May 24, 2010
A tale of three leagues
It's a tale of three leagues, in three countries, of three sports.
1. National Basketball Association (NBA) - Basketball, USA
2. English Premier League (EPL) - Football, England
3. Indian Premier Leauge (IPL) - Cricket, India
India has a total of ONE succesful professional sports league: the IPL. ONE. Like it or hate it, but that's the truth. Hell, even many cricket purists hate it, disregarding the Twenty-20's format as 'real' cricket.
Whatever - we aren't here to argue about what cricket should be. We're here to talk about what the IPL wants to be. The IPL wants to be the NBA, and it has wanted to be the NBA for quite some time. It is no secret that the league format, the franchises, the cheerleaders, the dugout (or "bench"), the player profiles, the "strategic" time-outs, the advertising frenzy, the television broadcasts, etc in the IPL have borrowed heavily from the NBA and even the EPL. Sorry football fans, but in many ways financially, the IPL has actually overtaken the EPL. According to the inaugural Annual Review of Global Sports Salaries (ARGSS) (later published on sportingintelligence.com), IPL became the second highest paid league in the world this year, overtaking the EPL. You know what's it second to? The NBA.
Even NBA Commissioner/Tsar/Maharaja David Stern become a fan of the IPL last November. In an interview with DNA-Mumbai, Stern said, "We are closely watching as to how the IPL has been a game-changer in sport. It has adopted a number of Western sporting practices like the franchise system, player bidding, the home-and-away games, double-headers and the like."
Now, IPL may take yet another page out of the NBA book. After adding two new franchises to the existing eight in the IPL, the BCCI is looking to change its format to finish the tournament in the same seven-week period as the previous three IPL editions. Until IPL-3, each team played each other team twice, home and away, to play a total of 14 matches each, which meant that a grand total of 60 matches were played. If the same format is continued for 10 teams, 94 games would have to be played. The BCCI don't want that because they have a time constraint.
One of their options is to do with the NBA does: Divide the teams into two groups (NBA-read: Conferences) of five. Like the NBA, the teams in the same conference play each other three or four times, whereas teams in opposing conferences play each other twice, once home, and once away. Each team plays 82 games in the regular season. In the IPL, the proposition is that each team plays other teams in its groups twice (home and away) and the teams in the group once.
Good idea, but it does create problems. Home advantage is something that teams obviously rely on, so on what basis will the home games be played in the inter-group games?
The other idea I feel is worse, which is to have the same round-robin system in the two groups, and then the best teams move on to a 'Super Six' stage and they all play each other. With this format, there are many teams who may never get to play each other, and that completely defies the whole point of being a league.
My solution is this: screw the groups. Don't follow the NBA, follow the EPL. Have all teams play each other home AND away like the current system. Play 94 games. I can hear the groans already: there aren't enough days to fit these many games. Or the groans from TV broadcasters: we can't show more than one or two games a day because TV ratings will take a hit.
I don't see why the league can't be expanded to take a longer time. This way, it will become less of a quick tournament and more of a 'season'. Yes, international cricket clashes will cause a problem, but just like international breaks in the football season, the IPL can incorporate their season around cricket international breaks, too.
And it's fine to glamourise our leagues just as media has done it in the US, but their needs to be a limit, and that limit is crossed when the sport is overshadowed by celebrity and marketing culture. I searched for 'ipl' in Google-Images, and you know what I got? Three of the first four photos are of Katrina Kaif, Preity Zinta, and Shah Rukh Khan. The first cricketers don't show up till the eight pic. Even Vijay Mallaya scores earlier.
If we are truly looking to bring a sports league/season culture such as that in the USA, Europe, etc into India, our leagues have to be bigger, last longer, and be ABOUT THE SPORT. It is laughable that the second-richest league in the world lasts just seven weeks.