Sinai Says: Another bizarre decision by BSL in changing playoff format again

The players, the coaches and the fans all know it’s a mistake.

April 1, 2015 01:40
Maccabi Tel Aviv

Despite winning five of seven BSL titles during seasons decided by a Final Four, Maccabi Tel Aviv opposed a return to the format, which was approved by the league’s board earlier this week.. (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)


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The vast majority of players want the BSL championship to be decided by a series.

The vast majority of coaches want the BSL championship to be decided by a series. The vast majority of fans want the BSL championship to be decided by a series, whether best-ofthree, best-of-five or best-of-seven.

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Hence the obvious backwards decision taken by the BSL’s club owners on Sunday to return to the exact opposite – a single-elimination, Final Four format – to determine the league champion.

I haven’t polled all the players, coaches or fans, but from everyone I have spoken to through the years, there is little doubt of the wide consensus on the issue. That is, among everyone but the club owners.

The decision was passed by a majority of 9-6 in Sunday’s meeting, with BSL chairman Shmuel Frenkel and representatives of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Jerusalem, Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Ashdod voting against the change, while Hapoel Tel Aviv, Ironi Ness Ziona, Ironi Nahariya, Hapoel Gilboa/Galil, Bnei Herzliya, Maccabi Rishon Lezion and Hapoel Eilat voted for it.

The two Israel Basketball Association representatives on the BSL board canceled each other out.

According to the decision, the Final Four format will return from next season for a period of at least three years. Should Israel receive a second Euroleague berth, the matter will be reexamined as that would change the importance of winning the championship according to the BSL’s official statement.

At the moment, Maccabi Tel Aviv is Israel’s lone representative in the Euroleague regardless of the outcome of the BSL season.

The host of the Final Four will be the team which ended the regular season in first place or the highest placed side to reach the season- ending tournament. However, only arenas with a capacity of more than 10,000 seats will be able to host the event, meaning it can only take place at Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Yad Eliyahu Arena or Hapoel Jerusalem’s new arena in the capital, whether or not they qualify.

It is almost as if some of the club owners decided to play a practical joke. This would all be indeed funny had it not been, in fact, the sad reality of Israeli basketball.

The Final Four format was first introduced in the 2005/06 season due to Maccabi Tel Aviv’s total dominance. The yellow-and-blue had won 35 of the previous 36 league titles, including the past 12 with a combined record of 36-2 in the playoff finals. Interest in the league plummeted to a new low, with fans, sponsors and potential owners all keeping their distance.

Maccabi had also just won back-to-back European titles and emergency measures were required. Tel Aviv thrashed Jerusalem by 30 points in the first winner-take-all final, but it only won the title at the buzzer the following season and in 2008 Hapoel Holon claimed its first championship with a dramatic victory over the yellow-and-blue.

Maccabi also dropped the title to Hapoel Gilboa/ Galil in 2010, before claiming it two years in a row, winning the championship in five of seven Final Four seasons in total.

The introduction of the new format was the right decision at the time and proved itself by attracting more interest and income, at least for two nights a year when the Final Four semis and final were played.

However, ahead of the 2012/13 season it became clear that there was no longer any need to decide the title in a way which renders the seven-month regular season almost redundant.

As a first step, the semifinals were once more played over a best-of-five playoff series, just as the quarterfinals (which, incidentally, will remain a best-of-five affair).

The final was still determined by a single game in 2013, with Maccabi Haifa beating Maccabi Tel Aviv. It seemed that the BSL moved another step closer to normality when it decided that last season’s final will be played over a two-game, home-and-away format to be determined by aggregate score.

Tel Aviv beat Haifa under much confusion, with Haifa star Donta Smith admitting he thought his team didn’t require a basket in its final possession and therefore he attempted a shot he wouldn’t have had he fully understood the format.

The home-and-away aggregate-score setup – widely derided as ridiculous – was retained for this season, but it looked to be only a matter of time until the final would be played in a playoff format once more.

With Haifa’s new Romema Arena opening in 2012 and Jerusalem, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Hapoel Holon all entering new arenas over the past year, the time is right to yet again decide the championship in a much more sporting manner widely used around the world.

However, Sunday’s decision ended any hope of that, with the so-called smaller teams choosing to ignore the pleas of the players, coaches and fans and opt for a format they seem to believe helps serve their interests.

“This is an important day for Israeli basketball,” said Gilboa owner Haim Ohayon after exiting the meeting. “We took the fans’ opinion into account, but there is still a very big gap in budget between the big teams and the rest of the league and we needed to find a solution for that. The decision came down to how can we make more money?” “We don’t have enough money to compete against the big teams in a series,” added Holon’s Micky Dorsman. “This decision gives hope to the kids at my club. Sports are about hope. The Final Four gives four teams an opportunity to reach the final, while in a series you would struggle to compete with the stronger team from Game 3.”

“We have nothing against Maccabi Tel Aviv or Hapoel Jerusalem, but other owners who also invest money want to also be part of finals,” noted Herzliya’s Eldad Akunis.

Maccabi Tel Aviv chairman Shimon Mizrahi lamented the change, with yellow-and-blue coach Guy Goodes expressing the opinion of many of his colleagues by speaking out against the Final Four following his team’s win over Holon on Monday.

“I think this is the wrong decision and I said so also when I was coaching other teams and not Maccabi,” he said. “I think Israeli basketball has progressed in recent years and the championship needs to be decided by a series. This is very strange to me. I guess it is beyond my comprehension. I really hope it helps Israeli basketball but I don’t think it will.”

Israeli hoops does indeed have many problems, but instead of searching for a real solution to the lack of home-grown talent, the struggle many teams have to attract fans and the disinterest corporate sponsors show in the league, club owners have elected to try and mask it all with a return to the Final Four format.

The players, the coaches and the fans all know it’s a mistake.

It’s such a shame none of them are the ones making the decisions.

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