What is a trade deadline?

Dear Sports Fan,

I’ve seen a lot of articles over the last day or two about the NBA trade deadline. What is a trade deadline? Why do sports leagues have them?


Dear Anne,

It’s hard to define what a trade deadline is without using the words trade or deadline! The trade deadline is a particular date and time after which teams in a professional sports league cannot agree to exchange players or draft picks with other teams. It’s exact date varies by league and by year but each sport has a standard for when it falls in their calendar — half-way through, three-quarters of the way through, etc. It’s an exciting time for sports fans, because, like the day of the draft, it’s a time when fans of every team in the league can be feel hope.

The NBA trade deadline in 2015 is on February 19 at 3 p.m. ET. By this date, most teams will have played between 52 and 55 of their 82 game seasons. They are around two-thirds of the way through the season. The NHL trade deadline this year is on March 2, also at 3 p.m. ET. By then, teams will have played 63 to 67 of their 82 game season. That’s a little farther along — more like 77-82% of the way through the season. On the other end of the spectrum is the NFL, which places its trade deadline right after week eight of 17 or 47% of the way through. What’s the impact of this choice? Well, teams usually decide to be more of a “buyer” meaning they are willing to sacrifice future prospects for players that would be of use this season, or “sellers” meaning they are willing to trade the present for the future, based on how well they’re doing each year. The later a trade deadline falls within a league calendar, the more sure teams will be of their chances to win a championship this season and therefore which role they should play in trades. A later trade deadline creates more and more impactful trades.

Aside from tradition, it’s not entirely clear why teams are not allowed to trade players year-round. I think there is a sense that should be cohesive units before the playoffs begin. During the playoffs, the intensity of emotion and physicality of sports increases. Team allegiance starts to feel more like a matter of identity than choice. Having unfamiliar players on your team at the start of the playoffs or even seeing players move from team to team during the playoffs would break the spell. There’s also the question of competitive balance. Teams might be willing to sacrifice a lot of their future assets on the last day of the season if they were in a position to acquire a player they think could help them make the playoffs or qualify for the next round. Sports leagues understandably may want to protect rash team owners from hurting themselves and their fans for the next five or ten years for a short-term gain.

The day of the trade deadline and the day or two before it are among the most exciting days in sports. If the team a fan roots for is terrible, by halfway to four fifths of the way through the season, its fans are probably a little sick of watching it play. At trade deadline time, the team can interest them again by making moves to get better next season. For fans of teams that seem like they have a chance to win a championship, it’s even more exciting to speculate and then witness what the team does to make itself better for its playoff run. Every fan likes to think of themselves not only as an athlete on their favorite team, the coach of their favorite team, but also the general manager too! Speculating about trades before the trade deadline is an exercise in imagination. What player from an opposing team would fit best with your favorite team? Who could your team part with without losing their essence?

Trade deadline day is covered obsessively online, primarily on Twitter, and also live on TV. Sports channels are happy to devote time during a week-day to a panel of “experts” who blab and blab all day about the trades as they are reported to the league office and the media. The excitement (I know I sound a little cynical about this, but I do get really excited too) peaks right around the time of the deadline and for a few hours later as information about trades which were executed right before the deadline comes out through the media to fans.

If your colleagues are more distracted on February 19 or March 2 than they normally are, you’ll know why!

Thanks for asking,
Ezra Fischer

Five rules for being a fan of the away team

Dear Sports Fan,

I’m a Boston Celtics fan living in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’ve got tickets to see my team play later this week and I’m super excited about it. But then I started thinking about going to the game and I realized that I don’t really know how to act or what to wear. Can you help?


Dear Kirk,

You are a sports fan. You spend dozens of hours watching your team on television. You read about your team obsessively, you follow players on twitter, you know the names of your team’s beat writers, and you have more than three bits of team paraphernalia in your closet or on your walls. You don’t live in your team’s city anymore (or maybe you never have) but you haven’t let that stop you from rooting for them. Finally, your team comes to town and you splurge for some tickets. You’re excited to see your team play in person. It’s the day of the game and suddenly, you starting thinking… oh man, what am I going to wear? How should I act? Is everything going to be cool? I’m rooting for the away team tonight. How should I act?

It’s an age old conundrum: how should you act as a fan for the away team?

I’m going to a hockey game as a fan of the away team tonight, so this is something I’ve been thinking about today. At first I thought I would write this piece with a certain amount of uncertainty. “I’m not sure what I think,” I thought I should write, “but here are the variables in play.” Actually though, the more I think about it, the more I feel certain that I do know how one should act as an away team. When you are a fan of an away team, you are basically a guest in someone’s house. You should act accordingly. Here are five rules for being a fan of the away team:

  1. By all means, wear your team colors, but do it with restraint. A hat or scarf is great. A jersey is fine. A full team warmup suit accompanied with team pom-poms and face paint? That’s a little too much. Save that for when you are going to a home game.
  2. The same holds for your behavior. Don’t get belligerently drunk and scream. That type of behavior is permissible (some might say ideal) when you are rooting for the home team, but as an away team fan, you should be more demure. Applaud your team. Cheer when they score. But you know what? Stand and applaud when the other team scores too. You’re watching with thousands of people for whom that is a good thing. If you want them to welcome you, show that you appreciate their hospitality.
  3. Don’t try to affect the game. Home teams deserve to have the advantage of being supported by their fans. In most sports, this advantage simply consists of the emotional boost players get from hearing the support of their fans. In a few sports though, fans have more direct ways to try to affect the game — by making it impossible for offenses to communicate in football or by distracting a free throw shooter in basketball. It’s not your right to do this as an away fan. You’re already limiting the impact of home court by taking a loyal supporters’ seat and you don’t have to apologize for that but you don’t get to try to impact the game as if you were at home.
  4. Being an away fan does not make you a legitimate target. Good natured ribbing is fine and can be enjoyable, but you should not put up with intimidation or abuse. If you do find yourself the target of anything from a crude or mean-spirited home fan, be firm but do not escalate. Either ignore them or remind them that you’re simply a visitor who want to watch the game and support her or his team. Ask them how they would like to be treated if they traveled to an away game with their team. If things get bad, don’t be afraid to move away from them or appeal to a stadium worker for support. There are almost always other seats that you can move to.
  5. Be knowledgeable. This goes back to acting like a good guest. It wouldn’t be nice to show up at someone’s house for dinner and not know their children’s names, what they do for work, or why they walk with a limp. That’s what you’re doing if you show up as an away fan and you don’t know the home team’s record, players, coach, history, and traditions. You don’t need to go overboard and memorize everything, but take a quick glance at the standings, a team depth chart or roster, and the team’s wikipedia page before you go. It gives you something to talk about with the people who will be sitting around you.

Sports allegiances always come down to coincidences: where you were born, who your parents were and who they rooted for, or what teams were winning championships when you were around nine years old. The relationships you create with people, even if they are only for a few hours while you watch a sports game, are more important than your devotion to a team. Being a fan of an away team can be a tricky balancing act, but it is worth it. Have fun!

Ezra Fischer