To understand how the NBA comes up with the schedule, all 82 games for all 30 teams, The Athletic talked to Evan Wasch, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball strategy and analytics. The conversation, edited only lightly for clarity and brevity, was quite far-reaching. How else to describe a talk that touched on the number of atoms in the universe and whether the NBA had reached a point of diminishing returns on cutting down on back-to-back games for teams? Wasch talked about how the NBA picks the teams that play on Christmas Day and how it chooses which teams to highlight on national TV each season, and whether its schedules show that the NBA knows if Kevin Durant or Donovan Mitchell will be traded.
If you think there’s not much to say about a schedule, think again. Here is that conversation, but first a quick question: would you rather your favorite team plays all of its road games on one 41-game road trip or in 41 one-game road trips?
Where do you start when it comes to putting together an 82-game schedule for 30 teams? When did this all start for you and the team?
So it’s essentially a year-round process. With spikes in work and focus. The first thing we do each year is gather the arena availabilities from all 30 teams for the following season. That actually starts the prior fall; it’s usually around November. We’ll send out the first memo and have teams go in and for the first time input the availabilities in their arenas, and typically at that point most of it’s available. San Antonio has the rodeo, LA has The Grammys, there might be a Disney On Ice tour set, but not a lot of events are confirmed at that point. And then through the fall, winter, spring, teams are just continually updating our portal with changes to their availability. So concert gets scheduled, an event gets scheduled, the NFL schedule comes out and all of a sudden we know dates we need to avoid in certain markets. Like in Philadelphia where they share a parking lot we can’t have an Eagles game at the same time as a Sixers game. So they’re just updating that throughout the year. That’s sort of a passive process that goes on with, again, a couple of key points where we get a flood of information. Like when the NHL schedule comes out and all of a sudden we know which dates will be used by our NHL teams, which ones not. So that goes on and then we really start in earnest on the game scheduling part of it right after Finals. The champion is a big determinant of some of our national television windows — opening night and the ring ceremony. A fairly unwritten, but consistent tradition now of the champion hosting a game on Christmas. So the Finals start that process.
Free agency, trades, and the early July timeframe, obviously, are critical for our national television schedule as well. And so I’d say first, second week of July, we’re for the first time sitting down with our network partners to start to put together a television schedule, which effectively serves as the backbone for the rest of the schedule. So we have something on the order of 170 or so national television games. Once you set those you then start to sort of pencil in road trips — especially the cross-country ones around that. You know Golden State is going to play at Boston on a certain date and by definition they’re going to be on an East Coast trip, so you might look for other things — like are they going to play at New York on television? They can play at Miami on television. Things like that.
We sort of use that TV schedule and those long road trips as the building block. That’s in the early July timeframe. Then we pass it off to folks on my team — data scientists led by Patrick Harrel — and they input those feed games, if you will, into our software, which is a proprietarily-designed optimizer that takes all of the input games, locks those on the board and then builds a 1,230 game schedule around it with all of the constraints that we’ve put in there around what we want to see with travel and back-to-backs and weekend nights and competitive balance and spreading out of matchups and all these various considerations. And it’ll say, Okay, obviously you can’t perfect everything but here’s the best I can do — computer says that — with all the constraints you gave me, it’ll spit out a bunch of schedules. After poring over literally billions. Then our team will sort of review those. See which ones are promising, which ones to toss out. They might send some back to the optimizer and say, “Okay, this one looks pretty good. But here’s a bunch of issues we’re spotting, go try to fix those.” And that’ll sort of get us to that maybe early-August timeframe. Then once we get to a point where we’re pretty comfortable, we let the humans do the last little bit of massaging and fixing to clean up any small issues that remain.
We send the draft to the teams. They have a day or two to comment on their schedule, usually confirming that their arenas are available. If they have comments on the more cosmetic side, like, “Hey, I don’t like this road trip because back-to-back is tough. Can I host the game this night?” It’s not often we can address a lot of those, right? Because at that point moving games around doesn’t just impact that team. There’s a domino effect not just for the opponent for that game, but all the other teams as well, and so we’re fairly limited there. But we’ll try to address as much as we can. And then we release the full schedule.
