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Basketball experts are recommending reducing the amount of games per season and minutes played per game. Eighty-two games at 48 minutes each put too much physical strain on athletes, they say. That, coupled with complaints about division and conference matchups, and the fact that the real money is made with playoff basketball, creates a demand to reduce the number of games played each year during the regular season in the NBA.
Eighty-two games allow for each team to play four games against in-division opponents, three games against non-division but in-conference opponents, and two games against all non-conference opponents. The schedule appears functional, except that over the years, the message has been pushed harder and harder: it’s all about winning a championship. Most fans in the NBA by this point are more concerned with their team winning a championship and not winning their division crown, which is given to each team that has the best record in their division.
The main problem with the schedule is the amount of injuries that pile up from excessive time spent on the court. Superstars Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose have lost at least one year of playing time to injury. Kevin Garnett, Al Horford, Brook Lopez, and Shaquille O’Neal have all lost extended time due to injuries. Currently, coaches are purposefully sitting star players who are 30 or older multiple times a season, and not just at the end.
Conferences are not important. In the NBA, the two conferences, East and West, get to enter the eight teams with the highest win-loss record into the playoffs.
Ideally, that would mean the top 16 teams are entered into the playoffs, but it doesn’t always work out that way. The NBA format creates a scenario where it is possible for some teams to not make the playoffs, even though they have more wins than some teams that are in the playoffs.
This will hold true especially this year. The Eastern Conference is full of mediocre teams this year. If a seeding system replaced the conferences, 11 of the top 16 teams, as of early February, would be from the Western Conference, and only five would be from the Eastern Conference.
This has opened up fans’ eyes to see that the conference system is out of date. So then the question is asked: if divisions and conferences don’t make that much difference, why is the schedule favor in-conference and in-division matchups?
From ESPN to Truehoop, from Bleacher Report to Grantland, huge sports media companies are calling for fewer games or less playing time to help support our athletes, their health, and the game itself.
The only problem? Money.
Reducing the number of games from 82 to 58 would allow every team to play every other team twice, once at home and once away. This suggestion has been rejected for the same reason that the league won’t reduce the NBA game time from 48 minutes to 40: money.
Ownership groups flee from any suggestion of cutting the revenue that comes from concessions, ticket prices, and merchandise sold at games, not to mention the amount of money that pours in from advertising during a 48-minute game.
But the question persists: is it good for the game?
Television ratings drop off when star players are out, both in the regular season and especially in the post-season. There is a significant attitude change from the “casual fan” when players, like Derrick Rose, who are major reason why their team can contend for a title, tear their ACL and are out for the year.
It doesn’t help the NBA and in the long term, it costs them money. People get bored when the same team wins year after year. People want to see competitive games; they want to see LeBron James and the Miami Heat face a healthy Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, or a completely healthy Golden State Warriors team.
It’s better for the game of basketball, for the athletes, fans, and for the business side of the NBA if the superstars play, and one way of ensuring that is either reducing their games, possibly to 58, or reducing the amount of minutes a game, possibly to 40.
It does seem inevitable that the NBA will change the schedule at some point. They haven’t been shy to change rules before, whether it was banning zone defense, moving the three point line, or a new technical foul almost every year. Whether it’s to answer to players’ as well as fans’ demands for healthy players, or to adjust to an obsolete set up with Divisions and Conferences, changing the amount of time athletes play each year is on the NBA’s horizon.