• Justin Quinn

Report: The NBA is Eyeing Sweeping Changes to its Schedule


San Antonio Express-News

Big changes might be on the near-term horizon of the NBA.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reports the league has been engaged in talks with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) regarding major shake-ups to how the league calendar is organized, how the playoffs are structured, and even adding an in-season tournament in efforts to shore up viewer interest.

Included among the proposals are cutting the number of regular season to 78 or fewer games, adding a postseason play-in match, reseeding the top four teams in the NBA Playoffs, and introducing a 30-team mid-season tourney to be held sometime around Thanksgiving and running into December.

The NBA wants to hold a vote on these ideas in next April's meeting of the Board of Governors on at least some of these proposals in order to potentially implement them in the 2020-21 season, in the league's 75th anniversary year.

The complexity of the proposals may force some to be shelved while working out the kinks and team governors are sold (or not) on the value of such changes, which also necessitates getting the NBPA on board per league rules. The many individual interests from governors down to journeymen players will require much negotiation and planning, and therefore time, to have a chance at passing.

Concern over the impact such moves could have on Basketball Related Income (BRI) and player health will need to be addressed, particularly with small-market governors and the NBPA, respectively. The NBA believes these changes would benefit both parties, but the need to convince their bargaining partners of that fact will be at best a challenge, especially considering that BRI doubled in the years leading up to the last Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) from $4 to $8 billion dollars.

Reseeding the postseason has precedent in the WNBA, which has used the approach for years now to positive effect, and would likely result in more compelling Finals matchups, a major driver in league revenue. The midseason tournament, modeled on European soccer tourneys, could also serve as a means to drive interest in one of the slower chunks of the league calendar while also helping keep down the number of games played overall by using regular-season performance as part of the determining factors regarding seeding.

Without providing details as to exactly how the scheduling will work, the NBA suggests the tourney would reduce games to 78 or 79 per season depending on how they fare in the tourney, with one or two teams per year potentially able to arrive at as many as 83 games overall if they happen to end up a play-in team who also goes far in the midseason tourney.

Presumably, the extra BRI generated by the tourney and play-in games would boost returns for smaller-market franchises to make up for or even raise revenue lost by the reduced number of games. The benefit of being able to schedule even fewer back-to-backs would conceivably reduce the number of star players being rested throughout the season, which could also impact revenue through gate receipts and future broadcast deals.

According to Wojnarowski, the play-in tournament would be organized as follows:

"The play-in proposal is this: two four-team tournaments featuring the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th seeds in each conference. The seventh seed would host the eighth seed, with the winner of that single game earning the seventh spot, league sources said. The ninth seed would host the 10th seed, with the winner of that game facing the loser of the 7-versus-8 matchup for the final playoff spot."

These changes are among the most radical proposed by the league in decades, and will thus justifiably take time to get team governors, players, their agents, and league broadcast partners on board.

While there is hope many of these ideas may indeed be implemented in the near-term future, a number of issues ranging from a dearth of reliable information on exactly how strongly cord-cutting and other styles of consumption is impacting league viewership to how Chinese geopolitics may impact very ambitious expansion plans for the NBA may shift or even upend how and which such proposals actually see the light of day.

For now, rest assured change of some kind is on its way -- but the shape it takes may yet be a long way off.

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