So when teams gripe about their schedules, or you hear fan bases griping about their team’s schedules, you hear it first in the preliminary process.
We do. Now my favorite part is, with all of the leaks we have, we actually had teams leaking their draft schedules. Which ended up being not the correct schedule because we did make a few changes and so you’ve now got on Twitter — like I saw a full Pelicans schedule that is not in fact the Pelicans schedule that’s here. Hopefully the fans don’t print that out and show up for a game that does not exist. But, yes, we do get a preview of the team issues and obviously we’ve pored over this stuff for weeks, right? If we’re sending a draft schedule to the teams, it means that effectively we are comfortable releasing that schedule; we believe that everything in it is fair. So a team may complain about something, but it’s not going to be the case where a team complains and we’re going to be like, “Oh, yeah, we missed that.” We’re looking at it and so it’s really just a question of trying to issue spot, and sometimes a team surprises us and says look, yes, we understand that this is fair, but we had an instance last year actually of a sort of Midwest team that had a road trip to the East Coast, one home game, and then another road trip to the East Coast. We had looked at that schedule and we knew that was a tough stretch, but we ultimately were like, “Look, there’s just no way that we can move enough of those road games to clear up that stretch.” So we left it.
The team came to us in the draft process and said we understand you probably can’t move that, but we would actually just prefer to stay on the road for two weeks than have to fly all the way home to the Midwest, the sort of South Midwest, if you will, and then fly back to the East Coast. So we ended up altering the schedule because that was something that we wouldn’t have done to that team because it would have, in our view, been an excessively long road trip. They asked for it, said we would prefer that, so we said, “Okay, we’ll look at that.” And it turns out we were able to address that and do that. So that was an example of something we knew was an issue on the schedule and their suggestion actually opened up a path that may not have been obvious to us.
Which, let’s say complaints, did you find to be reasonable ones that you could address and which ones did you have to just go and tell teams basically like, we get you don’t like it but you kind of have to stick with it.
For example, the ones that we sort of just kind of ignore, it’s — the average number of back-to-backs this season will be 13.3. The minimum of any team was 12 and the maximum was 15. There’s a handful of — six, seven teams — with 15 back-to-backs. A couple of those teams in their draft schedules were like, “We don’t want to have the most number of back-to-backs; fix that.” Well, somebody has to have the most number of back-to-backs, why are we gonna go fix yours? Shouldn’t we fix everyones? Then that wouldn’t be the max number anymore. Those are the ones that are a little easier to ignore. It’s sort of less important to fix versus, hey, you guys may not have looked at it this way but we would actually prefer this travel pattern. If we can fix it, great. If we can’t, as I said, we feel that the draft schedule we created is fair enough to start with.
The very first block of games that you figure out and you then work around is the Christmas Day games, right?
Christmas and opening week together, because there’s a lot of interplay there as to which teams and matchups are featured.
How do you decide? Christmas Day is obviously the NBA’s tentpole event for a lot of reasons. How do you decide which teams play on Christmas Day? What are you thinking in terms of the 10 teams you decide on?
It’s a multitude of factors. It’s what arenas are available that day to host games. What matchups have we featured historically? What do our viewership projections say about which teams — obviously sometimes you have prior years to go off of — but if you have an up-and-coming team or if you have a team that has a fundamentally different roster. We have some great data scientists on our media research team that will look at projections for various teams and matchups and scenarios.
