The Insanity of the NBA, NHL

by John Furgele

Now that March Madness—and the final was anti-climatic to say the least—is over, it is time to turn our attention to other sports.  April is a big month on the sports calendar as baseball opens, the NFL Draft nears, and both the NBA and NHL wind up very long regular seasons and start their playoffs. 

The last sentence says a lot.  The NBA and NHL are wrapping up very long—too long—regular seasons.  ESPN can say that the NBA is an important sports league, but if you listen to ESPN Radio from 6 AM to 3 PM, you will find that even though ESPN broadcasts NBA games on television and radio, they hardly talk about the association at all.  They would rather talk about football, football and sprinkle in some baseball, some college sports and some issues that surround sports such as Plaxico Burress being released by the New York Giants.

I’ve said this for years and will say it again that the NBA and NHL must shorten their regular seasons.  Both play 82 games and both take seven months to play them.  That’s just too long.  No real sports fan has that kind of time or attention to be rivted to a sport for seven months.  The games just don’t hold much appeal.  Even a Celtics-Cavaliers regular season game lacks the drama because it will all come down to the playoffs and both teams know they’re in 30 games into the season.

Do we really need to play 82 games to determine that the Celtics, Cavaliers and Magic are the class of the East while the Lakers are clearly the team to beat in the West?  Do we really need 82 games for this?  And, after 82 games, they take 16 to the playoffs, and another two months off the calendar.  The NBA Finals will end in mid-June, leaving July, August and September as time off.  In October, it’s time for training camp.

The NHL is no better.  Like the NBA, they take seven months to complete their regular season, but we already know that the Bruins, Capitals and perhaps Devils are the best in the East, while the Sharks and Red Wings would make for a dandy Western final.   They award the Stanley Cup in early June, but by early September, time to lace up the blades again for training camp.

These mundane regular seasons make for very boring games.  How many blowouts, the 104-78 games exist in the NBA?  How many 5-1 and lackluster 2-1 games exist in the NHL?  When you play 82, the quality is going to suffer.  But, both leagues charge astronomical prices for these duds and the product just isn’t worth the people’s hard earned money on a nightly basis.

Baseball also has a long regular season, but they actually play 162 games in six months with only a one month postseason.  And, their regular season actually means more.  With only eight teams making the playoffs, the games are more meaningful than the NHL and NBA.  The 2006 Chicago White Sox went 90-72 and missed the playoffs by a good margin.  When was the last time a 46-36 NBA team missed the playoffs? 

That said, baseball could do better with a 140 or 144 game regular season that cuts a month off the season.  They could start the second week in April and play the final regular season game on Labor Day and get the playoffs over by mid -October before the NFL really takes over the sports landscape. 

These long regular seasons should serve as a warning to the NFL, which continues to toy with the idea of an 18 game regular season.  Yes, the NFL is the most popular sport and adding two more games will increase the money gambled on it, but those two weeks could really drag on the sports conscience.  When a team is 4-12 after 16 weeks, is playing two more games really necessary?  Ditto for the 12-4 team.  What more would they have to prove?  And, with the NFL being littered with devastating injuries, will playing 18 games cause even more?

A 60 game regular season in the NHL and NBA would be great as it would cut off a month from the regular seasons.  I would also like to see only 12 teams make the playoffs in both sports, with the top two seeds in each conference getting a bye into their conference semifinals.  This gives a real sense of urgency to the regular season and makes qualifying for the playoffs a real accomplishment. 

We’re in a recession.  Your prices are too high.  During recessions, good companies make their product more valuable, and this is the perfect time for the NBA and the NHL to make their product better by cutting the access to it.  60 games with less playoff teams makes it more valuable. 

Critics will argue that there is too much tradition in the 82 game regular season, but that’s nonsense.  Good companies must continue to evolve, to change, to plan for the futue.  If tradition remains the only reason not to change, I give you the automobile industry as an example.  They have traditions and two of the Big 3 are on the verge of bankruptcy.  If it can happen there, it could certainly happen to sports league.

It may be a shame that the American auto industry is in tatters, but with so many other options for consumers, I’m not sure how many Americans really care about the preservation of General Motors and Chrysler.  They will just go elsewhere to buy their next car. 

The same is true for the NBA and NHL.  The leagues may never go away, but they may just go unnoticed.

Which is worse?

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