Forget the bandaids, the NBL needs genuine reform

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Dragons Victory - photo by Joseph Sirucka

Dragons Victory - photo by Joseph Sirucka

Late last week, the South Dragons pulled out of the 2009/10 basketball season. A few days later, the Melbourne Tigers joined them. By that point, it seemed like finally someone in the sport had the foresight to say enough is enough. Pity it didn’t last.

Now Basketball Australia is forging ahead with the teams that didn’t pull out.

BA’s seeking a new team in Melbourne, possibly sourced from the associations.

Basketball Australia’s chief Larry Sengstock scoffed at the notion of taking a year off, á la football, replying: “I think there’s another model you could look at – baseball – that shut down their league, and hasn’t recovered.”

And doesn’t that just fill you with confidence? Basketball’s now comparing itself to baseball, of all sports.

If it didn’t have the ability to tear the sport apart, it’d almost be funny.

But as of Wednesday, the boss of the Melbourne Tigers, Seamus McPeake, didn’t rule out the possibility of a rebel league.

“Look, at the end of the day, that may be their call but I can assure you there are enough people around nationally that we will end up going with a league on our own against them, and let’s see who’s professional and who runs a better show,” he told SEN.

“It would be pretty sad if it gets to that, but if that’s how they want to drive it, bring it on.”

When asked about BA’s plans to continue with a season, his response was blunt: “It’s absolutely impossible for any club to make money moving forward on the conditions that were presented to me.”

Evidently, the words “profitable” and “NBL club” don’t have to be an oxymoron. Since McPeake took over, the Tigers have been able to string together a healthy profit-making streak. That was, incidentally, until last year.

According to McPeake, no club made a profit under last year’s model.

Last year, there was just one game per week on Foxtel. There was no major sponsor. There was no team in Brisbane and Sydney was served only by the Spirit.

This year, it is likely to be the same or worse on all fronts.

Last year, with the review yet to be tabled and a crisis in both Brisbane and Sydney, management pushed ahead with a makeshift season, put together against the clock.

This year, the term “makeshift season” is even more applicable.

Is history repeating?

Now fair enough, the league can’t fully replicate what happened with the A-League. But the aim of landing somewhere in between netball’s ANZ Championship and the A-League is certainly attainable.

It would be a heck of a lot closer to the mark than any comparisons with baseball, that’s for sure.

Right now in Melbourne, there aren’t enough courts to satisfy the number of kids that are playing the game. Nationwide, the participation levels surpass those of AFL, rugby league or rugby union.

Over in the States, there are more Australians playing college basketball than any other foreign nationality.

Over at FIBA, Australia’s ranked as the second-strongest nation in the world across both genders.

They’ve got the participants. They’ve got the talent. What they don’t have is the capacity to properly market what they’ve got.

Basketball deserves so much more than the state it’s currently in. It certainly deserves more the make-it-up-as-we-go-along reform offered by Basketball Australia.

In his letter to supporters on the weekend, Dragons co-owner Raphael Germinder outlined what the clubs were promised in the new league.

“Its charter was to deliver financial stability, broadcasting of all games, government funding, a new governance and leadership group, a viable budget to connect with community and market the game, adequate player salaries … and finally playing a different time of year,” he said.

Financial stability clearly isn’t a feature of the proposed league. Broadcasting of all games isn’t a feature. Government funding is yet to be approved. The introduction of new leadership took its time and hasn’t fully occurred, according to some players.

Viable isn’t a word that jumps to mind when describing the league, the player salaries aren’t as high as first mooted and as for playing a different time of year – starting in October instead of September doesn’t really count, does it?

One of the main reasons for this failure was time. The change in leadership was a slow and drawn-out process. The administration also had to divert its attention to issues with the NBL, such as the demise of the Sydney Spirit and the temporary fall-out with the Cairns Taipans.

Once the NBL season finished, it was like a weight had been lifted off the shoulders of BA and its reform. But by then, it was too late.

At the end of the day, the 2009/10 season (if it even eventuates) will be no more than another bandaid solution. Just like last year. Just like a number of other examples throughout the sport’s history.

Now is the time to take stock, and to finally deliver some serious reform.

Michael DiFabrizio is completing his journalism degree. As an AFL writer, he has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, and appeared in The Age and on ABC television and radio. Follow Michael on twitter @mdifabrizio
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