We now have the added complexity of navigating the NFL. Not just in that they have three games, but they happen to have games this year featuring teams where we also have teams who happen to be very good. And so we’re trying to avoid, for example, scheduling a Laker game at the same time as the Rams game on Christmas. You’re trying to avoid scheduling a Suns game at the same time as the Cardinals game on Christmas. And things like that. Which are added complexity and so we’ll generate, again, hundreds of potential Christmas Day drafts. The different teams you could feature, the different matchups, the different time slots, and then we’ll just start conversations with ESPN. See what they have in mind. Try to find middle ground and usually we’re pretty aligned with sort of the general structure and we might have some sort of disagreement on small pieces of the schedule, but we navigate those fairly easily.
I’d say we feel incredibly lucky right now that we have a deep roster of teams who are worthy of being featured on Christmas. In years past whereas that may have not been the case like, yes, we only had 10 spots for Christmas this year because there are only five games, but I could easily or anyone can easily make the case that there are 12, 13, 14 teams that deserved to be featured on Christmas. Which, of course, forces us to make some hard choices, but they are good choices to have, good problems to have because it obviously means that we’ve got deep talent throughout our league and a lot of teams that fans want to see.
So that’s really interesting to me. Just looking at the schedule, you have the 76ers, you have the Knicks, the Lakers — it seems like you have some teams that are there every year. The Knicks and the Lakers, no matter what, maybe because the media markets they are in. But you’re saying you basically do analytics and projections of what the possible ratings numbers could be. It seems like a lot goes into this that we don’t know about. How deep is the insight that you’re gleaning to figure out which of these, perhaps, non-annual teams make the schedule every year?
Very deep. Like I said, it’s not just the viewership projections. It’s not just the tradition element. You talked about market size, I sort of throw out market size. I don’t think that’s particularly relevant.
It seems like the Knicks make it every year, regardless of how good they are. What else could be the defining feature there?
Prior to last year, there were two consecutive Christmases where they were not on TV or not on Christmas. So it’s certainly not an every-year thing but they are the team that has played the most number of games on Christmas. Sixers-Knicks is the matchup that has been featured the most times on Christmas in NBA history. So there’s an element of tradition there that I guess wasn’t necessarily tied to their market size as much as the history there. So that’s just an element. It’s one of the many factors that we’re looking at. But to your question about the insight, it’s incredibly deep. And a lot of times you’re sort of relying on these models that are by definition imperfect.
Let’s say in the case of Memphis this year, an up-and-coming team, had a decent number of national television appearances but we don’t have a ton of history to draw on as far as how they looked before. We can look at their playoff viewership, which was incredibly strong, particularly in that Golden State series, of course. So we can sort of extrapolate what their viewership and their basketball performance might look like. We work with now Joe Dumars, Byron Spruell from my side, the league office side, to think about what are these teams actually gonna look like from a basketball perspective. How competitive they’re gonna be. What risks might there be to a certain team? Obviously the elephant in the room — we’ve got teams with potential player movement upcoming and you have to sort of make a decision about what’s likely, where are we most confident that we can generate interest in viewership and storylines around games and where is their risk around a potential trade, signings, player injuries, etc. Which all goes into it as well.
Since you went there, I want to ask you about that. You schedule the Jazz just once on ESPN or TNT. The Nets had their nationally televised games cut in half. Are you trying to tell us something? Or to phrase it better: What’s going on in the NBA League office? If this is an NBA Twitter meme.
We certainly do not know any more than you know or any more than the public knows. But we can read stories just like everyone else and I think it all comes back to putting our best foot forward with a television schedule and trying to mitigate that risk. The last thing we want to do is feature a team heavily on TV throughout the year only to have that team choose to take a different direction and sort of not have a roster construct that’s similar to what they have today. So we can always flex appearances, so in the event that any team outperforms expectations or takes a different direction, we can add TV appearances for that team later in that season, but the thought this year was to take that more middle ground approach given all the uncertainties in a lot of these cases.
Ok, so you do factor that into the way you make out the schedule and basically the amount of variance per team and what that could end up looking like.
