Let Me See If I Can Fit You in My Schedule

Change is supposed to be scary. But it can also be exciting, confusing, welcomed, upsetting, or a relief. In the case of the NBA's new in-season tournament, the overwhelming feeling appears to be trending towards annoyance.

The Association's latest alteration to its regular season has many rolling their eyes. While the league looks at this new venture as a way to create interest in an 82-game slog, some fans see this as a money grab with no grip.

Sports change over time. Whether it's innovations in the course of play, expansion to new locales, or the proficiency of the athletes, the games we watch are quite different than the same ones our parents and grandparents got to see. When it comes to the integrity of a season, though, thoughts of "hallowed" and "sacred" coagulate in our brains. Over the years, no matter the sport or the time of the season, those traditional schedules have morphed, despite our vocal challenges of various sorts.

How many times have we heard about Roger Maris' magical 1961 season? How often did people bring up the extra advantage he had when passing Babe Ruth's single-season home run record? Heck, the HBO movie about it from the 1990s indirectly referenced those extra 8 games. The '61 campaign was the first one where the American League played a 162-game season. Their National counterpart wouldn't catch up until the next year (actually going to 165 before matching the AL in 1963). Even more than a generation later, however, people still held those 8 games over Maris' head regarding the most well-known record in the game.

Then, there's the changes to October baseball. I'm sure everyone remembers the widespread bellyaching that drowned out parts of the summer of 2012. It was bad enough that the Division Series had to be formed in 1995. Now, more squads without a division crown could turn that good fortune into a World Series run.

Switching athletic endeavors, bowl season was the decades-long unicorn that separated high-level college football from everything in the entire industry ... including other levels of the same sport. While high schools, lower-tier colleges, and the professionals were solving their championship quandaries with tournaments, Division I of the NCAA usually had the best representatives spread out from Miami to Pasadena. The Bowl Championship Series started to shift folks out of that mindset (no matter how ill-conceived it became). Now, the contending duo has grown to a quartet through the College Football Playoff. And that four-piece band will grow to a small 12-piece orchestra in less than 18 months.

Even with all of the schedule lengthening and playoff cajoling, this new look for the NBA is fairly unique when it comes to men's team sports in this country. And there will be questions that we can't know the answers to until everything is played out.

Will teams take "Tournament Night" games more seriously than other matchups in November?

How will the experience effect the rest of the schedule?

Could this be an added benefit to some squads in having it so early in the season?

Right now, the event is an enigma. However, this isn't something that has the spotlight to itself. As I type this, Major League Soccer is on the precipice of participation in the first-ever Leagues Cup. Over the next four weeks, all of MLS and all of the Mexican counterpart (Liga MX) will face off in a mid-season tournament (while both leagues halt their ongoing regular seasons). This will go alongside the U.S. Open Cup, the long-running event pitting MLS and lower-tier leagues against each other.

If you want to get a sense of how these types of events may turn out, you can also turn to templates set up in a couple of women's leagues. The National Women's Soccer League started their Challenge Cup tournament as a way to get back to action a few months into the 2020 COVID pandemic. The tournament has morphed through the last three years to its current form, a season-long tourney woven into the fabric of the regular season.

For the NBA to make this new tournament happen, they may have looked in-house. For the third straight year, the WNBA is running its Commissioner's Cup event. During the regular season, specific games were set up as Pool Play tilts for a big-money championship matchup. What could be seen as a decent incentive to help grow the coffers of some of the athletes playing in the league has become a commonplace thread in each successive campaign.

As much as we can't stand changes in our sports habits, none of the examples I've written about have detracted from the integrity, drama, or enjoyment of the respective sports we follow. If any, let's give this new NBA tournament time to function before we pass judgment. And if this turns out to be garbage, then forget every word you just read. On with the griping!

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