By Dr. Jeff A. Glenn / @jagadelic
Considering all the foolishness that preceded it, the NBA regular season was a qualified success. However, I think we can all agree that the last month or so was a snooze since most playoff positions were set and teams just mailed it in. Miami didn’t seem to care about challenging Chicago for the best record; the Clips didn’t put up much of a fight to get the division title from the Lakers or the home field advantage from Memphis. As long as they were in, they were cool.
Let’s put our Stern hats on and figure out how to make this a bit more interesting. Currently, in each conference, the three division champs and the next best record get the top four spots. After that, the next four teams fill out the eight-team bracket. Well, what if those last four teams had to fight for their spot in a one-game death match?
Yes, I’m proposing to expand the playoffs slightly. Keep the top four positions as they are, but add a one-game “challenge match” featuring 5 vs 12, 6 vs 11, 7 vs 10 and 8 vs 9. The winners would advance to the playoffs against the top four, who have had an extra day or two to rest.
This accomplishes several key objectives. First, it puts a new emphasis on winning the division and making certain you get one of the top four spots. Right now, the difference between 4 and 5 is a home game, but no one wants to play a sudden death game that could bounce them from the dance before it starts. The Clips, Lakers and Grizz would have had an entirely different attitude coming down the stretch, since only two of those teams would have avoided the challenge game. We certainly would have seen Kobe play that last game and go for the scoring title if something had been on the line. Fans pay top dollar for tickets, and the NBA should feel an obligation to make end of season games worth something. No one wants to watch D-League quality games at NBA prices.
Second, it brings a little of the NCAA tourney flavor to the NBA. Fans have enthusiastically embraced the the one and done format of the college hoop tourney. We could have a touch of this in the NBA while giving teams an added incentive to finish at their best and avoid having to engage in such stressful dramatics. College stars who go to bad teams like Wall, Irving, Cousins, etc. would get one chance to stand out on national TV and stay in the spotlight instead of dropping off the face of the earth.
It also gives teams who get off to a terrible start (due to youth or injuries) a chance to make some noise. Under this format, every team would have been in the running until the end (except the Bobcats). Everyone except MJ’s crew finished within five games of the 12 spot. This might eliminate a good deal of suspected tanking and restore integrity to the latter stages of the season. Would Deron have been able to play if there was some earthly reason to? Would Golden State have traded Ellis if they were not out completely out of the running? Would Sacramento and their young talent pushed a little harder if there was a reward for finishing in the top 12?
Of course, the number one reason for this new format is that old standby – Money! The NBA is not going to contract. Therefore, the next move is to give small market teams the best chance of playing a full regular season with something on the line. It would bring some excitement and boost ticket sales as teams at the bottom fight to get that 11 or 12 spot and pull the upset that would bring them to the dance. Sports is in a great position to bring in new bucks, especially with local cable deals that are starved for programming. Sports are in demand right now due to that great invention, the DVR. Advertisers fear that they are not getting their money’s worth, because people record their favorite shows and watch them at their convenience while fast forwarding the commercials.
However, sports programming is one of the only formats that people still watch in real time. Therefore, the commercials have a much better chance of being seen. All the major sports are looking to take advantage of this and plan to profit accordingly. It doesn’t look like Mr. Goddell will get his 18 game season. Look for his backup plan to expand the playoffs to 16 teams. Baseball has already moved to expand the postseason with a one game, sudden death wild card battle. If this is successful, look for the NBA to employ something similar like the plan advanced here.
In an ideal world, I would not like to see all this expansion, but we live in a world of intense competition for the entertainment dollar. Fans who own terrific home theaters will not come out to watch a team with no chance and players and coaches who have wised up and will not put out maximum effort just to get an extra home game. Maybe you don’t like it either, but it’s coming, so we may as well prepare by having a thought-out plan in place. I’m sure Mr. Stern and his merrymen are plotting as we speak!
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