Yeah, absolutely. Every year is unique. It’s fairly rare for there to be this much uncertainty about high-level star players this late into the summer. But we obviously couldn’t hold the schedule release until everything was resolved and all these players were settled in potentially new places because we don’t know if that’s going to happen. And so we had to move forward to make the best decisions we could with the information available at the time.
A couple of years ago, you guys scheduled the Pelicans a lot and it was a year that they weren’t so good, and then Zion ended up getting hurt for a portion of that. And so it ended up being kind of a small market team without the star player I assume you tried to highlight. And I wonder if you took anything from that year and just kind of what it led to national television schedule-wise in terms of how much risk you want to take on to placing teams that aren’t perhaps traditional TV powerhouses onto a big national TV schedule?
I think when it comes to national television, yes, there are some established brands out there that are less sensitive to their team performance in terms of viewership for their games, but I think this notion that we’re a large and small market league has just gone away. If you look at some of the most successful teams, both on the court and in television viewership over the last decade, you’ve got Oklahoma City, you’ve got Milwaukee, even Golden State. Obviously, San Francisco is a big market, but they weren’t seen as a big team or a big brand until this recent dynasty. So there’s a lot of examples out there of traditionally non-high profile teams jumping into that spotlight based on their on-court performance, based on the personalities of their stars.
We try to lean into that. I think a lot of the tension comes with trying to balance how much and how soon, right? So if you’ve got an up-and-coming star, an up-and-coming team, do you jump right into that and throw that team 20 national TV appearances and see what happens? Or do you sort of build the viewership, build the storyline, build the momentum around that team?
Playoff appearances are really helpful in that case, because playoff audiences are larger than our regular season audience. And so when a young team with young stars makes a playoff run, by definition they’re getting exposed to a more national audience than they would be through any number of regular season national appearances. So that makes it easier. You sort of take what we did with the Mavericks over the last several years, sort of steadily increasing their appearances as Luka has risen in the ranks of NBA players. The Grizzlies, as I mentioned this year, with I believe 18 national appearances, which is a franchise record for them. It’s something that we sort of look to balance as best we can. You mentioned Zion — yes, there’s always the injury risk. And that’s part of it, obviously in cases where there are star players who have a greater history of injury that may impact our decision and slightly decrease the number of appearances they have just from that risk mitigation standpoint. But, obviously, we want to feature the players that our fans want to see.
How do you have ESPN and TNT decide between which games are on each other’s networks?
So it’s a fairly lengthy process, but we have so many games. Typically, we leave for them the highest profile matchups. What we do is sort of what we call a mirror approach. So if it’s an East-West matchup, it’s only going to be played two times and both networks might want it. So take Golden State-Boston for this year. We will ensure that one of those matchups is on TNT and one is on ESPN or ABC. Similar to an intra-conference matchup that they play three or four times. Both networks are keen on that matchup, we’ll make sure that two appear on one network and two on the other. We’re lucky to have multiple matchups of every matchup, which allows us to divide that as fairly and equally as we can.
Do you have teams lobbying you to get on to like Christmas day or more national TV exposure? Does that happen as well, not just the griping but also the asking to be seen more frequently?
Do you take that into consideration at all? Or even when it comes publicly like the Grizzlies last year, several players, I think, just talking about how they weren’t on national TV enough and I think Ja Morant tweeted something about how they’ll be seen nationally. I understand the machine does a lot of this with your proprietary models, but it is people at the end of the day who sign off on it.
We are aware of probably every bit of commentary, whether public or private, coming from our teams. I wouldn’t say that team lobbying is going to change our view, because that would just incentivize all teams to lobby all the time and it would be a bit of a tail-chasing exercise. But we listen to the perspectives of our teams, our players, our network partners, take in all that information and make the best decision we can. I wouldn’t say the lobbying has a direct impact, but we’re certainly happy to hear perspectives from anyone.
This is a hard pivot but there there are no games on Election Day this year because I know the league wants to spotlight civic engagement and promote voting, which are both very laudable efforts. What was the genesis of this idea? And then how do you, from a schedule-making perspective, adjust for basically a day now in November without games, right?
