LOS ANGELES -- NBA commissioner David Stern said Tuesday he would "certainly look at" making a shortened regular season beginning Christmas Day a permanent fixture, while acknowledging the financial limitations of the idea.
"We're going to certainly look at it and raise the issue with the owners," Stern said in an interview on "Rome" on CBS Sports Network. "The reason you don't make it a shorter year is because of the infrastructure that's been built. You have all of the buildings that have been selling an 82-game schedule. You have these local TV deals. You have these network TV deals. So, we'd have to negotiate with our players to take 20 percent less every year on the salaries that they're getting. That is a problem."
Um, ya think?
In an interview with host Jim Rome, Stern was following up on an assertion made by veteran NBA writer Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated, who wrote that the abbreviated, 66-game schedule resulting from the lockout had more drama, resulted in higher TV ratings and presented a better product because it "left out the parts that people skip."
Two serious impediments exist. First, whether or not the league will ever be able to prove whether the compressed schedule -- with, on average, two more games per team per month -- was a contributing factor to the rash of playoff injuries, player safety has to be a paramount consideration. It's unclear whether serious knee injuries to Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis were directly related to the schedule, but there isn't a player, coach or support staff member who would willingly sign up to do that again.
Second, as Stern said, player salaries and arena leases are based on 82-game schedules. Whatever you think of a shorter schedule, it would be necessary to renegotiate on both fronts. And the last thing the NBA needs after that miserable, 149-day lockout is more negotiation. It's impractical, too.
I can see why the owners might like the idea, though. While the league's prorated national broadcast contracts for this season weren't finalized until March, it was always easy to understand why the league had circled Christmas Day on the calendar during the bargaining talks. ABC didn't have a regular-season telecast scheduled until Christmas, so if the league opened for business that day, it would receive its full boat of TV revenue from ABC. League officials have declined to divulge the arrangements made with ESPN and Turner for the rest of the truncated schedule, but suffice it to say that by starting on Christmas, the league was able to reap the lion's share of TV revenues for the post-lockout season. Starting on Christmas was so valuable, in fact, that if the labor deal hadn't been reached in time to do so, it is almost certain that the entire season would have been canceled.
At the same time, players received only 66/82nds of their salaries for this season. So as far as the owners are concerned, this is the way every season should go: 149-day lockout, start the season on Christmas Day, get most of the TV revenues and cut player salaries by 20 percent. What a deal.
Basically, it isn't going to happen. But I'll say this: Nobody missed the 16 games per team that were shaved off the schedule, and if there were a way to make sure everybody could be made whole financially as a result -- and that the shorter schedule could be accomplished with normal rest for players -- I can't think of a reason not to do it. But as usual, dollar signs are reason enough.
Also on "Rome," Stern moved his position slightly on the possible correlation between injuries and the compressed schedule, saying "some part of it may be related to that." Previously, Stern had dismissed the relationship between the schedule and injuries. Either way, Stern reiterated that the league will study all available data on injuries and the schedule.
"We're going to try to see whether we can learn something from this compressed season in the way that teams approach it," he said.
Also, Stern said he doesn't agree with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban's assertion that NBA players should not play in the Olympics, but allowed that he's "actually getting closer to Mark's position." Stern again floated the idea of having a 23-year-old age limit for the Olympic roster, following the model that FIFA uses for Olympic soccer.
"I think as our players get older, it would be good to relieve them of the duty each year," Stern said.