O’Grady: NBA, NHL need to play fewer games
Rachel O'Grady | Monday, January 25, 2016
All my life, I’ve been called a bandwagon Blackhawks and Bulls fan. It’s a fair assessment: I couldn’t tell you the score of any of their past five games without looking them up, and I usually don’t watch either team play unless it’s in the playoffs or they happen to be on.
Having said that, it’s not for lack of love towards either team. It’s just an aggressive time commitment to watch all 82 games (make it 164 if I’m watching both teams all the time), plus the additional playoff games. For both leagues, 82 games are way too many.
Beyond my own selfish reasons of not wanting to be called a bandwagon fan anymore, 82 games is fundamentally dangerous. The NFL, with its 16-game seasons, still racks up an enormous amount of injuries. While the NBA and the NHL are not as fundamentally dangerous and injury-ridden as the NFL, 82 games is an enormously large number of games to play without expecting a fairly high rate of injuries.
Take, for example, Derrick Rose. I wasn’t alive for most of the 1990s Chicago Bulls glory, so in 2008 it was pretty exciting to score the number-one draft pick, and the city of Chicago was hopeful for the upcoming seasons. After winning rookie of the year and then MVP a few years later, there was talk and genuine hope for a championship.
And then he tore his ACL. And then he tore his meniscus. And then he needed more surgery. And so on and so forth.
By now all hopes of a ring have vanished from the larger Bulls fandom. Could these injuries have been avoided with fewer games? Perhaps. The wear and tear of playing a professional basketball game three or four times a week hurts anyone not in peak physical condition.
The same logic applies for hockey, if not to an even greater degree. Even watching a hockey game can make my mom nervous for the players, people she doesn’t even know, because it just looks so brutal. It’s arguably the bloodiest sport, and they play at the highest level several times a week. There’s no way that’s healthy.
While concern for the player’s well being is important, there is also something to be said for the quality of each game with these impossibly long seasons. Coaches, wisely, have been benching their stars to rest them for the playoffs, which leads to angry fans who paid significant sums of money to watch these key players.
Notably, last March, Warriors coach Steve Kerr decided to bench his star players, including Stephen Curry, for a game against the Nuggets, frustrating fans who paid specifically to see them play.
Kerr made a wise decision. There are so many games, and these players needed to be well-rested and uninjured for the playoffs, so it’s smart to rest them for a game or two. At the same time, it’s remarkably unfair to the fans who may only go to one game a season.
I’m not alone in this argument. There are a number of articles on the subject, but more importantly, several big-name players have said they think 82 games is too many. In August, for example, Blake Griffin voiced his opinion to CBSSports.com at Team USA mini-camp. He argued 66 games over the same timeline as the current season would reduce player fatigue and injuries.
“If you have less games, less back-to-backs, the product’s better. The fans will appreciate it more,” he said.
The same basic principle applies to hockey as well, particularly as hockey can be so intense and draining.
Understandably, it comes down to the money, but it would be better for both the players and the fans if the NBA and the NHL considered not playing 82-plus games.
More importantly, I really want to stop being called a bandwagon fan.