professional sport

[Today is the annual Halbergs Award ceremony when excellence in NZ sport is acknowledged. In an Olympic year, things tend to be more straightforward - but overall, the decisions are made in a very subjective manner. I tried to address this in a post a couple of years ago - the Halberg Knot}.

But on this auspicious day in NZ sport, another topic is of interest: professionalism. One of the characteristics of professional sport is the way sportspeople are enabled to be fully devoted to their sport because they are paid to compete. No part-time work. No practices only in the evenings. Fully devoted.

New Zealand is a relative newcomer to professional sport. We are still finding our way. One of my persistent questions has to do with scheduling. For a comparison, I will use North America, rather than Europe, because its size is a little closer to what we have here in Australia and New Zealand.

With the football sports, the scheduling is similar. NFL football, rugby, rugby league, and soccer/football all tend to be about one game every 7 days. But with my two loves - basketball and cricket - there are some dramatic changes.

With basketball...
In the NBL, the Auckland-based franchise (Breakers) play 28 games in 168 days. In the NBA, the Chicago-based franchise (Bulls) play 82 (just change the order of the digits!) in a very similar 169 day regular season. The Breakers play one game every 6 days, while the Bulls play one game every 2.1 days.

That is quite a discrepancy. Travelling across the Tasman can account for only a little of it - as Australian-based franchises - with similar travel distances as in the USA - have the same schedule. Now we don't want an 82 game season (no, we don't) - but we could do with a much shorter season, couldn't we? Maybe the season is extended for marketing/financial reasons? I understand that rationale. But as someone who enjoys basketball, I have to confess that the spacious schedule has me losing interest in the Breakers. A home game once every 12 days is just not frequent enough in my view. And because the sport is going so well, I suspect there will be no changes made. However things could be even better.

With cricket...
While some will dispute it, a strong case can be made for the comparability between a baseball game and a Twenty20 game. In the current series between NZ and England, 3 games are played over 6 days (if you allow a preparation day and a recovery day, which the schedule seems to suggest). That is one game every 2 days - but the sample size ain't great. With baseball the Chicago Cubs will play 162 games in 181 days - just a phenomenal amount, one game every 1.12 days.

Again, even with a small sample size, that is quite a discrepancy. I do not understand why cricket players need two days off between 3hr Twenty20 games. It borders on the preposterous - particularly in a country like NZ which is so small in size and travel is so easy. I can only imagine that it is the Players' Association working hard to keep the players soft. If I was in charge(!), I'd extend the squad a bit (allowing for increased rotation) and fill the schedule a bit (which is great for the coffers, it must be said) by having 5 games in 8 days: Sat-Sun-Wed-Sat-Sun - and then an extra day's break before the ODIs commence.

Now I am not saying that professional sports in the USA is the model. Far from it. There is much to avoid - like the obscene salaries, for starters. But in terms of scheduling and the way in which that sustains fan interest and builds momentum, there is much to learn from the great nation across the waters.

nice chatting



Matt said…
If you can play a test ovrr5 days then you can certainly play a twenty20 every day or every other day. The t20 world cup should be all over in a week!
Paul said…
Twenty20 is chewing gum next to the steak of Test cricket - and so I couldn't agree with you more, Matt.

Off to the ODI at Eden Park today - my first live cricket game in a couple of years.

But the eyes are on the Test series (which I will largely miss...).

But I have a few lines from March scorecards to predict:

D. Flynn b S. Finn 131
(I am a Flynn fan. I hope they include him - and I hope he gets his first Test century)

T. Boult 23/5/73/6
(The Boult-Southee opening pair is exciting - I fear Southee will be underdone ... but Boult has had so many dropped catches off his bowling - he is ready for a defining performance that places him on the world stage as one of the classy emerging swing bowlers)

K. Williamson not out 235*
(He scored NZ's highest ever ODI score against serious opposition in South Africa - now it is time for the double century that is the dress rehearsal for him eventually passing Martin Crowe to score NZ's first triple century)

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