Relegation Situation

Tonight the NBA opens up its regular season.

Yeah, I didn’t know this either until today.

First off, we are in the middle of football season and are in the midst of a baseball playoff; we don’t have time as a nation to focus on the NBA. But rest assured, ESPN will cram this down our sports-throat because…well…they bought the rights to this thing. So buckle up for a bunch of baseless hype. Oh yeah, in other ignored news, the NHL started about 2 weeks ago.

Secondly, and more importantly, the NBA regular season is pretty much worthless. Over 50% of the teams make the playoffs, the better teams sit out key players throughout the season to preserve them for the post-season, and they play 82 of these things.

So there has been talk about how to liven up the NBA regular season. The commissioner, Adam Silver, has been bumping around the air waves chatting about some of his ideas of doing this. And these ideas, uhhhhh, let’s just say good luck with them.

Here are the main three ideas:

  • Offer in-season tournament cups like in soccer: First off, these in-season tournaments are done in the MLS right now. All they do is add confusion to what is important/unimportant in the grand scope of a season. Is the goal the MLS Cup? Is the goal the Supporter’s Shield? Is the goal the Open Cup? Shit, who knows, and who cares? This may sort of work across the pond, but in reality those mid-season cups are more like those college football rivalry trophies. You know, Paul Bunyan’s Axe? The Old-Oaken Bucket? The colleges involved care a bit about those due to the tradition those trophies symbolized. This is also true with the Barclay’s in-season tourneys. In other words, the importance attached to these contests happen organically and not forced on by a governing body. You think Popovich will care to compete for the ‘Texas Cup’ when the Rockets, Spurs, and Mavericks via for this made-up thing in January in a round robin format?

  • Shorten the season: Sounds like a good idea: make each regular season game have more meaning with fewer games. Problem: NBA owners will never go for this. When owners buy these NBA teams and build these palaces to play these games in, there is an implicit guarantee that there will be 41 home games. These newly gentrified areas are build on the idea of 41 home games. Shortening the amount of home games to 30-35 will damage these economic models. Also, if you think the games are expensive now, wait until there are fewer of them to see.

  • Relegate the both few teams like what is done in Premier Leagues: Again, on the surface this sounds great. This may force franchises to play for now and not tank for the future. But this would be a disaster. First off, NBA owners buy these teams with the idea of not just playing 41 home games, but to get some of the primary match-ups, ala Golden St, Cleveland, etc. Can you imagine robbing those franchises from those games for a season? Yeah, that won’t happen. Secondly, the idea that relegation will scare some deadweight teams straight to compete better is so completely unfounded. It is built on the premise that these bad teams don’t WANT to win. Not true. They just feel they CAN’T win. At least they can’t win now. So they are playing for the future and increase their likelihood of winning at some point. Basketball, unlike the other sports, is a game where there is a huge distinction between the haves and have-nots. This has been true in the NBA forever; only 6 or so teams have a legit chance to win the title and the others are playing for the future. In this day and age it is more like 3 (or 1 really) than 6 due to the autonomy players have to move around to the teams that already have good players. There are 30 teams in the league; 25 of them have literally >.01 chance of winning the title this year. Better yet, 20 teams have literally >.01 chance to win a title in the next 5 years. It is not that these lesser franchises are not wanting to win, it is just that in order to win you either have to be one of those destination franchises (Lakers, Heat, Celtics, Bulls) or get extremely lucky in the draft. So what are the Sacramento Kings supposed to do? Compete to win 40 games, lose in the first round of the playoffs, and sell out your future chances of success in the process? What about the Atlanta Hawks, who have tried to compete for 40 years, but always ending up in NBA purgatory? Relegation will not fix this. Distribution of talent will. But this is an impossibility.

Anyway, ESPN will try to sell you that the NBA is doing great and look at all the attention there was in the off-season. But it is much todo about nothing. Golden St will win the title, 29 other teams have little to no chance, and this will be true for a number of years until even ESPN can’t sell this product.