The Madness is underway! I love the energy coursing through the sports world during the tournament. Its manic, excited, and full of hope and the unknown. How’s your billion dollar bracket looking? Mine got busted after game one on day one when Dayton beat Ohio State. The insanity!
There are few things as fun as heading to a sports bar on weekend one or two of March Madness. One year you were out visiting me in Los Angeles and let’s just say we had our fun up in Hollywood. Wings and beer were involved, as they usually are. Last year you mixed MLB Spring Training with your March Madness viewing experience. Pretty jealous about that one. And this year I’ll be attending a snow wedding in New Hampshire for the second weekend of madness. My point in all this? Nothing beats the insanity of the single elimination format put forth in college basketball. Now let us imagine the NBA did something similar… whoa.
We can all agree that the NBA playoffs lack interest in the first few rounds. The matchups are often one sided, and with a seven game series the better team will usually prevail. I’m leaving the NBA Finals alone in this discussion. I don’t want to mess with a good thing. Include the conference championships or not; I’m impartial on that round as well. But for the conference quarterfinals and semifinals let’s image the single elimination format.
The only way this format works is if the best teams, the top two in each conference, get a first round bye. This leaves us with three games a piece in round one. Squeeze that into two days and watch the TV ratings soar. In the conference semifinals only the top team gets a bye. Now we have two games a piece in each conference. I’m still loving this. The conference finals can be double elimination between two teams. Home court always favors the team with the better record.
Come on, tell me this isn’t awesome.
My perfect bracket got busted after game one as well! Let’s get back to tournament analysis next week though, after round three has concluded. I want to address your wild NBA alteration.
First, I know some people find the NBA playoffs boring. The overwhelming majority of the time, the best team wins. This, I suppose, is the exact opposite of the excitement the NCAA Tournament generates, where any team can advance past any opponent in a one game situation. However, I think the NBA prides itself on that stability. It is pretty much the only sport that can claim a confidence in actually producing a deserving champion to be honest.
In baseball, wild card teams are winning World Series. In hockey, a team is only as hot as its goaltender. Football, one game per round delivers the same type of excitement produced in college basketball. The NBA is really the only sport we have that delivers us the best teams playing for the titles, year in and year out. It is also something that drives its popularity through the roof, developing playoff rivalries and dynasties to drive interest.
With that said, a shortened first and second round of the NBA playoffs would be interesting, but I think it needs to be arranged differently than you described. The top teams need to keep the advantage as you indicated. You can’t risk the Heat or Spurs being bounced in a one-game, do-or-die scenario to start the playoffs. However, why not extend the early rounds to include more teams, rather than push the top teams through with byes?
This should be sort of like Bill Simmons’ (popular?) Crazy-as-Hell Tournament where all the lottery teams battle in a tournament for the rights to the eighth playoff seed in each conference. The only thing I would change is limit it to whatever amount of teams is more manageable, perhaps six in each conference, rather than nine. And have these teams playing in the actual first round of the playoffs. So the first round is a bunch of one-game battles eventually getting us to a similar playoffs we are used to now. It’s like how MLB has added wild card teams or how the NFL is moving in that direction.
I am usually against expanded playoffs, but in this scenario, the change would be preferable since it would bring a new format to spice up the early round. Of course, I don’t want to limit the later rounds or move a regular-season leader automatically through to the conference semis as you mentioned. That seems a bit over the top.
Perhaps there is something here, some tweak that the NBA is actually considering to spice up the interest in the early playoffs of its sport, without removing the foundation that makes its championships special.
I am curious though, what would happen if we went the other way, and tried to extended the NCAA Tournament into multi-game matchups rather than a dance of do-or-dies?