CSKA Moscow v Olympiacos Piraeus - Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four Semi Final

It’s the broadest of questions but one that relates to so much that we see on and off the court. Just what should Euroleague be? With the Final Four tipping off tonight, Emmet Ryan gives his thoughts.

Is it the Champions League of basketball or the NBA of Europe? For most of its modern existence, Euroleague has tried to straddle both ideals with something that left supporters of both ideals unsatisfied.

Prior to last year’s switch to the Top 16 format, Euroleague’s competition had more in common with its football cousin. The expansion to 8 team groups however has had clear conequences and speaks volumes about where the top brass want the competition to go. By installing a round with more games per team than the regular season, the opening part of the competition seems in need of a new name. As a spectacle, the amended Top 16 is a clear improvement with more games between the better teams.

The problem is that you can’t be a little bit pregnant.

The fans now have a taste for more top level games before the knockout stages, building on this makes sense in theory but in practice it would require a massive overhaul of the game as a whole in Europe.

Were Euroleague to become the de facto league for its participants, national leagues would certainly lose out. Aside from the political power struggles that would ensue, there’s a question of what relationship Euroleague clubs would have to their domestic competitions. One would imagine the situation with Adriatic League clubs could be mirrored, with Euroleague clubs rejoining their national competitions come the playoffs. Even if sign off could be achieved, and this writer thinks it could for the most part, what message does that send to the other clubs and their supporters? What would the financial ramifications be if five of your biggest crowd pulling games of the season, as would be the case in Spain, were suddenly off the calendar?

Naturally Euroleague will act in its interests above those of domestic competitions but then there is the small matter of licensing. Several teams can be written down as in Euroleague without question every season but year upon year there is usually one team in the quarter final playoffs that is far from certain of making the big show the following season. This year it’s Galatasaray, previously it has been Unics Kazan, and there’s a reasonable chance someone else will fit the bill a year from now.

If Jordi Bertomeu and the boys want to be THE basketball league in Europe, the potential for such questions needs to be resolved. On a commerical level this would effectively mean shutting off qualification with rigid structure along the lines of the NBA in place.

Financially, it would make a lot of sense for the clubs that made the cut. More games with geograpically logical rivals would cut down on travel costs, while the bulk of matches would be against opponents of a higher calibre raising the overall level of competition. Basically it would make for a great product so long as your team makes the cut.

The increased interest from Europe’s richer football clubs in Euroleague, such as the FC Bayern project and PSG’s plans to rule every sport with a ball in it in spite of French tax laws, certainly makes that attractive. It’s also no secret that the powers that be would like a team in London. A NBA format would theoretically make this easier.

Annnnd then we come to a reality check. Basketball isn’t big in Britain, the NBA is and that’s a really important distinction. It’s certainly a popular participation sport but the sheer lack of quality in the BBL compared to its European counterparts coupled with the dearth of knowledge, never mind interest, in last year’s Final Four in London bodes ill. Stick two horrible NBA franchises in the O2 and it’s a sell out. Set up a team in Europe’s top flight and the reaction is what???

Stability is a big matter here. PSG have an interest for now but their money is relatively new, one has to wonder if the owners are in for the long haul or just some medium term gratification. Money also doesn’t mean support, I need only point to the size of CSKA’s arena and the number of fans they have here in Milan. Compare that to Partizan, almost certain not to be in Euroleague next year who have no shortage of fans but financially aren’t in the same galaxy as the Moscow giants.

Closing the door also means that getting teams with the resources to step up and join the league whenever a member goes into the financial pit of despair, and for a while that’s not a maybe that’s a certainty, becomes harder.

Yet for all of those massive concerns and the impact on millions of supporters across the continent, it’s hard not to see the idea of a formalised NBA style approach being the best. The will they won’t they model of the moment where the door is barely open is too much of a financial risk for many clubs. It also makes it harder for teams on the fringes to sign the players they need early, which would make the world of difference in terms of their ability to compete.

Right now Euroleague is trying to be a little bit pregnant and the product, as it stands, can thrive for a few more years in this format but it has to be seen as transitional. Even the Final Four itself acts as a question over what the league should be.

Nothing can replace what this weekend brings in terms of attracting a casual audience but most of those fans won’t tune in again while the competition remains as it stands. The format is easily the most exciting way to finish the season and conversely the least meritocratic.

There is no going back to a Champions League model. A NBA model will cause untold pain and headaches that won’t go away fast. Right now, we have a hybrid but it is one which simply cannot last. The question remains. What do we want Euroleague to be? I’ll welcome your thoughts in the comments.