This was, again, something that was probably first discussed almost a year ago. We came out of the 2020 election where many of our arenas were used at polling places. They were able to do that because we weren’t in season by virtue of our late start for our COVID-disrupted 2021 season. So as we started to talk about how teams were going to activate around the 2022 midterms and, in particular, in conversations with our Social Justice Coalition – which was formed out of the social justice movement in 2020 — a coalition of our team governors, league office staff, team staff, players began discussions about what plans will be for this year. The idea was generated that if we really are serious about supporting civic engagement, enabling voter participation, having a full slate of games — and we’ve had anywhere from four to eight games on Election Day in the past — is not entirely consistent with that. From a player participation, fan participation, arena worker participation standpoint, that maybe wasn’t consistent with our messaging. And so the idea came up, what if we were to go dark on election night to allow everyone in the NBA family to make a plan to participate in the election?
Then we went even further and said, Well, if we’re not going to have teams playing on Election Day, then since we’re already trying to avoid back-to-backs, which generally means playing every other day, that’s going to mean we’re gonna have a fairly heavy slate of games on Monday and Wednesday. So what if we further lean into this and have all 30 teams play Monday night as part of a tentpole, a celebration of civic engagement, and so we’re having what we’re deeming a civic engagement night on Monday, Nov. 7, with all 30 teams playing. Where both locally in the 15 markets that are hosting, as well as the 15 that will be on the road, but more so from the league office from the national perspective, we’ll just be looking to amplify our messaging around the importance of civic engagement, voter participation, get out the vote that night before Election Day.
We thought it was just a really nice energy and opportunity across the NBA family. And from a scheduling perspective, it’s actually not that hard, because as I said, we’re sort of already used to this every other day cadence for back-to-back production. If you look at the rest of our schedule, there’s a lot of days where we’re very heavy on sort of an every-other-night basis with light games. For example, we don’t play Thanksgiving. So there’s a lot of games Wednesday and Friday around Thanksgiving. We don’t play NCAA Tournament championship Monday night; there’s a lot of games Sunday and Tuesday, We played a light number of games on Turner Thursdays in the second half of the year, we’ll have the two Turner games and the few backup games, but it’s a much lighter slate than normal. So you’ll see particularly heavy Wednesdays and Fridays. So it’s not that much of a departure for us to have game zero nights and obviously heavily scheduled games on the night before and after.
How many schedules do you end up going through? Either it’s through the model or how many iterations you actually look at and consider.
So I use this stat, which I’ve been told sounds mathematically wrong, but I promise you is correct. When you run the combination of 1,230 games, for 30 teams across 177 days, there are more potential combinations of NBA schedules than there are atoms in the universe. Like it is an astronomically large number beyond anything that anyone could possibly imagine. We don’t evaluate all of them.
I don’t know how you have the time.
The best our computers can do — it’s even hard to tell because of the speed with which it goes through things and it’s sort of going through a search tree. Like if you say, “Okay, well I found this one scheduled through a search tree and it rejected the whole tree.” That whole tree might be like trillions of schedules that have been rejected in a second because the start of the tree wasn’t good. But effectively that scheduling software is evaluating billions of potential schedules. We can’t review all those. We can track like the score — each schedule has a kind of score based on the constraints we put in, and so we will only look at the ones that come back with the best score. So looking at a 1,230 game schedule is also very difficult to do.
So the way we review at the start of the process is really just about key metrics, KPIs. How many average back-to-backs are in the schedule? How many travel miles are in the schedule? How many home weekend nights are in the schedule? What’s the range on those things, are they a tight range or a wide range? How many unacceptable road trips are in this schedule? We have a measure to look at a road trip where like you’re not going to send an East Coast team on a trip that goes L.A. to Houston, Portland, Orlando. So you reject schedules pretty quickly.
