The most exciting and thrilling sporting event every year is the NCAA tournament. Year in and year out the entire country is captivated by the 68-team field fighting to survive and advance through the win or go home tournament. The Madness is not only wildly popular and successful because it brings the best players and teams–along with some intriguing underdogs–from around the nation to play for the NCAA championship, but also because it uses an awesome format. It is time for the NBA to follow suit.
The way to do so is with a Cup competition. The idea comes from Europe, where many leagues–both basketball and soccer–have had teams fighting for years to win the prestigious Cup. The Cup is a single-elimination, win or go home tournament. The intent is not to replace the Larry O’Brien trophy, and in fact, the Cup will have no bearing on the regular season at all. It is simply adding another title–a chance for a struggling team to catch fire and salvage a lost season, for a perennial contender to win a title and quell the disappointment of not winning the NBA Finals, or even for a juggernaut to cement their historical significance by winning both the Cup and championship, completing a rare and illustrious “double.”
Here is how the tournament will work: at the beginning of the season, the league office will randomly draw first-round matchups for 28 teams. The random matchups will be placed in a bracket, and things will play out from there. There are no rankings or seeds, so any team could be placed anywhere in the bracket. For the inaugural tournament, we will give the teams who made the NBA Finals in the previous season a first-round bye. So if we were playing for the Cup this season, the Heat and Spurs would automatically be moving on to the NBA’s Sweet 16. Then, in each progressive year, the two teams that made the Cup Final would be given the bye the following season.
The timing of the NBA Cup will be a little different than that of the NCAA tournament. Instead of the whole tournament being played in one month, in the NBA Cup, only one round will be played each month. The rounds will be spaced around 15-game intervals, with the tournament commencing in early December, the Sweet 16 in mid-January, the Elite 8 in late February, and finally the Final Four over a weekend in the middle of April.
For the opening round of the tournament, the first seven games will be played on a Saturday, and the remaining seven played the next day. For those two days, the regular season will be suspended, so the Cup games will be the main focus of the basketball world.
For the next round, we will target week 17 of the NFL Playoffs. Most NFL teams are resting their starters by that point, and the games mean next to nothing more often than not, which will put all eyes on the road to the Cup. We will use that weekend to play our Sweet 16, with four games on Saturday and the other four on Sunday. Now we have our Elite Eight.
We will schedule the Elite Eight towards the end of February, a couple of weeks after the Super Bowl and just before any college conference tournaments. We will again stagger the games, with two on Saturday and the other two on Sunday. Think TNT would offer up some cash to show any of these games?
We will leave March to the college guys. No one is expecting the NBA Cup to approach the popularity of March, but it is clear that basketball fans–and even casual fans–love the unpredictability that comes with a single-elimination basketball tournament. The NBA will capitalize on that.
Come mid-April, we will have our Final Four play on a Thursday, and then save our grand finale for our very own Super Bowl Sunday, NBA-style.
You might be saying, “The timeline looks great, but where’s the drama? Won’t it just be all playoff teams in the Sweet 16? Won’t the Final Four just be the same teams I’ll see in the conference championship of the regular NBA season?”
I’d be delighted to prove you wrong.