Yesterday we found out that Finland would be playing in the 2014 World Cup of Basketball. Some people were upset because of Angry Birds but plenty thought Finland’s FIBA ranking meant they were undeserving. Emmet Ryan has a problem with these arguments, especially the latter.
We’ve got a pretty intelligent readership. You guys understand concepts like ELO rankings, used for chess, and how they are based on pretty heavy amounts of data. International basketball doesn’t use an ELO system and even if they did, they wouldn’t have the data to back it up. In simple terms, there really aren’t a lot of games played internationally. We live in a what have you done for me lately world not by choice but by necessity. The rankings don’t recognise said need. These rankings place China, losing quarter finalists in AsiaBasket, at 12th in the world. Turkey who, since finishing second at the 2010 World Cup (which they hosted) are 7th despite being utter turkeys in international play in the years since. Great Britain, a team for whom this writer has a heavy bias in their favour, sit 22nd by virtue of automatically qualifying for the 2012 Olympics having never got past the first stage of EuroBasket.
Yet yesterday we saw some good basketball writers lean on Finland’s ranking of 39th in the world as a reason to leave them out, ignoring their superior performances to Turkey in the last two EuroBaskets. Now don’t get me wrong, having a wild card system is a joke in and of itself but we’ll get to that in a second. If you exclude the Finns, you simply have to drop Turkey because they have been objectively worse for the last three years.
Were merit the deciding factor, I’d have sent Italy and Canada to Spain but even there we need to apply a giant caveat. The selections of those two teams is based only on what they did in 2013 on the court. Were there no wild cards, the complexion of the qualifying system would have unquestionably be different. Italy and Canada delivered their performances in full knowledge of the off-court route of qualification.
Now about that off-court route. Let’s assume nobody here likes the idea of basically buying your way into a world championship. Ideally we don’t see that option. That however was the situation and it immediately weighted the playing field on off-court criteria in favour of certain nations. TV rights and audiences make larger nations more appealing to FIBA. What the Finns did was no different in terms of its objective and basketball value to Greece, Turkey, Russia, or anyone else. The only difference was they hustled hard and found a way to make up for their deficiencies in conventional resources. If they couldn’t deliver TV, they could deliver something. The Angry Birds are that something. You may find it a novelty but as the most popular mobile download in the world. it’s a big place to put some ads.
The rankings suck, off-court factors mattering suck, Finland sure as hell don’t suck. They play fun ball and they made what should have been a dull wild card process interesting. Good for the Susijengi.
We’ll have an interview with one of Finland’s bid team up next week, I have to hold it for a piece I’m working on for my day job.