The time to change the NBA season from 82 games to 72 is now

One hundred and seventy-six days, that is how long the 2018-19 NBA regular season will last, during which 1,230 games will be played in that span. Teams will travel anywhere from 35,000 to 55,000 miles, with as many as 16 back-to-back games for some teams. A large number of midnight flights and 2 or 3 a.m. arrivals at hotels will take its toll on the players, the coaches, and support staff, lower the quality of games for fans. It is time the NBA reduce the number of games in an NBA season from 82 to 72 over the same 176-day span.

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Commissioner Adam Silver and his team have made strides by starting the season earlier to limit the number of back-to-back games. They’ve eliminated four games in five nights from the schedule completely. They still, however, have back-to-backs, some teams have as many as 16 of them this season. Three games in four nights are still on the books. Teams will rest healthy players this season because of how the schedule is built.

Just as an example, the San Antonio Spurs have an incredibly tough stretch in February during their annual Rodeo Road Trip, when they play three road games in four nights. It will start with a game on Feb. 4 in Sacramento.; then they play on national TV against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena two nights later (Feb. 6) and fly immediately after the game to play the next night in Portland. That game against the Trail Blazers is also on national TV.

That stretch is tough enough, but national games tend to run longer, meaning the Spurs won’t get to a hotel in Portland until the next morning. During that span, the Spurs will log 2,081 miles with nearly five and half-hours of travel time. This doesn’t include flying on Feb. 8 to Salt Lake City to face the Utah Jazz on Feb. 9.

The Spurs game against the Blazers on February 7 is a schedule loss game if there ever was one. A scheduled loss is when a team comes into a game with a huge disadvantage created by the schedule. Dr. Charles Czeisler of Harvard Medical School, also known as the sleep doctor, told a story at MIT’s Sloan Conference in 2014 when he predicted a Boston Celtics loss to the Phoenix Suns. Dr. Czeisler goes into great detail how rest—or more importantly, how lack of rest—can affect a player in his Sloan presentation:

Prior to the NBA instituting new rules about resting healthy players, the Spurs would most likely rest their players against either the Warriors or Blazers. They were one of the first organizations to realize resting healthy players was helpful, and the practice prolonged the careers of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Other teams began to follow suit, and it has become a trend over the past few years. But there’s a cost.

Teams resting healthy players are a problem for the league, not just because it’ll upset their TV partners but it hurts the fans. Imagine a Golden State Warriors fan living in Orlando purchases a ticket for their family to see Stephen Curry, only for it to be announced on the morning of the game that they’ll be resting him, as well as Kevin Durant. Can’t really blame the team for looking out for their players’ health; the goal for them is to win the championship. The NBA should step in, not to tell a team they can’t rest a guy, but by playing fewer games over the same time span.

The NBA season is grueling when you factor in all the travel; Coaches have to decide when to practice, and what kind of practice to have. Are they going to go at near game speed or are they just going to watch a little film, walk through a few things and get some shots up? All of that is dependent on the schedule and how much rest their guys need.

Slippage is a common word coaches use to explain their team’s failures when they’re unable to practice between games to fix their errors. Coaches are forced to choose between practice, or give players rest, and most tend to rest players and hope to correct the errors in a film session. Injuries

Photo Credit: Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

I’m tired. I’m so tired right now,” the New York Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis said after losing on the second night of a back-to-back to the Washington Wizards last season. “It’s normal. It’s [the] up and down [of the season].” Porzingis logged heavy minutes for the Knicks up until he tore his ACL in February. Injuries can happen when players’ bodies are overworked and not given enough time to recover.

The effect on players is obvious, but hidden behind the scenes is the stress the schedule puts on coaches. Just this past season, Steve Clifford and Tyronn Lue took a leave of absence from their teams during the season for health reasons. Coaches are up late watching film, up early to put together game plans, and attend coaches meetings that turn into team meetings and shootarounds. From the start of the season to the end it is a nonstop cycle for players, coaches, and support staff: The schedule affects all involved. Dr. Czeisler said as much when told the schedule loss story about Coach Doc Rivers getting ejected from that Celtics game against the Suns.

This season the Lakers will play 13 games with zero rest the night before, and 11 of those games are after getting off a flight. That means 11 times fans will be treated to a lesser Laker product on the floor. In an ESPN story from June of 2016 written by Baxter Holmes and Tom Haberstroh, entitled Too many games: The NBA’s injury problem is a scheduling one, Kobe Bryant succinctly summed it up: “We can give the fans a great show. If guys were able to get more rest. The product that the fans would get would be better.

