If you want to know why I've gravitated to European soccer as my second favorite sport after college football, the lack of importance of the vast majority of American pro sports games would be one of the major reason. In contrast to the "will the Heat care today?" question that we have to ask ourselves before each game, on Sunday afternoon, I watched Barca labor to a 0-0 draw at Villarreal. Unlike the Heat, Barca have earned the right to coast every now and again by winning 13 trophies in the past three years and change. The theme of Barca's season in La Liga this year has been their struggles on the road, dropping points regularly in 0-0 and 2-2 draws. Maybe Barca's players are having a hard time getting up for these games, but the key point is that they are punished for doing so. The Blaugrana are now seven points behind Real Madrid and will require significant help from their arch-rivals to get back into the title race. If the La Liga season were simply about seeding for a short post-season tournament, then Barca could go through the motions on the road and no one would bat an eyelash. Instead, the stakes are high for each match and the penalty for not scoring at El Madrigal is significant.
I thought about this issue when reading Bill Simmons' column last night. Simmons spends 1,261 words describing an elaborate plan to push the NBA regular season back with a later start date and conclusion, but he never grapples with the fundamental problem with the sport: the regular season is four-times as long as the playoffs, but isn't even one-quarter as important. What about doing away with the playoffs to reward the teams that are the best over the long-haul? Or at least limit the playoffs to one series like baseball did before 1969? To quote Simmons:
"Because that's the way we've always done it."For the record, I don't buy Simmons' notion that leagues should make radical changes and that there is no value in traditions. A sport should follow a certain rhythm and the NBA is no different. Get rid of that rhythm and you are disconnecting your fans from their patterns, which might lead them to no longer buy your product. However, if the NBA is interested in a major change, then surely doing something to increase the stakes of the regular season is more important than the start date.
(News flash: Those are the eight worst words in sports.)