Chance to rethink ’20-21 schedule

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The oft quoted Chinese proverb of “may you live in interesting times” has never been more true than it is today.  And you can add to or substitute for the word “interesting” the word “challenging.”

The NBA and the sports world in general virtually shut down last week in the wake of the increasing appearances of the coronavirus throughout the continental United States. Much public activity in general has been scaled back and measures have been put in place that greatly suggest a gradual return to normalcy is months rather than weeks away from beginning.

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver is to be credited for providing the impetus for major sports organizations to suspend operations or cancel events. He did so last Wednesday night upon the revelation that Utah’s Rudy Gobert testing positive for the coronavirus. Silver’s swift and decisive action in immediately suspending the season set in motion that saw within the following 24 to 48 hours the suspension of the NHL season, a delay in the start of the MLB season and cancellation of the college basketball tournaments, the NCAA Tournament it season and the Masters golf tournament in addition to numerous other events being played or scheduled to be played at venues where large groups of fans congregate.

The NBA has not yet canceled the current season and playoffs but has put everything on hold. League officials are considering a potential resumption and completion of the season – including playoffs – later this spring with the NBA Finals, if played at all, to occur in July or August.

Interestingly enough, such a plan would likely cause serious consideration to one suggested by Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin presented at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on March 6.

Koonin was speaking about the decline in NBA television ratings, especially early in the season when the NBA faces stiff competition from football, specifically Thursday night football which competes against the NBA’s marquee TNT telecast.

He noted that early season NBA play carries very little relevance in the overall scheme of the season. Delaying the start of the season to Christmas Day, when the NFL regular season is winding down and Thursday night games are done, would result in the season’s schedule advancing by two months. The playoffs would begin in mid-June and run through early- to mid-August. 

He thinks the NBA would fare better competing more against early- and mid-season Major League Baseball than against the meat of the NFL season. The NBA draft and free agency would soon follow and might keep additional focus on the NBA as the NFL season starts.

Christmas Day has featured five games for the past few seasons and draws the attention of virtually the entire sports public but for a college basketball in-season tournament or two.

Should the current NBA season resume (or even if it ultimately cancelled) Koonin’s idea has both merit and appeal and could be instituted as early as next season given the time that still exists between now and next October.

As to preparing for a potential resumption of this season there are many questions to be addressed both from betting and logistics perspectives.

These are uncharted waters we would be entering. My general approach in past seasons was to evaluate potential playoffs plays — both an individual games and series/futures basis — on how team fared against current opponents during the season as well as how playoff teams played against the other teams making the playoffs with winning records. 

I also placed some value on current form.

Both of those factors may not apply this season especially if more than two months pass between suspension of play and resumption. It will be a learning process for both sides of the counter and one that we hope would not be repeated for quite some time.

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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