I’d say we review hundreds in that part of the process. Then when we get later on you get to the tens of schedules. And then we get like late, late in the process, you’re sort of down to a few candidate schedules. As I said, you sort of pick the one that looks the best on the surface, and that’s when you then dig in and do that manual refinement at the end. It probably goes pretty quickly from like billions to hundreds and then sort of more slowly from hundreds to one.
I’m now wondering how many atoms are in the universe.
‘Atoms in the universe’ is estimated at roughly 10 to the 80th. So one with 80 zeros after it. The number of potential schedules is like 10 to 1200th or some insane number that I can’t even contemplate. I can’t even contemplate the 10 to the 80th, let alone 10 to the 1200th.
I can barely contemplate 10. So you’re already ahead. I have two more questions for you, both based around your efforts to cut down on travel and fatigue for players. I know that this year there are more two-game road trips now essentially, there are more scenarios where teams stay and play consecutive games in LA and New York City. Fewer miles that they’re flying and all that. Have you had to make any more kind of arrangements with the inputs for the schedule making to accommodate all that and to deal with kind of cutting down on travel and fatigue even more?
Yeah, so this is a really interesting one because for years the laser focus has been on back-to-backs. Scrap the back-to-backs. Fewer back-to-backs. Fewer back-to-backs. One, it’s not clear that that is necessarily getting at the thing that we want, which is fewer injuries, healthier players, more rested players, higher performance. The data is out on whether this sort of relentless crusade against back-to-back is necessary to accomplish that. Obviously, it is better to have fewer as opposed to more but we’ve trimmed all the way down from 19 to 13 on average per team. It’s not clear how much additional benefit comes from getting lower than that, nor clear whether we could because you’re playing almost every other day. It sort of becomes a mathematical impossibility to cut a whole lot more back-to-backs.
The flip side of that is teams have told us that one of the things that has been lost as we’ve crusaded against back-to-backs is instances of two and three consecutive days off. Because before if you were going to play on Monday, Tuesday, and then Friday, you’d have two days off between those. Now, we’re like, oh, you can play Monday, Wednesday, Friday, no back-to-backs. They’re like sure, but I lost that two days off and that was actually a good chance for me to have a rest day or to have a non-travel day or to have an actual practice, which is increasingly uncommon in an NBA team.
I was gonna say, do they do that anymore?
Exactly. It’s been an interesting trade-off as we fought against back-to-backs. What we’re learning, especially in a lot of our injury research and talking to teams, the travel is a significant burden in addition to back-to-backs. There really are only three ways to reduce travel because a team is going to play 41 road games, right? The most efficient way to play those 41 road games would be to go on one 41-game trip. Where you just leave home, you go to each city, you play all your games in that city, you move to the next one, you play your 41 road games, and eventually you make it back home. That would be the minimum amount of travel and you could eventually effectively picture it as the great circle route of the U.S. and Canada. That would be the minimum amount of trouble. The most travel you could have is playing 41 single-game road trips. You’re home, you go out and back, out and back. You do that 41 times. Teams are going to have somewhere between one 41-game road trip and 41 one-game road trips.
The only three ways to reduce travel off of a traditional schedule is to try to reduce the instances where a team goes out for one game and comes right back, because that’s the most inefficient. Two is once a team is on the road, keep them out longer; so have more four- and five-game road trips and fewer two- and three-game road trips. And then the third is if you’re going to play multiple games in the same place, do them consecutively. Don’t require two different trips to the same place. So that last one is where we’ve really been able to make the dent and it’s solely through focus on the LA-LA and New York-Brooklyn, consecutive games. We have 33 instances of that on the calendar. So every single Eastern Conference team this year, when they go to LA, will play both LA teams consecutively, so they won’t have to make two separate trips to LA. And similarly, for Western Conference teams coming to New York, some Eastern Conference teams as well.
