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Joseph: Injecting some fun into the NBA playoffs (Dec. 5)

Allan Joseph | Sunday, December 4, 2011

If you’ve been following sports over the past week — and let’s be honest, if you’re reading this column, you probably have been — you’ve noticed a peculiar trend. The big story hasn’t been the mess atop the BCS standings, nor has it been the Packers’ utter domination of every other team in the NFL.

No, sportswriters around the country have been fixated on one thing, and one thing only:

The NBA is back.

And frankly, I don’t care.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy the NBA at all. The NBA playoffs give us some of the most drama-filled, pressure-packed moments of the year. I love watching a great Christmas Day matchup between the Heat and the Celtics on national television. When professional basketball is at its best, with two immensely talented teams battling for a full game in front of a jam-packed arena, it is among the most thrilling experiences in sports.

The problem, of course, is that professional basketball is rarely at its best.

There are too many regular-season games.

There are too many teams.

There are too many overpaid, under-talented players.

There are not enough meaningful games.

There are not enough marquee matchups.

There are not enough creative ideas to solve these problems.

Well, that last part isn’t true. There are plenty of creative, outside-the-box ideas to re-inject life into the NBA. For example, we all know that the last third of the season is filled with teams “tanking” to improve their draft position. The NBA tried to fix the situation by instituting a lottery weighted by how poorly a team does. It didn’t solve anything.

Bill Simmons of ESPN.com, however, has a simple solution: the “Entertaining as Hell (EAH)” tournament. Simmons would reserve two playoff spots each year for the tournament’s top two teams (he would also get rid of conference-based playoffs).

How would this tournament work? The top 12 teams in the league would get automatic qualifiers to the playoffs and get two weeks of rest instead of the final two weeks of the regular season. The other teams in the league would play in the EAH tournament — a simple double-elimination tournament in which any team, even the cellar-dwelling Cavaliers, could get hot and pull off a No. 8 seed despite losing 75 percent of their games. Every team would have hope for the playoffs, and no team would have an excuse to trade away key players to clear cap space because they would still have a shot at the playoffs.

In addition to shortening the too-long regular season, that proposal adds more meaningful games, gives viewers more reasons to turn on a late-season NBA contest and gives the NBA the benefit of having “Cinderella” teams that capture the public’s imagination.

Sure, Simmons’ idea is probably impossible to implement given television contracts, and if anything like it were to be implemented, it certainly wouldn’t be called the “Entertaining as Hell” tournament. But it does show that outside-the-box thinking is possible. There are creative ways to draw more fans, cut down on meaningless games and give people more reasons to watch those games.

It’s just too bad none of those ideas are coming from inside the NBA.

 

The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Allan Joseph at ajoseph2@nd.edu.