Why the NBA, NHL, and NCAA Seasons Are Too Long (And Why the NFL Always Leaves Fans Wanting More)

By Mark Yost

kapernickTomorrow is the NFL Conference Championships and I don’t think there is any question that much of the country will be riveted to the games between the Boston Patriots (I refuse to call them “New England”) and the Denver Broncos, and the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. Both games will produce the NFL’s best ratings of the season until the Super Bowl, which beats everything on TV year after year.

But the more important question is “Why?” Why do fans care so much about the NFL playoffs?
Being a junior member of the small (and mostly ignored) cadre of American sports economists, I would argue that it’s simply a matter of supply and demand. There are only 16 NFL regular-season games and nearly every one counts (unless you’re the Oakland Raiders or Minnesota Vikings), The net result is that when the shortest professional sports season comes to an end in a few weeks, fans will still be clamoring for more. What other league can say that? Not many.

So if the NFL has the perfect season, shouldn’t the other leagues take a cue from America’s most-successful sports franchise? I think they should.

So here’s my proposal: The NBA and NHL should cut their seasons to just 20 games, and the NCAA should cut the men’s basketball schedule to just 10 games. Major League Baseball should keep its schedule the way it is. Why? Because even with the ridiculously expanded baseball playoffs, winning the most games out of a 162-game season still means something. (And this is my column and I say so.)

So let’s look at the NBA and the NHL. The seasons are roughly 80 games long. Both seasons start in October and it’s painfully clear by mid-November which teams are going to make the playoffs. Yes, occasionally a team (the Chicago Blackhawks come to mind) will have a remarkable second half of the season and go on to win the league championship. But mostly, fans know who’s got it and who doesn’t early on in the season. Yet, fans are forced to wade through another five months of mostly unimportant games to get to the playoffs. Is this any way to run a railroad (or sports league)?

SpursLook at the NBA. It’s mid-January, the season is half over and the Chicago Bulls are in second place in the Central Division of the Eastern Conference. Their overall record is 18-20, putting them 13 games back of the Indiana Pacers, who are 31-7 and have the best record in the league. In the Northwest Division of the Western Conference, the Utah Jazz are 17 games back of first-place Portland. Do we really need another 40 games to figure out that the Portland Trailblazers are going to the NBA playoffs and the Utah Jazz aren’t?

BruinsSame goes for the NHL. We’re two-thirds of the way through the season and the Buffalo Sabres are 30 points behind my mother’s beloved Boston Bruins. The Islanders are 35 points behind the Penguins. Does anyone think the Sabres or Islanders have a chance of making the NHL postseason?

So why not make these overly long seasons more fan-friendly? Maybe my proposed 20-game NBA and NHL seasons are a bit drastic. OK, make them 30 games.

BoeheimCollege basketball is even more ridiculous. The Syracuse Orangemen, led by that paragon of student-athletics honesty and integrity, Jim Boeheim, is 17-0. How did they get there? By beating cream-puff teams like Cornell (82-60), Colgate (69-50), SUNY-Binghamton (93-65), and Eastern Michigan (70-48). Does Syracuse really need to play 31 regular-season games, about half of them against schools that haven’t beaten them since Eisenhower was president? Why not have a 10-game college basketball season against serious opponents? It’s enough time for the team to gel (or should be), make some adjustments, then go right into March Madness? That’s what everyone wants to see anyway, right? Seriously, there are some good college basketball games from December-February, but most are just filler until March, right?

Of course, this idea exists nowhere but inside my head. More importantly, the chances of it happening are about as likely as Transylvania beating Kentucky in basketball. It’ll never happen. Why? Because of money.
None of these leagues are going to give up their TV money, which today makes up the lion’s share of their revenue stream. And the teams aren’t going to pass on a chance to sell you an over-priced seat, a stale hot dog, and a warm beer – all for the low, low price of $531.50 (oh, and don’t forget $30 for parking). Even if it’s just to see Louisville beat Hofstra (97-69).

About Mark Yost
Mark Yost is the author of the Rick Crane Noir series, published by Stay Thirsty Press. Rick Crane is the classic, anti-hero private eye in the spirit of Sam Spade and Jim Rockford. He works in the unmistakably noirish underworld of Upstate New York, running errands and fixing problems for Jimmy Ricchiati Sr., one of Upstate New York's most notorious crime bosses. But readers quickly learn that deep down, Rick Crane is one of the good guys. "Cooper's Daughter," the first book in the widely acclaimed series, is a fast-moving tale in which a heartbroken father comes to Rick and asks him to find out what really happened to his daughter, who was murdered and the details buried in the Unsolved Crimes File of the local police department. The second book in the series is "Jimmy's Nephew," which begins with the death of Joey "Boom Boom" Bonadeo, an up-and-coming boxer and the nephew of Rick's underworld boss. What starts out as a routine investigation turns into a case that will test Rick's faith -- in the Catholic Church and his fellow man. Book No. 3 in the series, "Mary's Fate" is due out in August 2015. Mark Yost also writes for The Wall Street Journal Arts in Review page, as well as the Book Review section. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America -- Midwest Chapter, International Thriller Writers, and a number of other author groups. He is also a member of the Amazon Author's Program. Mark lives in the Loyola neighborhood of Chicago, but he and his son, George, call the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn "home."

One Response to Why the NBA, NHL, and NCAA Seasons Are Too Long (And Why the NFL Always Leaves Fans Wanting More)

  1. Bob Boyles says:

    A 20-game NHL season is indeed a bit drastic; last season’s lockout 48 games seemed just about perfect. And it was a brilliant idea last year keeping Eastern Conference playing only other Easterners and vice versa. As a Pittsburgh Penguins fan I find it only mildly interesting when my boys face Edmonton, Calgary, Dallas, Phoenix, L.A. and on and on, not once by twice a year. Meanwhile, it’s truly fun to knock the stuffing out of the most hideous team on Earth, The New Yawk Icelanders, and da Joisey Devils, Washington Craps, and Madison Square Rangers. Then, we can go to the playoffs.

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