Less than a week before the NBA season was shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak, Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin stood on a stage at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston and suggested the NBA should permanently shift its schedule to a mid-December start and run the Finals into August.
His logic was to avoid having the early part of its season up against football and compete more with baseball directly.
It’s a radical idea, but these are suddenly radical times.
With the NBA now being forced to push back the start of playoffs until at least June with games maybe running into August, it could be an opportunity to make that kind of a shift. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, to his credit, always seems willing to hear ideas out and doesn’t fear shaking up the league’s established norms.
In a season where now everything is on the table, a shift of the schedule to a December start is as well. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski talked about it on his latest podcast and said the idea has some backing.
“I even had one team president, who I respect, who I think has some level of influence in the league said to me the other day that he never really liked that Koonin idea, but the more he thinks about it now, the more it does intrigue him,” said Adrian Wojnarowski.
“That will be interesting. It may come out of necessity that next season starts in December and ends deeper into the summer. It would be a fundamental change to the calendar. Summer League, the draft, free agency [are all pushed back]…
“I do think that idea is going to be entertained because it seems as though, even in the best case scenarios, next season probably has to be moved back.”
Interesting when you lay it out:
Mid-June- start of the NBA playoffs
Early August- NBA Finals
End of August- Draft
Sept. 1- Start of FA
Sept. 10- Summer/fall league
Dec. 10- training camp opens
Dec. 25- regular season opens (82 games)
Mid-June- NBA season ends
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) March 16, 2020
There are many questions and challenges with this kind of change. At the top of the list would be concerns from ABC/ESPN and Turner/TNT that July and August are usually considered down months for television ratings because people are on vacations, or just out and not sitting in front of the television in the same way. Lower Finals ratings would kill this idea for the league.
This season, if the NBA plays games into August, would be a test of how it impacts ratings (not a perfect test, but a test).
Beyond that now the NBA’s free agency would go up against the opening weeks of the college/NFL seasons, possibly drawing attention away from one of the most-watched parts of the NBA calendar. The changes to the draft and college eligibility would need to be worked out with the NCAA.
Plus, there is always a pushback in some quarters when people want to mess with tradition.
That said, with everything on the table, a radical shift in the NBA schedule will at least get discussed.