The Promotion of Relegation

Normal service has resumed with my friends safely at the airport and me back to the business of self promotion to all and sundry. As always with any holiday, the final hours before the airport transfer are spent in a limbo with the fond memories of what has gone before and the pending dread of the inevitable. In our case Snowmageddon, bad Mexican food, some Friday Night Knicks and of course delayed flights and check-in lines at Newark.

There’s no way of getting round it. No clever invention to maximize your waning hours. Nothing that the best laid plans can do to cover the inevitable. Just like the end of any sporting season. In any of the major leagues, what is soon to come with the close of any season is despite the best intentions, an awkward waste of precious time.

Take the NBA winter which, after the upcoming All Star Break will pass seamlessly into the trade deadline on February 18th. Regardless of which direction your team choses to opt for, there’s every chance it will result in a faultless surrender of time, just like your last city break. As the organization, players and fans wait for the dreadful inevitable they will be accompanied by the rose tinted views of what’s gone before.

It’s not to say I’m for a socialist state of sporting equality and that oh so magical level playing field. Far from it. I love the basis of there being only winning and misery. It should fuel everyone’s route map to find a way to win, just like Bill Parcells said. But the Big Tuna failed to think about the consequences of the viewing public during such miserable times. They’re along for the ride too. Late season phantom injuries, resting and the resulting blowouts in front of the home faithful are tough to take.

Now we all know that unlike freak snow storms, blowouts can happen at any time. Just ask the Arizona Cardinals, who were lambasted this weekend by the runaway train that is Cam Newton and his Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game. The 49-15 score line was the highest total in 25 years of the title game and even struck Coach Ron Rivera with a tough choice as to exactly when to rest his star players. Avoiding unnecessary additions to Thomas Davis on the injured list must have been a key concern. As well as balancing the flamboyant quarterback's fan friendly style to ensure it doesn't come across as rubbing salt in the wounds of an already fallen foe.

So it seems the impact of late season non contests can befuddle both sides of the touch line. But with NBA tankers jockeying for lottery position while the NBA rankers fight for home court, one is almost always more purposeful than the other. The question has been posed of how we combat this in modern American sport? As my mates fly east over the Atlantic, both will be returning to their beloved friends and doting families. But only one will be missing his treasured soccer team’s mid-week game, meaning a portion of his Derby County season ticket will be unused. (They lost 4-1 by the way, but no one tell Sean. It’ll put him in a terrible mood).

And we care about Derby County, why? Because other than being a founding member of the world’s oldest football league in 1888, the Rams have yo-yoed up and down between the top flight of English Football and its second tier, the poorly named Championship more than the majority of teams. Such exposure to relegation and promotion makes one think if it would solve the NBA’s late season malaise.

Simply relegate the league’s worst team by record or even those bottom feeders from each conference into the NBA D League thus ensuring promotion of the better two teams upwards to the Big League. Before you shake your head too vigorously, remember there’s every chance you’ve watched the 76ers this season and thought a College or D League team could beat them. Adopting the English Football Association’s fabled Parachute Payment scheme would ease the fall of those tumbling from the private jets and 5* Hotels of the NBA.

Premier League teams relegated to the championship receive around $92M over three to four years to help ease the loss of TV revenues which experience a 95% drop in revenue between the two leagues. Sponsorships also takes a drop by up to thirty times less than the top flight. Other key providers of expenditure such as wages and player contracts to those tumbling from the top, are predicted to fall by 40-50% if the club retains the services of those players without selling them on.

Detractors will cry foul, suggesting that’s peanuts compared to NBA bottom lines and they would be correct to say so. As would those who suggest that the potential promotion of D League teams who aren’t yet capable of matching up to the NBA teams in any comparison, on or off the court would be a mistake. At least, not until the D League begins to bypass the NCAA to recruit high school seniors to better prepare them for professional athlete's life at home or across the seas. But that really is another chat for another day or a long flight.

If promotion and relegation won't work, let’s look into actual alternatives that could function to halt the dysfunction that’s stalling the NBA’s progress behind the NFL and MLB. Like Baseball, the NBA model is based on the scatter gun approach of multiple games on the majority of nights. Whereas the NFL owns at least one day of the week and is working on several others. In order to keep the momentum in that multitude of matches, the NBA cannot afford to lose ground at key times. Which in some respects comes during the early stages of the baseball season when the NBA playoff schedule kicks into gear and the spotlight of the Superbowl has faded.

Once rid of the sometimes avoidable first round of the playoffs, which really failed to embrace the new seven game format, the number of game-less days ramps up. Promotion of the sport in a competitive marketplace is currently solved only with NBA TV reruns of Hardwood Classics, talk shows and the promise of the draft lottery draw. The latter of which might be the most meaningless and millennial-less event of the calendar. The logic behind promotion of a sixty minute show which the Powerball covers weekly in sixty seconds, is beyond younger fans of that key demographic. And me for that matter.

