By Lefteris Moutis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
FIBA announced a few days ago the changes that are going to be implemented in the way tournaments in European basketball are conducted and it certainly brought forth several discussions regarding the direction that the sport is taking and whether, in the end, these changes will have a positive or negative effect.
Eurohoops.net gathered the opinions of several protagonists of the sport (players, coaches, executives) to summarize the positives and negatives of all the parameters of these changes and in the end to try to draw a conclusion about the new road that is being opened in basketball.
The positives of the changes
*FIBA’s new program, which will start being implemented in 2017, includes a summer free of any big tournaments. This means that in 2018 there won’t be any big tournaments. After the continental championships in 2017, the World Cup will be held in 2019, the Olympic Games in 2020 and the continental championships again in 2021, and from that point on all events will follow a four-year cycle. This means that the players who play in the NBA and the Euroleague will be able to have a summer to rest and not overtax their bodies with national team games (even though there will be qualifiers for the upcoming World Cup in June and September).
*After many years, the national teams will once again have the opportunity to play at home. The qualifiers guarantee that the fans will be able to watch their national teams in official games and not just friendlies. This means that the level of connection of fans with their team will increase and they will be closer to them.
*The qualifying games will be many and at different time periods and so the coaches of powerful teams will be able to have an extended rotation when there is no ranking incentive and when the opponent is a weaker side. With this move the number of international players for each country can be increased, young players will get more opportunities and also chances will be provided for players that don’t normally have the opportunity to play on the big stage of European basketball.
*The big stars are not likely to play very often in the qualifiers, but even the presence of recognizable Euroleague players in countries without a big basketball tradition, will surely increase basketball’s impact and popularity. Just as in football it is tempting for a fan in Bulgaria or Hungary to watch his team play Ronaldo’s Portugal, in the same way in basketball the stars can be an attraction for the sport in general.
The negatives of the changes
*The adoption of qualifying games at four different time periods throughout the season (February, June, September and November) makes the participation of players who play in the NBA impossible at almost all times, while it will be hard for the Euroleague players to leave their teams in November and February to play with their national teams.
*The biggest problem, which is connected with the one above, is that the Euroleague will have to make some radical changes to its calendar. The adoption of 10 games in the first round, 14 in the Top16 and knockout games in three wins in the quarterfinals is a successful formula that will have to change (if Euroleague loses its “battle” with FIBA).
*Also, despite the assurances to the contrary by the people of the world federation, the players will be hugely overtaxed if they have to interrupt their season with their teams at least two times in order to get together with their national teams and then return. In reality, the new system burdens instead of relieving the players.
*The image of the teams in the qualifiers will be especially distorted and will not reflect their real capability at any point. There are several small countries that rely almost exclusively on their NBA and Euroleague players without having the luxury of an extended rotation of quality players. This means that countries like, for example, Poland or Germany will lose a huge part of their power if they play without Gortat or Schroder and Pleiss. If then, Germany does not qualify in a big tournament because of the absence of its stars, the NBA players will never really have the chance to play with their national teams.
*Until recently, if a team had a bad summer in a EuroBasket and lost the qualification to the Olympic Games or the World Cup, then they could play for the qualification in the next big tournament (Olympic Games or World Cup) through the next EuroBasket. Now, though, if a team fails to qualify for the 2019 World Cup, this means that they automatically lose the right to play for a spot in the 2020 Olympic Games. In reality, then, instead of expanding the number of teams that will have the chance for a “place in the sun,” the teams that compete in World Cups and Olympic Games will become an exclusive club.
FIBA wanted to copy what FIFA has been doing for many years in football. Some ideas could indeed be adapted to the principles of the sport and help its improvement. They made some right moves, such as expanding the teams that play in the EuroBasket, resulting in the increase in interest and competitiveness. However, there is a huge difference between the two sports.
In football there is no competition comparable to the NBA, which functions with its own rules, has its own inviolable program and its quality is far superior than any other federation. To put that into football terms (as the people of the world federation often like to say), conducting national team games without the NBA and perhaps the Euroleague players, is like having football games without the Champions League or even the Europa League players.
The profound changes in the basketball tournaments will once again confuse the fans and at the same time reduce the interest of advanced countries in games of little consequence. Basketball is not in need of new changes, but of strengthening the product.
Of course, there is not yet a completely clear picture because of the disagreements between the Euroleague and FIBA. When the dispute is over, we will be able to make safer conclusions regarding the system of conducting basketball tournaments.
In a few years these moves might prove wise and FIBA might be characterized as an innovative federation, but until this happens, all indications are that these experimentations are more likely to damage rather than benefit basketball.