Then the bigger one is the introduction of this series model, we call it. Which is sort of more like a baseball series, playing two straight games against one team in that team’s market. That was actually a pandemic introduction because flying was both challenging and risky during the pandemic and so our player health experts said, especially without fans in the arena — the reason that we traditionally had not done the series was because there was concern about local ticket sales if you had the same team coming into your market for two consecutive games. That was not a concern in a pandemic season and so we said this is a great opportunity to test out, “Can we play these series?” Can we have Team A play at Team B two straight times? What we learned is, yeah we can, for one.
The flights will work. Two is teams loved the travel element of it, which is no surprise because it saved a flight to those cities. Three is in instances where it had to be a back-to-back series, well, that’s still a back-to-back on your schedule, but now it’s a back-to-back with no travel and a back-to-back with no travel is a hell of a lot better than a back-to-back where you’re getting on a plane and getting to the next city at three in the morning. So that really helps from a sort of player wear-and-tear perspective. The part that was unexpected was we even heard some teams say that strategically the series were helpful because especially as we get closer to playoffs, the idea of playing a team two straight times, having to adjust after the first matchup, helps teams and players get into that playoff mindset where they’re going to be playing the team consecutive times in a series. So teams really liked that element of it.
Last year, we put 23 of them scheduled in an effort to sort of pilot test in a normal season what these would look like because now we were gonna have fans in the building so let’s test out this notion that there may be a local business impact. Albeit a small sample size, we didn’t see any local business impact. It seemed to be consistent with normal games. So we said great, let’s lean on it even further here. So now we have 55 instances of those series on this year’s schedule, as well as 33 of those LA-LA or New York-Brooklyn. So that’s 88 times this year where a team in our league will be playing two consecutive games at the same place.
So that’s two road games where you don’t have to fly. That’s what’s really enabled us to drive down that traveled number, and we’re down to an average of roughly 41,000 miles per team this year, which is an all-time low in our 30-team, 82-game era. On a league-wide basis, that’s actually just around 50,000 miles saved, which I’ve now been saying is twice around the circumference of the earth. So you think about not just the basketball quality effect, not just the player health impact of that, but obviously sustainability impact, too, as well to shave that much travel out of our schedule.
That’s really interesting. But this makes me think now, and this is the other part of my question, you have all these games now that you’re playing in LA and New York, it seems like you’ve kind of reached the limits of how few back-to-backs you can schedule per team, and you’re now adding these two games series to them. How much more is there that can be done to limit travel and fatigue impact on a team? Do you feel like you’re reaching what are kind of the limitations of that and the league’s ability to have an impact on fatigue for a player and a team?
I don’t know. I mean, I might have said three years ago that I felt we had sort of reached the low point, or high point if you will, in terms of the quality of schedules from a back-to-back and player health perspective. The pandemic created this opportunity to do this thing that we previously wouldn’t have done. So that was a new opportunity for us. So I’m just hesitant to say that who’s to know what will come up in the next few years that will create new opportunities? For example, what if we decide one day we’re not gonna play 82 games anymore? That would certainly decrease the load of our schedule and presumably reduce the number of injury exposures, things like that. That will be one big lever that we have available to us.
The footprint of our season; four years ago, five years ago, the new CBA actually expanded the calendar of the regular season by a week. So playing our same 82 games, but we had an additional week to play with, which means you can space out those games. That was one of the levers we use to significantly reduce back-to-backs. So there are always new things that you could look at. It’s just a question of what’s going to be a priority at a given time.
We certainly haven’t squeezed the most out of this series model. Yes, we have 55 on this year’s schedule, which is roughly two per team. Well, there are 12 teams that each team plays two road games at, right? You play your divisional opponents four times and you play eight other teams in your conference twice on the road. There are 12 opponents you’re traveling to for two road games at some point in the year. We’re only at an average of two series. So if this became a successful model, and we said we need to lean in even further here, we got a lot more room to grow in that series model to further reduce the travel. But as you said, there is a theoretical minimum to the number of miles that a team needs to travel to play their 41 road games.
(Top Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)