The NBA’s 75th season, in 2021-22, could include not only test-driving some innovative initiatives but also reducing the number of games in the regular season, ESPN.com reported Wednesday, citing unidentified sources who characterized a June 17 conference call among select team executives as a wide-ranging brainstorming session.
Among the ideas being formally explored:
— A midseason cup-style tournament
— A postseason play-in tournament
— A shorter regular season from the current 82 games
Per ESPN.com: “According to those with knowledge of the conversation, which sources regard as very exploratory, the proposed reforms would be adopted initially as a pilot program. The NBA would have the chance to observe the trial run and evaluate the long-term viability of such a schedule design.”
While the NBA is cognizant of the grueling nature of its season, and recent regular-season “load management” among some of its highest-profile players, the primary exploratory ideas all come with intertwined challenges.
The midseason tournament would be difficult to implement without a corresponding reduction in regular-season games and shortening the regular season would have a profound change on teams’ revenue because of the impact on local broadcast agreements and home attendance (and the dollars that flow to teams via each home game).
Though they could benefit physically from a shorter season, the players also might perceive any reduction of regular-season games as a veiled effort to reduce basketball-related income as it pertains to annual increases in the salary cap.
Proponents of change argue that potential robust revenue from new events such as the play-in tournament and midseason cup (posed recently by commissioner Adam Silver) could over time recoup losses resulting from a reduction in traditional regular-season games.
No matter the scope of changes, the NBA is facing a relatively tight timeline, even just to experiment with pilot programs only two seasons from now. Wholesale changes to the schedule would require buy-in from, among many stakeholders, the players union, ownership groups and national and local broadcast partners and league sponsors.