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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011
Lack of preseason games a real problem
By ED ODEVEN
It's farcical to suggest that the bj-league actually operates as a professional league most of the time.
There's no stability in the playing and coaching ranks, little evidence of improvement in most aspects of its operations and nearly no public recognition in a nation with about 130 million people. That's a whole lot of potential customers and fans.
The league has shown little aptitude in anything it does. That's the plain and honest truth.
Sure, the 19-team league (not counting the Tokyo Apache, who suspended operations for 2011-12) keeps adding clubs at an alarming rate, but that doesn't conceal its elephant-size mistakes month after month, year after year.
Take the preseason, for example. It's a time of year when teams have a good opportunity to gain new fans, strengthen their booster clubs and create some positive buzz entering a new season.
But in the anything-goes bj-league, instead of requiring all teams to play, say, four exhibition games, against league foes, a reasonable number when you factor in the 52-game regular-season schedule, there appear to be zero guidelines in place, or any that are enforced.
This makes the league office look weak and incompetent, often both at the same time.
Case in point: The two-time defending champion Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix have four preseason games, including the two-game bj-league/KBL championship series against the KCC Egis in late September and early October. The Ryukyu Golden Kings, a model of professionalism, have three, while others won't play any (the Toyama Grouses, Oita HeatDevils and expansion Yokohama B-Corsairs).
The expansion Chiba Jets have two preseason games against league foes on tap, the brand-new Iwate Big Bulls have two and the Shinshu Brave Warriors have one. In a nation with limited media coverage devoted to basketball, exhibition games are absolutely necessary to promote teams in their local regions and on the national level as well.
Think about this: When was the last time you saw a bj-league advertisement in a national newspaper or magazine?
You can't remember, either, can you?
These exhibition games, then, become a vital part of the league's promotional platform, and all teams need to be on the same page and do the same amount of promotional work.
If teams don't have the cash to play exhibition games, they should go away — leave the league, plain and simple.
When you look at the league's wacky preseason schedule, three questions need to be answered:
*Who's approving this nonsense?
*How's this reasonable?
*How's this fair to the fans who want to watch their team play in the preseason, but that team has zero games scheduled?
Any half-wit in public relations wouldn't blurt out "too bad" to the fans, but this, in reality, is what the league is allowing to happen.
Now I realize the preseason is only the preseason, but something as simple as establishing and enforcing standards for the preseason are not being done.
When the preseason schedule looks like a paint-by-numbers project slapped together in 15 minutes, what impression does this leave of the league's day-to-day operations?
Amateurish. That's what the league looks like.
In a league that operates on one-year contracts for players and coaches, each team needs to maximize the time it has in the preseason to build a successful team.
Coaches need time to coach. Players need time to learn a team's system in the right environment and then be evaluated in games. This is simple stuff, folks, but the league fails to connect the dots. Again.
Professional schedules mandate that teams play a set number of games, including the preseason. That means games against league foes, not local pickup games against college kids.
Scrimmages against whatever competition a team can find are fine, but a league's schedule, starting in the preseason, shouldn't have big gaps when some teams are playing frequently while others aren't.
We've seen this nonsense before, when the Apache had a couple three-week gaps during the 2009-10 season and no home games in Tokyo until early January last season.
Looking at the illogical way the preseason schedule has been pieced together, there's no reason to believe the league is taking the necessary steps to operate as true professionals.
Of course, it's a good thing that the bj-league/KBL championship exhibition series has become an annual event over the past several years. It's a good showcase for both leagues.
But the bj-league needs to recognize that all of its teams need the same showcase.
Again: One or two preseason games aren't enough. To have zero is beyond ridiculous, and unfair to the players, who deserve better, as do the fans, coaches and referees, as they gear up for another long season.