An Offseason Can Be Too Short
We are now past the halfway point of the Verizon IndyCar Series offseason. This coming weekend marks the fourteenth consecutive weekend that we have gone without an IndyCar race. We still have another thirteen raceless weekends to go, but at least we’re whittling them down. Twenty-seven weekends is a long time between races, but IndyCar CEO Mark Miles is addressing that issue by starting next season earlier and ending it later so there’s no use in beating that dead horse.
By comparison, I think we can all agree that the NASCAR offseason is way too short (or their season is way too long). The just completed NASCAR season ended just four days before the turkey was carved last week. The potential for having Christmas decorations at a race track just doesn’t seem right. The next NASCAR season starts back just eleven weekends from now. Actually, it’s only ten if you count Daytona qualifying and whatever the latest version of the Bud Shootout is called.
One offseason is too long, the other is too short. There has to be a happy medium. I’ve always thought that the NBA and the NHL seasons were way too long. October to June doesn’t allow fans much of an offseason to catch their breath before starting the grind all over again. Baseball runs from April to October (or the first couple of days in November, as it is now). Seven months allows a five month offseason that is probably mandated by the seasons more than anything else.
The IndyCar offseason this year is six and a half months between events. That’s long, but how does that compare with the NFL offseason? The 2015 Super Bowl took place on February 1st. The new season did not kick off until September 10th. That’s almost seven and a half months. All sports, including IndyCar, have some sort of pre-season that precedes the opener. I have not counted any pre-season in these comparisons.
Don’t overlook the importance of fans catching their breath. I think that’s one reason why we saw such a rise and fall in the popularity of NASCAR over the past fifteen years. Whether it was coincidence or not, there was a rapid rise in the popularity of NASCAR immediately following the death of Dale Earnhardt. For a few seasons, Yuppies who had never watched racing before were talking NASCAR and trying to immerse themselves in the sport. After a few seasons of that, I think that many of them felt burned out after a string of such short offseasons. They ended up leaving the sport as quickly as they found it.
I don’t follow the NBA at all. I never paid attention to the NHL until Nashville got a team almost twenty years ago. But I think their seasons are both way too long. The Nashville Predators have never gotten past the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, so I might feel differently if that happened. But playing a winter sport on ice in June in the south just seems a little far-fetched to me.
Baseball seems long because they play almost every day. Fan burnout is practically unavoidable when you play 162 games in a season. I tend to pay close attention in April because I’m glad to have baseball back. Then when the month of May cranks up, baseball doesn’t even make it onto my back burner. I mentally put it on the shelf and don’t really start paying attention again until long after the All-Star break. Then I pay very close attention during the September pennant races and the October playoffs. If I tried to follow baseball for the entire season I would go nuts. That’s why I pace myself like I do.
As usual, the NFL has it about right. The regular season is sixteen games four months, then a month of playoffs culminating with the Super Bowl. By the time the season rolls around seven months later, fans are foaming at the mouth to get things going. That was about the only advantage to the long IndyCar season. We IndyCar fans cannot wait for the green flag to fall in St. Petersburg in mid-March.
Like the NFL, there are sixteen events. Unlike the NFL, there are several “bye” weeks – especially near the end of the season. There is also no intense month of playoffs in the final month. But that’s fine. I much prefer the way that IndyCar ends their season, compared to the contrived and convoluted “chase” of NASCAR.
If NASCAR began their season at Martinsville instead of Daytona, do you think there would be mass hysteria surrounding the beginning of their season? I doubt it. It’s odd that any sport would put their biggest event at the beginning of their season. It’s a great kickoff in a circus-like atmosphere, but most purists don’t consider restrictor-plate racing to be a true measure of greatness. I mean, Derrike Cope won the Daytona 500 and Michael Waltrip won it twice.
So, at the risk of sounding like a shill for IndyCar – I think Mark Miles is now on the right track with the schedule. He’s not there yet, but he’s listened to the fans enough to abandon his idea of wrapping up by Labor Day. He has also tried to find venues to host a race as early as February. He just hasn’t found one, not yet anyway. While I’ve dumped on Mark Miles a lot, I’ll give him credit for coming off of that idea.
Nineteen races from mid-March to mid-October sounds about right to me. That gives us a longer season and three more races to talk about in the season. It also gives us five months to catch our breath, decompress and focus on other things in our world. Just remember; NASCAR has proven to us that there is such a thing as too short of an offseason.