The Group Stage Proposal is Exactly What the NBA Needs


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By Ethan Pearce, Sports Editor


The NBA recently announced a plan to return to play for the remainder of the 2019-20 season. While it is a creative idea — incorporating a shortened regular season and the opportunity for a play-in to grab the No. 8 seed — it isn’t the best idea out there. One option recently proposed that had some support within the league was a World-Cup-style group stage tournament, which would create interesting matchups across the league.

The group stage proposal revolves around groups of teams who would play each other twice, and then the teams with the best records in their groups would advance to a traditional playoff structure. This proposal will not happen this season, but with the support it had among fans and some people within the league, it’s possible we could see it return in the future.

The details are fluid and could be subject to change, but from what we understand about the idea, it would place teams into tiers based on their record. Teams would then be placed into groups with one from each tier. In this case, there would be four groups of five teams each because only the top 20 teams would be invited. The group numbers would have to change if this system was adjusted to include all 30 teams, but there are multiple ways that could be accomplished, either increasing the number of groups or the number of teams in each group. 

This format would be interesting for many reasons. The main appeal would be the increased importance of all games played. In a normal postseason format, the first round is usually a pushover for most high seeded teams. The Milwaukee Bucks would be heavily favored over the Orlando Magic in the first round if the playoffs started tomorrow, and the end result would likely be a sweep. Hardcore fans tune in to every playoff game, but what about the casual fans? No one really wants to watch a Game 4 where the Bucks are up 3-0 and won by an average of 15 points each game.

Other series could go the same way, but in the group stage format, every game would carry weight for all teams, and there would be new opponents every night. It would be tougher for the higher seeds, sure, but it gives some lower seeded teams a chance to make some magic happen, and more importantly, it’s a more interesting viewing experience. Imagine seeing the Lakers play against the Rockets one night, the Mavericks the next, and the Heat after that. Rather than a first round sweep, these teams really have to fight for their right to advance — which creates a better experience for the fan.

There are obstacles to this format, the largest one being travel problems. This format would have worked so well during the resumption of this year’s season because all the teams are in one place and there’s no need for travel. If this format was implemented in the future, all teams would likely have to gather in one area such as Las Vegas, Orlando, or elsewhere for this format to work. There could also be a different neutral site for each group where all five teams would be located to play their games.

The NBA has wanted to introduce a mid-season tournament into their schedule, and this solution could be a perfect fit. A big block to the mid-season tournament has been the question — “How does the NBA make this interesting and unique for the fans?” The group stage format would be a perfect way to pique fans’ interest. Another option would be using the Elam ending, or potentially incorporating both.

This format would be a great way to drum up fan interest and keep a competitive environment without reinventing the wheel. The NBA should definitely consider incorporating the group stage tournament in the future.


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