April 5, 2014

How to solve uneven schedules in the NBA

Earlier, I solved tanking. This time, I'll solve uneven schedules in the NBA.

First, a refresher: The 30 NBA teams are divided into 2 conferences, which are in turn divided into 4 divisions. Why is this so? This is to foster regional rivalries, and to cut down costs. Teams within a division play each other four times in a season, while those from within the conference, but outside their own division 3 to 4 games, and those from the other conference twice.

Why do NBA teams, who should be earning boatloads of money, want to reduce costs? First, because, it's still money. And second, they don't want to get their players too tired by logging frequent flyer miles. Those do indeed take tolls on players who play at most five times a month in the United States, this isn't England where football teams play twice a week traveling on an area quite bigger than Luzon. (Caveat: Some English teams have games outside England when they play at European competitions.)

However, England's scheduling is actually quite simple. The primary league competition is a double round robin format. The teams play each other once home and one away, and the team with the best record wins the title. Yep, no playoffs. As I've explained in 2009, the reason why playoffs exist is to straighten out the strength of schedule (SOS). The SOS arises because teams don't play each other equal number of times, at the equal number of venues (or host teams).

So basically, the playoffs exist to give the impression that the best team somehow played arguably the same schedule as everybody else. It's not because the regular season isn't enough to determine champions, or to earn money (originally, this wasn't the plan), or even to make things exciting. It is to even out the schedule, so that no one can argue that "they won because they had easier teams to beat".

You're probably getting the gist of my proposal: let every team play each an equal number of times, with the each team hosting the other an equal number of times too. Well, that is the proposal.

But first, let's see how the current schedule is set up. There 82 games per team. Each playoff series is best of seven. There are four playoff series. So in theory, a team could play up to 110 games (82+7+7+7+7). Ever since the expansion of the first round of the playoffs into a best of seven series, no team has play all 110 games.

Now, to the proposal. To make sure that each team would host each team an equal number of times, they have to meet in an x number of times, where x is an even number. If x is an odd number, say 3, it means a team can host another twice, while being hosted just once. This makes the SOS unequal. Remember, our mission is to make the SOS equal for everybody.

There are 30 teams in the NBA. A team, therefore, would face 29 teams. If they'd face each team twice, there'd be 58 games per team. That's less than 82, and while there had been efforts to cut down the number of games, the NBA will never, ever, ever do it because extra games means money. That's why they made the first round into a best-of-7 series. We can't make each team face the other 29 thrice, because that'll make an uneven SOS.

That leaves us with 4: 29 multiplied by 4 is 116. In a heartbeat, we gave the NBA 6 extra games. But there's a drawback: since the SOS is equal for everybody, there won't be a playoffs anymore. But don't worry! You'd see up to 6 teams in championship contention as late as June, instead of just two. And the also-rans? They're playing to win for the #1 pick, instead of playing to lose. It's a win-win situation. It's like Simmons' EAHT, but in a round-robin format.

Imagine the NBA title going down to the wire, not in a singular Game 7 of the NBA Finals, but in 10 games being played at the same time. It's basketball heaven. Sure, if there's a tie at the top, let's have a best-of-7 finals. What could be better than seeing the Lakers' title hopes dashed after seeing the Ray Allen drill a trey for Heat in the dying seconds of triple OT, despite blowing out the Bobcats by 43,

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