Sunday, November 29, 2015

Scheduling Proposal

The NBA and NHL regular seasons are both, let’s face it, too long.  When you have 16 teams competing in four rounds of best-of-seven playoff rounds, you don’t need 82 and 84 games (respectively) to determine which 14 teams don’t make the cut.  This six-month grind doesn’t help the quality of play and thus doesn’t give the fans the best value for their entertainment dollar.

The trouble is, the genie is out of the bottle in terms of actually reducing the schedules.  Owners aren’t going to sacrifice even a few games’ worth of revenue, broadcasters would want to renegotiate contracts if they have fewer games to broadcast, players’ unions love the idea of fewer games in general but not if it would come (as it absolutely would) with a demand that salaries are reduced to reflect the smaller revenues.

So what we’re left with is figuring out ways to reduce the grind without actually reducing the number of games.  Hmmm.  While both seasons seem too long to hockey and basketball fans, I’d suggest a modest extension of one single week to the calendar.  Seven measly days isn’t too much to add.  Adding seven days to the front or back end allows for more of a midseason rest for the All-Star break, as well.  By adding seven days, it also allows for more time to slot in their 82/84 games and help bust up those awful scheduling conflicts where a team is playing four games in five nights or something.

I’m hardly the first to suggest such ideas and for all I know, I may not be the first to suggest this next idea as well.  (My researching skills are lousy!)  But it occurs to me that there’s a fairly simple way to reduce the amount of travel that each team in either sport takes.

One of the biggest contributors to “the grind” is the constant travel.  On a road trip, basketball and hockey players each spend usually one day in each city before heading off the next.  Baseball players, in contrast, face even more of a grind by having to fit 162 games into a 180-day window but at least their games are bunched into groups of three and four-game series.  It allows for a bit of time to settle in a new city rather than being on a seemingly never-ending shuttle that doesn’t allow for any practice time.

So my proposal is…why don’t NBA and NHL teams group their road games into a “series”?  The NBA schedule breaks down like this:

* two home games and two road games against your four division opponents (16 games)
* two home games and two road games against six of your 10 conference opponents (24 games)
* two home games and one road game against two of your 10 conference opponents (6 games)
* one home game and two road games against two of your 10 conference opponents (6 games)
* a home-and-home against all 15 teams in the other conference (30 games)

So if you’re the Raptors, you’re making multiple trips to Boston, Brooklyn, New York and Philadelphia every year, not to mention multiple trips to eight of Miami/Washington/Orlando/Atlanta/Charlotte/Detroit/Indiana/Chicago/Milwaukee/Cleveland every year as well.  My question is, why not just group them together?  So if Toronto is going to Atlanta twice, instead of making those trips on December 2 and April 7 (as per this year’s schedule), how about just putting both games within a three-day span.  It gives the road team time to relax in a new city and get some practice time in — coaches always complain that there’s never enough opportunity to practice during the season, so here’s an answer. 

The added cost of putting up players, coaches, team staff, etc. over two days in a hotel isn’t negligible, and while it saves on charter plane expenses, some owners might argue that if they’re paying for a team plane anyway, they might as well use it.  I have no idea if my idea would actually save on travel costs or not, but even if there’s a minor increase, I’d argue it’s worth it in order to keep your players more well-rested.  If your star player develops a bad back from the scheduling grind and can’t live up to his $20 million salary, that’s a larger opportunity cost than a couple of nights’ worth of a hotel bill.

Leagues already make an effort to group road games into geographic blocks — obviously a team going on a west coast road trip will face five or six of those clubs in one big trip rather than have to make multiple visits out west.  What I’d suggest, however, is taking is to the next level and layering the “series” concept onto a road trip. 

This year the Red Wings have two road games each against the Islanders, Rangers and Devils.  Instead of making six separate trips, would it make for sense for the Wings to simply stay in New York for 12-13 straight days and take care of all those games in one fell swoop?  They face the Rangers on two straight nights, then two days off, then back-to-back games with the Islanders, then two more days off, then two more games against the Devils.  They can even stay in one hotel to make the short trip (traffic aside) from Manhattan to Brooklyn to East Rutherford. 

Any situation where you can get teams to take fewer flights, give them more recovery time, etc. must be explored.  Right now you have a situation where NBA teams routinely rest star veteran players when they have a four games-in-five nights scenario on at least two of those dates, and I don’t blame the teams one bit.  The league and its broadcasters get mad since big-time matchups are watered down (i.e. the Spurs resting several veterans for a midseason game against Miami a couple of years ago) but rather than fine the teams, more needs to be done to avoid situations from getting to this point in the first place.

Besides, who wouldn’t want to spend 10 uninterrupted days in New York?  I’m sure Pavel Datsyuk is dying to see “Hamilton.”

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