It has long been assumed that the 2020-21 NBA season would actually start in 2021, but ESPN reports that the NBA is pursuing a pre-Christmas start, a 72-game regular season, and a play-in tournament.

The NBA board of governors met Friday to discuss scenarios for next season. The National Basketball Players Association would have to approve any changes.

The NBA’s starting on or before Dec. 25 would no doubt please the NBA’s television partners.

During the pandemic, when COVID-19 knocked out any chance of having paying fans in the stands, the NBA and other sports leagues lessened the coronavirus’ blow with the money they received from the television networks.

The NBA receives $2.6 billion annually from network partners ABC/ESPN and TNT, not including revenue from local television. (NBC Sports Philadelphia in the 76ers' case.)

When the pandemic started and people were stuck inside, there was optimism that television ratings would be high for sports, even those played in the summer. But that wasn’t the case in most instances, and the NBA was no exception.

According to Sportsmediawatch.com, the 2020 NBA Playoffs averaged 3.04 million viewers across ESPN, ABC, TNT, and NBA TV (83 telecasts). That was down 37% from last year, when the postseason was played April through June and averaged 4.83 million viewers.

The ratings for the NBA Finals on ABC took an even more drastic dip. This year’s ratings for the six games between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat averaged 7.48 million viewers, a 49% decrease from last year’s series between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors.

Adding to that, Christmas Day drew strong ratings this past season, averaging 5.83 million viewers on ABC and ESPN, where five games were telecast, including the 76ers' 121-109 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Another date that had been kicked around to start the season, according to both published reports and sources, was Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 18. There were original ideas suggested that the NBA would not start the season until March in hopes that COVID-19 would ebb and allow more fans to come in the arenas.

There is no guarantee that some of the state restrictions will be lifted to allow fans, even in several months, and that reality is likely being realized by NBA owners. Philadelphia’s current standards allow a maximum of 250 people for indoor gatherings at larger venues.

Multiple sources have suggested that playing the regular season in a bubble is not a popular idea.

No matter what is decided, beginning the season on or before Dec. 25 will have its challenges. An NBA source said “there is a lot that has to be worked out.”

Just last month, commissioner Adam Silver told CNN that the NBA wants to play a standard season, which would include an 82-game regular season and full postseason. The goal is to play games in the teams' arenas in front of fans.

Of course in these COVID-19 times, changes in plans occur frequently, and apparently that is the case now.

As ESPN pointed out, Oct. 30, shapes up as a key date because that is the date the NBA and NBPA agreed would be the deadline to complete discussions on modifications to the collective bargaining agreement for the 2020-21 season. Silver, according to ESPN, has told the union there would be at least eight weeks between an agreement and the start of the season.

Right now the NBA has the draft scheduled for Nov. 18, but the date for the start of free agency has yet to be determined.

The NBA and NBAPA are negotiating financial allowances on 2020-21 salary-cap and luxury-tax thresholds to account for losses in revenue, according to ESPN. This past season, the salary cap was $109.1 million and the luxury-tax threshold was $132.6 million.

One other factor the NBA has to consider in starting the 2020-21 season is returning to a regular routine for the 2021-22 season, or at least close to it.

Sixers center Joel Embiid shoots over Brooklyn Nets center Jarrett Allen.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Sixers center Joel Embiid shoots over Brooklyn Nets center Jarrett Allen.

The Sixers, for example, started their 2019-2020 season on Oct. 23, and it was halted by the pandemic after they defeated visiting Detroit, 124-106, on March 11. The regular season was originally scheduled to end on April 15.

The Sixers and 21 other teams resumed play in the NBA’s bubble in Kissimmee, Fla. Each team had three scrimmages and then played eight regular-season games. The Sixers' first game was Aug. 1, and their season ended with a 110-106 loss and sweep to the Boston Celtics on Aug. 23 in the first-round playoff series.