Everybody’s Doin’ It: The Season Creep

More than a century ago, an allegedly "suggestive" dance spread the country, for which a specific song (much like Chubby Checker's "The Twist") was written in 1912, its chorus informing the world that "Everybody's doin' it — the Turkey Trot."

Well everybody — that is to say - our "Big Four" sports leagues — have been doing something else over the past couple of decades: the Season Creep.

First, let's take the NBA: On April 30, 1971, the Milwaukee Bucks completed a four-game sweep of the then-Baltimore Bullets (the present Washington Wizards) in the NBA Finals (on the following day, Lew Alcindor, the Bucks' star center, announced that he had converted to Islam and shall henceforth be known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). In 1982 we were treated to our first dose of June basketball, and six years later the NBA season broke the summer solstice barrier, in that Game 7 of the Finals (won by the Lakers over the Pistons) took place on June 21, 1988, while the solstice occurred four minutes before midnight on the 20th.

The NHL has closely followed the NBA's pattern: the last year of the "Original Six era" concluded on May 2, 1967 (with the Maple Leafs defeating the Canadiens in six games in an all-Canadian NHL championship series). However, the NHL arrived later to the June party than the NBA, not holding any action in that month until 1992.

In baseball, the candle has been lit at both ends: a March start to the regular season and a November end to the World Series. In 2011, in an effort to prevent the World Series from ever being dragged into November, Major League Baseball began its regular season in March; but after four years' worth of a plethora of games getting postponed due to cold weather or even snow, baseball finally steered its ship away from that Scylla and into the Charybdis of the November World Series in 2015.

But the NFL's contribution to this trend has been particularly shameless: In 2001, as the result of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the owners pushed the date of Super Bowl XXXVI back one week, from January 27 to February 3. Seeing that they could "get away with" holding the Super Bowl in February without any complaints from anyone, every Super Bowl played since then, except for the following year's Super Bowl, has been held in February — and now the owners' holy grail is to play the game two weeks later still, so that it falls during the Presidents' Day weekend, so that the owners can add two more games to the regular season.

Yet the chief culprit for all this is not what one would think — namely, an increase in the number of teams qualifying for the postseason. Instead, it is the excessive travel time during the postseason, done to appease the networks (along with the idle week between the NFL's conference championship games and the Super Bowl, an idea that has long since outlived any usefulness it ever had). We have seen this at work in the first two games of this year's NBA Finals: Game 1 on Thursday, Game 2 not until Sunday, when both games were played on the same team's home court? As the ESPN skit goes, c'mon, man!

And has anyone stopped to think that if endurance, stamina, physical conditioning etc. were made more of a relative factor — by holding games on back-to-back days when they are at the same home field, court or ice, and only one day of travel when the venue changes — vis-a-vis "talent" — almost always quantified statically by regular-season won-lost records — that there just might be more upsets in the playoffs, making the playoffs more interesting?

Apparently not.

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