FIBA, the sport’s governing body, is once again at loggerheads with the EuroLeague, and is also dragging the NBA into its latest spat. A decision to reorganize how nations qualify for the Basketball World Cup and the Olympics has put FIBA in direct conflict with the scheduling of the two biggest league’s in hoops.
As is often the case, Basketball has looked to soccer to find its inspiration. FIBA wants to have three qualification windows through the season, from which nations would qualify to the biggest competitions. It is something football (the non-American kind) does. FIBA’s reasoning is that instead of holding single qualifying tournaments in one location, it can bring Basketball to countries that may not otherwise experience the best teams.
It’s arguably a noble intention. However, unlikely soccer (which has a system that is also contested by clubs), the Basketball season is busier and more compact. FIBA wants its qualification windows to happen in November, February, and June/July. These months clash with important Basketball schedules.
In November, the EuroLeague and NBA are kicking into full gear, and by February we are on the road to deciding the season champions. Both competitions are heavily scheduled in these months. Additionally, the NBA free agency takes place in June/July. In other words, forget about NBA support for the new qualifier windows.
That means while the best teams may be available to more people, the best players will not. FIBA probably knew the NBA would not bend to its changes, but it is reported the governing body thought the EuroLeague might.
The biggest competition outside of the NBA may have sympathized with FIBA’s attempts to borrow from soccer, after-all, the EuroLeague is based heavily on UEFA’s Champions League. Either way, the 16-team elite European competition (which operates independently from FIBA) instead decided to extend its schedule and basically say no to FIBA’s plans.
EuroLeague is home to the continent’s best players, and some of the busiest ballers in the world. All these players play at an elite level through a hectic European campaign, and must also play a full schedule domestic season. Those players are now faced with a choice of playing for their nation during the qualification windows or playing for their clubs.
The more patriotic amongst us may believe it is an easy decision. However, it is the clubs who pay the players and give them the platform to showcase their talents. We could see a situation where the clubs even attempt to block players from international duties during the windows.
FIBA’s self-created problem also extends to coaches. A national team job is not a full-time position. As such, many tacticians who head up national teams are also heading major clubs and teams.
So, the very elite players of world Basketball will likely be missing from the run to get nations to the World Cup and Olympics. The best level of player we can look for is the EuroCup. Also run by the company behind the EuroLeague, the second-tier competition did open two weeks in November to accommodate FIBA’s window. There is also already a February break in the competition to manage the later window.
There are many talented players in the EuroCup, but they are not the best or elite. FIBA reasoned creating a qualifying system would bring the best players to more countries. It seems the opposite is true and it will keep them away.