That last quote is an extremely important one. The fans, who are the consumer, would get a better show if the players were able to come into games a little more rested.

How important is rest for a player? Just compare the shooting percentages for LeBron James last season with no rest the day before, to one day of rest, and then two days. As the table shows, with just a day rest he shot 3.6 percentage points better.

Games Played FG% 3FG%
0 Days Rest 13 50.8% 35.8%
1 Days Rest 48 54.4% 37.2%
2 Days Rest 18 56.1% 38.2%

The NBA moved to an 82-game schedule for the 1967-68 season, only twice playing a shortened schedule in an even tighter duration of time. At that time, it was a 12 team league, with teams playing the other conference eight times and teams within their own conference seven times. Over time that has changed. After the league expanded to 30 teams, teams play everyone in the other conference twice, once at home and again on the road. They play everyone in their own division and six teams within their conference but outside their division four times, and everyone else three times.

To get to 72 games, a team will play everyone in their conference three times, regardless of division, and the other conference twice. In an 82-game schedule, some teams gain an advantage by facing certain teams only three times instead of four. A 72 game schedule will level the playing field for teams within a conference.

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In a season with 10 fewer games, coaches will be less willing to rest players because wins would be more valuable. Each regular-season game is more importance because there are fewer opportunities to get a win. Teams won’t have to rest guys. Last season, Kevin Durant only played in 68 games, Draymond Green played 70, and Klay Thompson played 73. Some missed time due to injuries, and for rest.

With fewer games, coaches will also be able to combat slippage by scheduling more practices to prepare for upcoming opponents. This should raise the level of quality in games, and schedule loses with cease because no teams were arriving the night before after just playing another team sometimes thousands of miles away. Again, this will allow for a better product on the floor.

There are several different reasons to keep the current schedule. The largest is the loss of revenue for the NBA, revenue that’s split with the players. As Pat Riley once told a young Gary Vitti in the aforementioned Holmes and Haberstroh piece, everyone would need to take a 10 percent pay cut if the NBA shortens the schedule.

There is no question fewer games will lead to lower gate receipts and concessions sales, and that will affect the NBA’s Basketball-Related Income (BRI). BRI is used to set the salary cap for the upcoming season, and includes the revenue generated from TV and merchandising deals.

However, with a new TV deal kicking in $2.6 billion annually since the 2016 season, and a new merchandise deal with Nike contributing another $861 million annually that started last season, the NBA revenue is at $3.46 billion to start each season before ticket, concessions, and sponsorship sales are added in. Just last season the NBA brought in an all-time high $1.12 billion in sponsorship deals thanks in a large part to putting company logos on jerseys. Only 21 of the 30 NBA teams have taken advantage of that new advertising real estate so that number should grow as the other teams another revenue stream.

With the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing sports gambling, even more money could be coming the NBA’s way. This new influx of cash could potentially make up for the loss at the gate, and then some.

Even in a 72-game season, the NBA should still be able to keep the same number of national TV games. A few changes would need to be made as all four of the Lakers-Warriors matchups this season are on national TV. One of these games would be lost. The April 4 on TNT would be the smartest game to lose in that series since it is the start of a back to back for both teams. This would open opportunities for other teams to play on national TV, like the current the Utah Jazz who burst onto the scene last season. This season there will be 168 national TV games, a 1080 game season can be set up to make sure the NBA TV partners are getting all 168 games with an even higher quality because the players would be rested.

An 82-game season is too long. It puts too much pressure on the players physically and mentally. A lot of stress on coaching staffs to prepare their players for games constantly. More importantly, it robs us all of watching the best players in the world performing at the best of their ability on a nightly basis. A 72 game schedule will allow the NBA to put the best possible product on the court by eliminating back to backs, without losing a national TV game. With potential new revenue streams from gambling and the NBA’s continued growth internationally it can more than make up the difference for the loss of home games and have an overall better product to sell to advertisers.

The NBA settled on 82 games 51 years in 1967 when it was a 12-team league. In 2018 it is a 30-team league stretching across the United States and Canada, now is the time to make the change from 82 to 72, for the good of the players, coaches, the fans and most importantly the good of the game.

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