regular season would have ended before the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. Since stars are often rested and the extra games tend not to affect the standings in a meaningful way, the league should seize the opportunity to permanently shorten the regular season.
NBA Needs to Shorten the Season
Stars Being Rested
On November 29, 2012, San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich rested four of his key players in a nationally televised game. The players were Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Danny Green. The coach was fined $250,000 the next day. This one small event opened Pandora’s Box around the NBA. In the years since that incident, resting star players has become a normal occurrence.
In the 2018-19 season, the Toronto Raptors strategically rested star player Kawhi Leonard, by playing him 60 regular-season games. This plan paid off, with the Raptors winning their first NBA championship in franchise history. While this plan has worked for teams, the fans and broadcasting networks are suffering. Fans pay hundreds of dollars for tickets in advance to see their favorite player(s), only to find out that they will be rested. TV networks pay a lot of money for the rights to broadcast nationally televised games, and the viewership decreases when multiple superstars sit. If the NBA played fewer games, the issue of player rest would be nonexistent.
Standings Not Affected
If the NBA cut its season down, for example, to 60 games, it would not make that much of a difference in the standings. In the 2019-20 season prior to the pandemic, NBA teams had played between 60 and 70 games. Right now, the sample size is large enough to determine what the playoff seeding should be.
Also, enough games have been played to know who will be at the top of the lottery. The franchises affected are the teams fighting for the eighth seed, but those teams never make it out of the first round. With only three to four teams realistically having a shot at winning the championship, the playoffs would not be affected. With the lottery system being more balanced in recent years, ranking at the bottom means less.
With the season normally running from October to June, there is an opportunity for the NBA to utilize this extra time wisely. They could space out the games more to eliminate back-to-backs, which have been hard on players. There could be a midseason or postseason tournament, which has been brought up already by Commissioner Adam Silver.
The league could be able to schedule more foreign games to increase the league’s fan base globally. As the NFL shows, fewer games increases the value of each game, creating a possible increase in viewership. This, in turn, could increase advertising revenue for television networks.
Ultimately there are drawbacks to having the NBA shorten its season. Fewer games mean less revenue for owners from tickets and concessions. Fewer games may also mean less money for the players as well. However, owners are paying superstars lots of money under the assumption that they’re playing a full season when they aren’t.
If you look at NBA history, players as recently as 15 to 20 years would log close to 40 minutes a night, every game. With the science of sports improving, it’s strange that players can’t play as many games as their predecessors did, even though they’re paid more. If the league doesn’t do anything about player rest, players will continue to sit out even more games.
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