Why Getting Rid Of Divisions In The NBA Is A Good Idea … And Why Getting Rid Of Conferences Isn’t

Basketball, The Rev — By on December 11, 2013 at 11:44 am


As you may have heard, the NBA is considering getting rid of divisions altogether and just designating teams strictly by conference. Some argue that the NBA should even go one step further, abolishing conferences altogether and just taking the top 16 teams for the postseason.

Of course, there have been all kinds of other wild theories as well, such as Bill Simmons’ entertaining idea of a round-robin tournament to determine the final four playoff participants, with the top six teams in each conference automatically securing a spot.

This is all the rage, of course, because of this season’s laughably pathetic Eastern Conference and even more dreadful Atlantic Division. The thinking goes, since there are currently only two teams in the Eastern Conference with winning records vs. the nine teams with winning records out West, something must be done to get the best possible playoffs.

I get it. I really do. And to some extent, I even agree. Everyone wants the best possible playoff format, and let’s be real — no one outside of the fans for the No. 3-8 seeds in the East want to watch ANY of those teams get steamrolled by the Heat and Pacers in the postseason.

But at heart, I am mostly a traditionalist when it comes to sports. I like divisions and conferences and the like, and when people argue that one division or conference is too weak, making it unfair, I like to point out how these things are cyclical. Everything comes back around. For instance, in the early part of the millennium, the NFC East was considered one of, if not the, best conference in the NFL. Now suddenly it’s the NFC Least. Likewise, the NFC West was a laughingstock as recently three years ago, when the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks won the division. Now, the West has perhaps the two best teams in the conference in Seattle and San Francisco, while the Cardinals and Rams are both at least respectable squads.

These things are cyclical. And while the Western Conference has reigned supreme for the past decade or so in the NBA, it was the East that ran roughshod over the West for most of the 1990s.

As NBA.com’s David Aldridge recently pointed out, there are myriad reasons why the East has fallen on hard times — and none of it has to do with the fact that these teams are in the East. Mainly, the East is filled with the dregs of the league because most of these teams have been run into the ground by incompetent GMs who continually shovel out gobs of money to borderline NBA players. You can’t fix team incompetence by realignment or changing the playoff structure. Incompetence is foolproof. Nothing can fix it besides removing it.

So I don’t like the idea of abolishing conferences one bit. For starters, it would be a scheduling nightmare to have every team play each opponent in the league roughly the same amount. Cross-country flights are cool for playoff series and brief road trips here and there, but doing it every few nights would be ludicrous. Believe it or not, logistics matter.

Then there is the matter of the conference rivalries that have been built over time — most of which have little to do with divisions and everything to do with playoff battles. While LeBron may think rivalries are dead in this day and age, truthfully they still exist, and they make the league more fun.

Eventually, the East will catch back up, and the playing field will even out. That may not provide much solace to the solid but bubble teams in the West as they watch inferior East squads play in the late spring, but it happens all the time.

However, I do like the idea of getting rid of divisions, mainly because the divisions in the NBA aren’t nearly as entrenched and steeped in tradition as in other sports. In a schedule of 82 games, playing the “division” opponents a couple more times than the conference opponents is pretty negligible, and it would be much easier to divvy up those division games to even it out throughout the conference. What difference does it make if the Celtics have to play the Magic instead of the 76ers? Yes, Florida is a good ways further, but it’s still just a two-hour flight. Those type of tweaks can work and be implemented rather easily. And it would prevent a team such as the Celtics, currently three games under .500, from getting home-court advantage in the first round. Well, maybe not right now since Boston somehow has the fourth best record in the East at present, but you get what I mean.

Personally, I don’t think divisions matter all that much in basketball — or hockey for that matter. With schedules that are so long but don’t rely on series the way MLB does, the divisions really don’t mean much. Except that currently they do, because the three division winners in each conference automatically get a playoff spot and automatically get home court in the first round. I’d have no problem removing divisions to change that simply as the top eight teams make it in each conference with the seeding based solely on record.

I think it would be good for the NBA, whereas abolishing conferences would not.

Rev. P. Revere

Reverend Paul Revere, aka Joe Boland, is a sports blogger out of Philadelphia whose life revolves around sports 365 and a quarter days per year. Keep up with Rev at his own personal blog, The House That Glanville Built and on Twitter.

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  • Garrett says:

    I understand and agree that it is cyclical. However, with that being true, it means that the best 16 teams don’t make it to the playoffs every year. That just doesn’t make sense and weakens the quality of basketball. Wouldn’t the game be much better if the best teams made it to the playoffs?

    I’d guesstimate that over the past 10 years, on average, the top 12 teams make it and 4 who should make it don’t as well as 4 who shouldn’t make it do. How does that make any sense?

    Wouldn’t it make much more sense to have the best 16 teams play every year with no cycles involved or do you like seeing certain mediocre, and sometimes less than mediocre, teams make the playoffs depending on the cycle?

    • It is hilarious that only 3 teams in the East would make the playoffs if there were no conferences. Incredible.

    • Here’s the thing … I think sports have setups where they divide East and West in large part because of media markets. Hypothetically speaking, if the NBA did this, the league could be without the entire East Coast market having a vested interest in any team the playoffs. Same thing with the West, should the West fall.

      That would be disastrous for the league financially, no? So I don’t really think it’s feasible money-wise to do this, though I completely understand your point.

  • Chris says:

    I like this for the NBA. Doesn’t make a difference who’s in what division come playoff time – just who’s better in a 7 game series.

  • Four years ago, when LeBron made his statement about divisions, I played with the schedule format a bit to bring emphasis back to division rivalries.

    I don’t mind going division-less, however.

    The problem with this entire discussion as a whole is that we are prisoners of the moment. This is played out even more thanks to this beautiful, but beastly internet thing. No one – and I mean NO ONE – could have seen the East fall apart as it has this year. Anyone who claims such probably thought there wasn’t a housing bubble not long ago.

  • Esau says:

    Rev made a solid point above when he said the East would lack a presence from a marketing stand point which I’ve never considered before.

    With that said I’m all for getting rid of divisions, but to be fair the East has been weaker than the year in and year out for the past several years. This year is by far the worst it’s been, but it’s needed some sort of realignment fix since the early 2000’s now.

    Bad management and play aside, it doesn’t look like it’s a problem that will be solved any time soon, especially if the new solution is to destroy and rebuild (Toronto, Boston, Philly) which means the weaker teams are aiming to be worse for an undetermined amount of time until their franchises come around, if that ever happens. No bueno.

  • silver fox says:

    Esau nailed it. You can do all the tinkering you want, but the problem won’t be truly fixed until the NBA addresses structural problems (construction of the salary cap, too many teams). The league will continue to have problems until one bad move doesn’t handicap a team for half a decade and until the only way to fix your franchise isn’t by completely tearing it down. It’s never good when there is more incentive to lose games than to win them.

  • JAG says:

    I’m glad to see that you finally have let some levelheaded logic and remedial business sense creep into your sports mind. Having divisions is essential for creating rivalries and keeping travel costs down. It can also allow fans to interact more. Milwaukee and Chicago are about 90 miles apart. How great would it be if they got into it?

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