Sunday, 1 March 2015

Could the Premier League Learn from the NBA?

by Oliver Clark

NBA All-Star Weekend is the highlight of the season for even the most casual basketball fan, and this years was no exception. There were many memorable moments from the three night spectacle, from Kevin Hart's third consecutive MVP win in the celebrity game, to Zach Lavine's monster dunk to secure victory in the Slam Dunk Contest, to Steph Curry's sheer quality to grab the 3 Point Contest title away from team mate Klay Thompson, not of course forgetting the record setting All Star Game that featured moments of magic from Curry, James Harden, LeBron James and eventual MVP Russell Westbrook. This all culminated into a weekend of fun, laughs and, of course, lots of skill.

For those of you who don't know how the All-Star game works, here is a quick summary.

The NBA contains 30 teams, 15 belong to the Eastern Conference, 15 to the Western Conference.

Fans vote for the starting line ups for both conference teams (3 Front Court Players and 2 Back Court Players).

The NBA head coaches then vote for the reserves for their conference.

The manager whose team is highest placed in each conference is named the manager of their respective conference (but no manager is allowed to host 2 consecutive years).

Rolling subs are used (as in a normal NBA game), but are exploited even more so as to allow every player as many minutes as possible.

What I pondered while watching the event was, "How has this sort of thing not emerged in other sports?". In a schedule as hectic as the NBA's (players play 82 regular matches between late October and early November), they still find the time for the players to let their hair down, and produce a spectacle that no matter what team you support, is a complete joy for all. Could this sort of thing be integrated into the Barclays Premier League?

Let's have a look at the current teams in the league. If we were to divide it into a simple 'Northern' and 'Southern' Conference, this is how it would look.

North: Newcastle, Sunderland, Burnley, Hull, Manchester United, Manchester City, Everton, Liverpool, Stoke, Leicester.

South: West Brom, Aston Villa, Swansea, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Crystal Palace, West Ham, QPR, Southampton.

If the best players from these teams were to compete, we would be treated to a surely mouthwatering contest. However, there are 3 large issue with this.

1.    With teams being relegated and promoted every season (unlike the NBA), based on geographical location, the teams in each potential conference would be changing every year. Not only would new teams be playing, but those clubs situated in the middle of the country could be fluctuating between conferences from season to season.

Solution - Although teams may change on a yearly basis, would this really be a major issue? The appeal of the game to the newer clubs would be one of the many incentives to push that little bit harder to get from the Championship to the Premier League. In order to stop teams fluctuating between the conferences, a potential border could be fixed in the middle of the country, which although it might result in more teams being represented in one conference than the other, would not greatly affect the quality of the football.

2. Fan voting resulting in an over representation of one team or players in the same position, and omission of others.

Solution - This is not so much a problem as it first appears. Fans of their own teams will of course want as many of their team's players to be represented in the match, and so a cap of 3 players from each team would be set, an equal balance of quality and equality being maintained. As for positions, like in the NBA, the selection process could be made so that the fans vote for a starting 11, (1 Goalkeeper, 4 Defenders, 3 Midfielders, 3 Strikers), with the leagues managers then selecting the final 12 players so as to meet the requirements above.

3. The Fans.

Solution - The match itself. The amount of fan trouble seen in modern football quite frankly disgusts me. It seems that every local derby ends in crowd trouble, offensive chants and behaviour reminiscent of cavemen. If a match like this where local clubs would be forced to unite in a relaxed match with nothing on the line was imposed, although a radical imposition, may in fact have long term benefits for a league where discipline has increasingly become an issue in the recent years.

Football has not had a radical, fresh idea that could change the landscape of the game itself in a very long time. A mid-season match with no purpose other than to give joy to fans of the game could be that idea. The success of this kind of idea in another sport is undeniable, and so this kind of match would revolutionise the game, in my opinion, for the better. It is unfortunate that there is such a terrible anger and aggression between clubs that are meant to be the showcase of English Football, which will probably prevent a BPL All Star Match from occurring for the foreseeable future. However, as stated, the solution to this fan anger that sometimes overshadows the skill and enjoyment of football may in fact be a radical change such as this.

Here would be my dream North vs South starting line-ups based on current form this season, please find me someone who would not want to see this match!

Goalkeeper - David de Gea
Defenders - Ryan Shawcross, Vincent Kompamy, Leighton Baines, Fabricio Collocini
Midfielders - Phillipe Coutinho, Angel Di Maria, Yaya Toure
Strikers - Daniel Sturridge, Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling

Goalkeeper - Hugo Lloris
Defenders - Ashley Williams, Jose Fontè, Gary Cahill, James Tomkins
Midfielders - Eden Hazard, Alexi Sanchez, Christian Eriksen

Strikers - Harry Kane, Diego Costa, Charlie Austin

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