European Basketball has had a challenging couple of weeks to say the least with the coronavirus ravaging teams across the continent. Top stars such as Nikola Mirotic from Barcelona, two-time NBA Champions Norris Cole from ASVEL along with players on Zenit, Khimki and many other teams have fallen ill and have gone into quarantine which has resulted in cancelled games, postponements and even 20-0 defeats.
Is this the way basketball in Europe during a pandemic was supposed to look like?
The Euroleague began its season a couple of weeks ago with the desire to complete the full 34 game schedule which runs parallel to domestic leagues in many countries including Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Lithuania, Russia and of course Israel. This will require 17 road trips for each team before the playoffs resulting in a ton of travel across Europe which has been the format used over the past few campaigns.
The second best league in the world decided that they would run business as usual and go against the pandemic head-to-head. A noble decision, but one that has already resulted in chaos with players and teams dropping like flies.
Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos stated in his pregame press conference ahead of the club’s game against Bayern Munich that he felt the Euroleague management and the teams that agreed to the plan in place made the correct decision to attempt to play the full slate of games. This is a unique season the Yellow & Blue bench boss stated. That is true, very true, however, what we have seen so far is a league that is trying to grasp at straws as they attempt to out out one fire after another.
The reason Zenit contracted the virus wasn’t from their Euroleague games Sfairopoulos said but from the team’s domestic VTB League game and that proper testing isn’t in place in many of the leagues including the Balkan League that Maccabi didn’t join while the 12 other Israeli teams did. The Euroleague has proper standards set and if the are followed, there shouldn’t be any issues.
Unfortunately, when you have some many variables and factors at play it’s almost impossible to control every single one of them, unless you are in a bubble similar to what the NBA constructed in Orlando to finish out the 2019/20 campaign.
Is a bubble possible? Dragan Bender one of Maccabi’s new signings doesn’t think so as there are so many countries and different rules and regulations in place for each one it would be almost impossible to pull off.
FIBA’s Basketball Champions League, another European competition is about to get underway next week they have been proactive in making changes to the way they will run the 2020/21 season. Instead of going with their format from the past couple of years which was having teams playing a 14 game regular season in groups of 8 teams, they changed it up created groups of 4 teams and moved to only a 6 game regular season spread out over a number of months with at least 2 weeks between every continental game, giving the teams the flexibility to postpone or move games around if need be due to coronavirus infections.
Will this work? We will only know once the games get underway but credit does have to be given to the BCL for being proactive and understanding that you can’t beat the virus until there is a vaccine but you ave to adapt to it. Time will tell if their method will work, but with fewer games and less travel involved along with a season that is much more spread out there is certainly more of a chance that the campaign will begin and end respectably.
The NBA understood this, the NHL understood this, however, the NFL did not and just this weekend made wholesale changes to their schedule over the next couple of months due to team facilities having been closed down and infections on some teams increasing. What will the NFL do next week? Will they have to make another dozen schedule changes? It will be never ending. You need to adapt and not try to battle the virus head to head, that way at least there will be a chance to win. Otherwise you will be trying to put a round peg into a square hole. It will never work.
The Euroleague is trying to do the same thing the NFL is, but what are they getting out of it? A battle that will end up being the survival of the fittest and a watered down product. Is that what the league and the teams really want?
As the weeks will go by and more and more teams continue to play domestic league games as well as European games there will be more and more issues, cancellations, cases and postponements. Is this what the Euroleague really had in mind?
CSKA coach Dimitris Itoudis came out ahead of his team’s game at Fenerbahce in Turkey and said that the tournament is losing its competitive side, a sense of fairness and activeness. Those are very stiff words from the defending Euroleague champions.
The Euroleague has said they have a Plan B, but no one seems to know what that exactly is. It could be a bubble of some sort, but what will that do to the domestic leagues around the continent?
As we are in the midst of a double week with each team scheduled to play two games, there have already been three games which will not take place plus another seven games that will have the coronavirus hanging over their heads due to personnel not being able to play. That is 10 out of 18 games for the week which is more than half of the contests not being played at full strength. The optics aren’t good and they are getting worse.
What everyone in the sports needs to remember is this; You can’t beat the virus, it will always win. If you want to have a chance, you must adapt. As Itoudis said, the Euroleague must adapt very soon or else the season will lose its meaning, its sense of fairness and its competitiveness.