Ratings race destroying Israeli sports' soul

Stop tampering with basketball and soccer leagues.

We all love excitement in sports. The thrill of not knowing what will happen next is what draws so many millions of people to stadiums and television sets all over the world to witness the unfolding of history live before their eyes.
So any attempt to improve the level of tension and excitement value to a professional sporting event would be welcomed, right?
The attraction of watching sporting contests comes with the understanding that they are played within the confines of the rules and traditions of the competitions.
Any attempt to recalibrate these regulations in an effort to instill a greater level of interest among the viewing public is generally met with widespread cynicism and disapproval.
Who can forget the rumors that circulated ahead of the 1994 soccer World Cup finals in the USA that the Americans were planning on making the size of the goals bigger to encourage more goals.
Millions of regular soccer supporters were left in shock while imagining the implications of the US organizing committee, literally, planning to move the goalposts.
But this commitment to tradition and natural sporting values, where the best team wins, fair and square, appears to have been lost on those at the helm of Israel’s top sporting institutions.
The organization of the local basketball and soccer leagues has been so tampered with in recent years that we have been left with the antithesis of such values when determining the champions of the two most significant sports in the country.
The IFA’s unfathomable decision to halve each team’s points total after 30 league games has made a mockery of a competition that has been running since 1932.
And the BSL’s choice of an end-of-season single-game Final Four tournament to replace a playoff series has angered a large section of the local basketball community.
The governing bodies of both soccer and basketball have made a big mistake by agreeing to change things. They have a responsibility to uphold the traditions of the sports they run rather than messing with them in a race for ratings.
Imagine that UEFA decided it just wasn’t exciting enough if one team opened up a lead on its opponent and forced teams to cut the score-lines by half at half-time.
Leo Messi’s first half hat-trick against Arsenal in the Champions League quarterfinal second leg which put Barcelona 3-1 up at half-time would have been reduced to a one-goal lead – not the fairest way to decide which team is best.
It is not surprising therefore that IFA Chairman Avi Luzon’s point-halving plan has not been received well by the local soccer community.
Not only was there was no need for it – Israeli soccer is competitive enough as it is – it was just as wrong as it was confusing.
Hapoel Tel Aviv’s hard-fought 1-0 victory over Maccabi Haifa in the “match of the season” at Kiryat Eliezer on Monday catapulted Eli Gutman’s Reds to the top of the standings on goal difference, putting them in pole position with three games to play.
But should Hapoel end up winning the league come May 15 the history books should put a big asterisks next to the result, as we can never know what would have happened if the league had been run normally.
Even if Haifa totally capitulates over the next three weeks, meaning Tel Aviv would have won the title even if the halving had not been introduced, the new system had an effect on the way all 16 Premier League teams approached the season.
Hapoel Tel Aviv is clearly the best team in Israel right now, as proved in Monday’s win, but if the points hadn’t have been cut in half Haifa would still be three points ahead going into the final run in.
Israel’s basketball league has been going since 1954.
For the first 28 years the winner of the regular season was crowned champion until it was decided in 1982 to introduce an NBA-style end-of-season playoff series.
This method was totally accepted by the local basketball community and continued for 23 years, until BSL Chairman Avner Koppel decided he had had enough of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s dominance and brought in the much-maligned Final Four format.
True, the new tournament has introduced tension and thrills to the final week of the season, and it allowed Hapoel Holon to become only the second team in 39 years to take the title from Maccabi Tel Aviv when it edged Maccabi in the final game in 2008.
But it simply isn’t fair.
All over Europe the top leagues decide their champions through a playoff series as basketball is a game where one team can pip another to the post in the final seconds.
Unfortunately for local basketball fans it seems unlikely that Koppel,or his successor, will be willing to scrap the Final Four anytime soonas it has become a successful marketing ploy.
On a brighternote, however, the IFA’s disastrously received point-halving systemshould hopefully be consigned to the trash can within a year or two,allowing at least one of Israel’s national sports to return to thevalues it holds dear.