Adding the two problems of tanking and scheduling slumps together, could total a need to utilize those non-playoff teams in a more productive manner. Purely for the sake of entertainment of course. That’s not to say we want a Keeping Up With The Kings or Dancing With The Suns. Far from it. But a way of actually earning a top lottery pick would add to the drama of an NBA season given a glance back across the pond to our footballing friends.

Annually, the battle to avoid the bottom three of the Premiership is as interesting as the chase to the top six. There’s no reason to think the NBA couldn’t be the same. With such dramatic, business altering ramifications as mentioned at stake, the pleasures of reality TV viewing are all of sudden shared by all. Even fans of other high flying teams, tune into those Relegation Six Pointer matches will sadistic glee. On the other side of the coin, first and second place in the Championship receive automatic promotion for their travails, leaving those third through sixth to battle for promotion through a playoff. Very non British. But all great for late season ratings that crush the attempts of Cricket to kick off their summer season with a bang or a boundary. Baseball could really be America's Cricket.

Those same people again will chime in with that being a pointless endeavor as the worst NBA team will obviously falter to one of the much better 13 teams who finished the season with a better record. Thus reducing the entire lottery process as a means to improve as redundant. Correct. The current NBA worst 76ers wouldn’t stand much of a chance against the Wizards even in a single game elimination game. However, the odds can always be changed to relevel that level playing field in favor of equality (and ratings).

It always does sports no end of good to curry favor with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to help solve any annoying little problems which crop up from time to time. Such as their controversial and very hush hush removal of 3v3 Basketball from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Despite flirting with the idea for some time, its removal leaves the sport of basketball without a smaller, more consumable option like volleyball has with everyone’s preferred, beach volleyball.

We’re not suggesting seven footers run around in board shorts, speedos or other such swimwear. But we are suggesting that the NBA help FIBA push the idea back onto the table for 2020 with a clear view of what exactly 3v3 would look like. To see what they’re missing out on, the IOC could witness the first NBA post season lottery 3v3 tournament.  Hosted during the off days of the NBA Conference Finals or NBA Finals proper, the disparity between a team of Ricky Rubio, Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins from Minnesota and that of Carmelo Anthony, the Zinger and frankly anyone else from the Knicks is much less than that of their respective 12 man squads.

Failing that, 2v2 teams bring back memories of a reality NBA Jam that might catch fire with modern fans. Maybe if Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors had to suit up against Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans to fight for a lottery pick for instance, a win wouldn't be assured.

We all know that Michael Jordan passed on the chance to play Magic Johnson 1v1 in the 1980’s. But the NBA is a different, smarter beast now who handles promotion of events much more effectively. For the sake of the greater good (and even more ratings) pitting an aging Kobe Bryant against John Wall would do wonders for viewer numbers. Or you could go in a different direction and pit Brook Lopez against, say Damian Lillard. First to seven wins. Missed shots are live. The classic speed against strength and size versus skill. Pick your poison.

It always does sports no end of good to curry favor with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to help solve any annoying little problems which crop up from time to time. Such as their controversial and very hush hush removal of 3v3 Basketball from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Despite flirting with the idea for some time, its removal leaves the sport of basketball without a smaller, more consumable option like volleyball has with everyone’s preference, beach volleyball.

With the draw of either format based on season record with conference or cross conference battles, the temptation is almost too much to bear. Fantasy sports would become a reality. I can hear both NBA 2K and NBA Live banging at the door right now to sponsor the event. The only way to settle that would be for Sega and EA Sports to play 1v1 for the rights. Am I wrong?

Depending on how long it was deemed feasible to drag the spectacle out, straight knock outs or round robin leagues would extend or shorten the process. Annually the event could tour around lottery cities, D League locations or non NBA towns with Football or Baseball teams. Dare I even suggest whizz bang, can’t fail meccas like Las Vegas? A lottery is a gamble after all. Only joking Mr. Silver. Or am I? The revenue generation from tickets, TV rights for nontraditional networks and merchandising of kooky long sleeve playing shirts (Adidas will design literally anything) all bundled together must make a viable product.

Maybe after all, promotion of relegation isn’t the way to solve the NBA’s lottery losses. But as my besties snooze their way back across the ocean, the NBA is asleep at the controls by not suggesting a united change in their flight path. The NBA certainly wasn’t around 127 years ago but the FA managed to make a constructive change. Mr. Silver is considering joining football with jersey promotions in the near future and this seems like a natural precursor.

Let's be honest. Even if it fails, no one remembers the Newark departure lounge, only the holiday highlight on the highline. The last one hour stuck in tunnel traffic is soon replaced by the lasting One World Observatory view. So take a gamble Adam. Worst case scenario, we’ll only recall LeBron v Steph Pt III in the summer of 2017. Promotion of anything other than that is a real relegation.