Late Thursday, NBA players are supposed to vote on a schedule and format for the upcoming season.
Players will agree to either a 72-game schedule which starts around Christmas or a shorter season with 58 or 60 games that starts in January, according to ESPN sources.
And we get it. The more games that are played, the more money the players and owners make. Neither side wants a haircut, if it can be avoided.
But at some point, there will have to be a sacrifice to get the league back on track.
The NBA needs a shorter schedule that ends the 2021 season on time and keeps the playoffs on schedule to end in mid-June, not way later than normal.
This is the only thing that makes sense.
This way, the following season can be back to normal with a start in October 2021.
Another pushback of the playoffs this season will mean the following season has a chance to be disrupted and altered again, affecting three seasons.
And let’s not forget, the 2021 Olympics will be affected as well. Commissioner Adam Silver said on NBA TV recently that it was “unlikely” NBA players would participate in the international event in late July.
The NBA path forward is clearly a mess right now.
For sure, MLB had an advantage. The pandemic hit before its regular season even started. They were able to adjust. The NBA and NHL were both hit during its seasons and had to halt play and resume nearly four months later.
But MLB did it right. It bit the bullet this season, playing just 60 regular-season games instead of the usual 162 games. More importantly, it kept the postseason on schedule.
Hence, MLB is on track to have a full regular season in 2021. The regular season is scheduled to start April 1, with all 30 teams competing on that day.
Because of the sacrifices — which included scrapping 102 games of the season in 2020 — MLB’s offseason and upcoming season appear to be in place as usual despite the pandemic continuing.
As for the NHL, it is looking at a shortened season, somewhere between 65 and 48 games. The season wouldn’t start until January, possibly February. The league would go back to a 16-team playoff. It had 24 teams compete for the Stanley Cup this past season.
For sure, the NBA would like to limit its damages going forward in this never-ending pandemic. The league believes that starting pre-Christmas could mean between $500 million and $1 billion more to the coffers for this season.
But will pushing the playoffs back continue to hurt the product? Let’s be honest. The summer basketball experience didn’t do well. The TV ratings tanked big time. And while just about all sports suffered declining TV ratings during COVID, the NBA took a bloodbath.
According to Sports Media Watch, the two conference finals series saw TV ratings decrease 35% from a season ago. The conference finals averaged just 4.18 million viewers on ESPN and TNT.
The NBA Finals TV ratings were worse. They dropped to a historic low. One game drew a measly 5.9 million viewers. The average viewers figure over six games was 7.5 million, which is a 51% decline from the previous year and a 67% drop from 2018.
By contract, MLB saw a big drop in its World Series TV ratings, but not as big as the NBA. The six-game series averaged a 5.2 rating, according to Nielsen figures. The previous low was 7.6 rating in the 2012 World Series.
This year’s rating was a 36 percent drop from last year when the Washington Nationals shocked MLB America with a seven-game win over the Houston Astros.
Still, baseball’s playoffs were where people expected them to be in October.
The NBA’s playoffs were out of place, played months after most have been used to watching them end in June.
That’s why staying in your lane makes the most sense.
Currently, the regular season wouldn’t end until June. And then you would need another two months for playoffs. That could bring us to almost September. Hence, the 2021 season would be delayed, too.
A sacrifice should be made now, not kicked down the road.