A Problem For Adam Silver

The Commissioners of the major sports in the US never have an easy time of it.  As I have pointed out before, they wear two different hats that normally have nothing to do with one another:

  1. They need to “grow the game” and keep the money in the revenue streams constantly increasing.
  2. They are games’ disciplinarians.

All the Commissioners – – Gary Bettman, Roger Goodell, Rob Manfred and Adam Silver – – have had some tough moments during their time in office.  Right now, Adam Silver has two items on his plate that are unsavory at best and could be deleterious if managed improperly.

The lesser of the two “issues” is that the NBA is going forward with its idea of an in-season tournament.  Let’s just say that the fan clamor for such a thing borders on the non-existent and leave it at that.  From the league’s perspective, the idea is to generate greater interest in games played in November and December.  Even if that goal is achieved, it comes as a double-edged sword; the league had to concoct a way for its fans to care about games in the first third of its season.  Would not a rational thinker say that – – just maybe – – the smart thing to do is to reduce the number of those games that require extra effort to make them interesting?

Here is how the in-season tournament will work – – sort of:

  • The 30 teams in the league will be divided into six groups of 5 teams.  There may be divisional cross-over in the tournament groupings but not conference cross-over.
  • During the first six weeks of the season – – November and December – – certain days will be identified such that scheduled games will be regular season contests AND in-season tournament games.  Each team will play the other four teams in its group during this time.
  • The winners in each of the six groups – plus two wildcard teams – will then be bracketed in a single elimination situation.
  • The players on the team that wins the entire tournament will each receive $500K.  That’s it; no runner-up money.
  • Next year’s schedule for teams will only have 80 games at the start of the season but all the teams who do not make it to the single-elimination stage of the in-season tournament will get two more games added to their schedules to make it to 82 games in total.

Let me pretend for a moment that this idea makes complete sense.  The end of this in-season endeavor will not come until January or later in the season; so, why am I – – as a fan of a team that hopes to win more than 30 games in a season but may not – – going to have any special interest in a November game that is both a tournament game and a regular season game?  If you use English soccer as a model, they have an “in-season tournament” every year for the FA Cup.  But those games stand on their own; teams in the Premier League who play FA Cup games do not count those games in the standings of the Premier League.  What the NBA is trying to do is to take games that fans are blasé about and distracting the fans into thinking the games mean something.  Is that going to work in the long run?

Looking at this from the other end of the telescope, why is it seemingly taken as axiomatic that players/teams will take these tournament/regular season games any more seriously than they take November/December games today?  This year, the Pistons won 17 games; by December 1st, the players on that team and the players on scheduled opponents had more than an inkling that the Pistons were not “formidable”.  So, now magically on a randomly selected evening in early December, a game between the Pistons and the Wizards – – for example – – is going to be interesting?  Note, I did not say that game would be important because that would be irrational; I merely assert it is unlikely to be interesting.

One other minor point that still “needs to be ironed out” is that the rules for selecting those two “wildcard teams” have not been announced.  Once there are tie-breaker rules for each of the six groups of teams, that will leave 24 other teams with various “tournament records” to consider.  It is a mathematical certainty that there will be multiple teams with the same tournament records at the end of the group phase of the tournament.  Let me say this now before the wildcard qualification rules are announced:

  • They had better be objective, measurable and ironclad.
  • There cannot be any “special consideration” given to teams that did not win their group but who usually draw big TV audiences.
  • Fans of teams that lose out on being named as a wildcard to the elimination rounds must think that – – at least – – their heroes got a square deal.

I think the idea of an in-season tournament is concocted at best.  The league is admitting – – though not directly – – that many of its games played in November and December are not competitive in terms of fan interest with other sporting endeavors.  If the in-season tournament generates little to no excitement – – say like Pizza Hut introducing the oatmeal pizza – – what might the league need to do about those games they just admitted were less than interesting to fans?

Here is when you will know this idea is on a wrong track.  When a “tournament game” is scheduled as the second game of a back-to-back for a team and some of the players take the game off as part of their “load management” strategy, you can kiss goodbye any serious consideration of the in-season tournament.

And I said that this was the lesser of the two issues facing Adam Silver.  Tomorrow will be the bigger issue…

Finally, let me close today with this from Alice in Wonderland:

“’Take some more tea,’ the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

“’I’ve had nothing yet,’ Alice replied in an offended tone: ‘so I can’t take more.’

“’You mean you can’t take less,’ said the Hatter: ‘it’s very easy to take more than nothing.’”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



2 thoughts on “A Problem For Adam Silver”

  1. Curm,

    People who to this day wonder how Hollywood found a talking horse to play “Mr. Ed” can still see that tourney is dumb.

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