Patrick Comninos: “We want a BCL F8 that does justice to all our efforts”

2020-03-31T20:14:02+00:00 2020-04-27T12:58:28+00:00.

Aris Barkas

31/Mar/20 20:14

With the Basketball Champions League season set to conclude in September with a Final Eight, CEO Patrick Comninos explains why this solution was the best possible for everyone involved in the competition.

By Aris Barkas/

The Basketball Champions League announced that the 2019-20 season will be completed in late September when hopefully the COVID-19 epidemic will be under control and professional sports will be back the way we know them.

Considering the state of the world, this is a solution that can be considered at least solid, giving enough time to everyone to return to normality. On the other hand, it created a lot of questions that BCL CEO Patrick Comninos was more than happy to answer.

Will we see basketball during the summer months in local leagues? What will happen to the current players of BCL clubs still in the run for the title? Why the BCL didn’t wait for things to get better and try to play in June without the Olympics getting any more in the way?

The bottom line is simple: While things like the participation in next season’s BCL, the possible qualification round and the changes in the rosters of the ten clubs that are still alive in the current season can’t be fixed at this moment, everyone involved in the competition hopes that the upcoming Final Eight can be celebrated as a return to action when traveling between European countries will be permitted and fans will be able to attend games.

Having the end of the season in September was a decision driven by the necessity of course, but do you also consider it as the possible best decision regarding the circumstances?

It was a decision that took into account several parameters. First of all, taking into consideration the unique situation we all live in.

The fact that it is essential to respect the players’ physical and mental health during these very very difficult times. The desire of the fans to watch live basketball as much as possible, the constraints that we have on international flights.

So from our point of view, organizing an international competition is a lot more complicated than holding a national championship. From our side, we would require the green light from eight different governments for sports to be resumed in those specific territories. So, from an international point of view, we realized that the possibility all of having any sort of competition in the coming months was very unrealistic.

Instead of keeping the players, the clubs, the fans, everybody waiting, we saw that it was essential to provide a level of certainty to everyone. Especially during this period of absolute uncertainty, the BCL board says that at least – despite all the challenges – this was the best decision: to provide specific dates and not again keep the players, the clubs, the fans waiting. It is, as you rightly said, probably the best choice, the best available decision or solution in this very, very difficult situation. There is no perfect outcome; there’s no perfect solution, so we try to do what was the most logical to conclude our season because – let’s not forget – we are not a league.

So we do not have standings. We cannot say that based on the standings so far, team A or team B are leading, so they could potentially be the champions.

We have a system that, to have a champion, we needed to conclude our season, and everyone in the BCL environment says that it was essential to try to exhaust the options in completing this season. And this is what we tried to do. We are a basketball sports organization, we organize games, and we would try to do so in the best conditions that we might be able to secure.

It’s safe to assume that all the teams that are currently in the competition have secured a spot in next season? After the decision to take the Final Eight late in September, we will not see a qualification round?

This is an essential point, and it touches on access for the following season, so this is something we need to examine in detail both in terms of protecting the rights of the ten clubs that they’re still in the competition, but also safeguarding the right conditions for all the other clubs that do need to have a qualification round and for those that will start in the regular season. As you know, we have precise access list criteria for the Basketball Champions League, and we will try to respect those to the best of our abilities.

Of course, a lot is also depending on how each national league will conclude the season. Some leagues do provide final standings already; some others consider this season as incomplete without final standings. So we all need to look at the situation at the end of the calendar this season, around June, to better assess the process for next year. Because again, as you very well know for us, we do place particular importance on the results of the teams in the domestic competition, so we need to see how those we will conclude.

Considering your close ties with the national leagues, do you think that your decision to move the final stage of the competition in September practically heralds the end of all local competition without completing the season during the next few months in the summer?

This is a very good point, one that we also considered extensively at the board, because the board of the BCL is composed among others from representatives of the national leagues. So they also had a direct impact on the decision. I think it’s also important here to distinguish the prerequisites for restarting a national league competition and restarting an international one. From a national perspective, all that is required is the green light all of the local authorities to reopen sports facilities. That would allow for the local teams to train, local transports are easier to resume, so from a national league point of view, they have a very different burden to be able to continue the season. From an international point of view, as already stated, we have additional layers of complexity because we need these to happen in eight countries at the same time. We need sports to resume in eight countries which are still involved in the Basketball Champions League, and we, of course, need international flights that are not essential in the national league point of view.

I spoke with all the leagues, and many of them will continue to monitor the situation at a local level. As some have already announced, they would revisit the situation at the end of April. Again it is important to distinguish the challenges that do exist for resuming a national league and the even more complex challenges of continuing an international competition.

So from our side, we did not want to keep a lot of these players and clubs waiting. Let’s not forget that already in the remaining teams at the BCL; we have representatives from certain leagues that have concluded their seasons, like Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, and the VTB. From their point of view, the only thing that might have been remaining was the international season and now at least their clubs and their players have precise knowledge of what happens next.

Did you consider at any point that without the Olympics in the calendar this summer, you should “buy time” like most of the leagues are doing right now?

There is an advantage when the month of June has been made available due to the Olympics postponement, but we also acknowledge that in our environment the calendar all the clubs do finish at the end of June. It could be extended to early July, but because of the cyclical nature of our competition, we might not be able to continue the season in late June.

So from our point of view, we considered everything. Still, as the board examined the various conditions for resuming the season, the board said that it would be impossible for them to have available satisfactory conditions even later on in the season. Let’s not forget one crucial aspect. In the Basketball Champions League, we take enormous pride in organizing a Final Four that is a truly festive event; that is our showpiece, where everybody that has watched or attended does recognize it as a top sporting event.

For us, this remains a priority, and this is something we want to be able to offer to our fans.

And everybody acknowledges that even if games were to resume at the national level over the next months, these would almost certainly take place without spectators. So for us to keep everybody waiting and then at the end conclude the season with our showcase event, our pinnacle event, without spectators, it did not make that much sense.

We believe that what we are now putting out as an alternative proposal,  it’s an event that hopefully by the end of September will take place in normal conditions where fans can travel, where fans can watch live in the arena the games and therefore it will allow us to conclude the season in the best possible manner with an event that does justice to all our efforts.

That’s not exactly your responsibility, but since I think that the consensus is a fair compromise for everyone involved, have you talked about the situation of the players who usually don’t have longterm contracts with European clubs and have seen their season cut short? Some of them, despite being part now of the ten clubs that are still contending, might not be able to compete for the BCL title, and that may have even a financial impact on their deals with specific clubs.

This is, of course, a point that was discussed at the different layers of decision making because, before this decision made by the BCL board, it was a point of discussion at the BCL club council where the clubs do have a very strong voice and the opportunity to express their concerns. This was indeed raised as an issue.

In order to find the best possible solution in this very complex environment, this is one point that might not be ideal. Now, it’s up to each specific club to build its roster for the future, and as you said, this falls within the responsibility of each club and its discussions with the players.

Now when it comes to short term contracts that clubs and players might have which conclude at the end of the season, this is a more general question not linked directly to the BCL. I think for many players this season might be cut short, no matter what happens with the BCL.

On these points, FIBA took a very proactive approach when some time ago, it sent a letter to the national federations informing them of certain principles that have to be respected during this very unique period.

The expectation is that teams, players, and agents we all be able to sit around the table and find reasonable solutions to this very unreasonable and unique situation that we’re all facing.

So this is all novel to all of us. We’ve never been in the situation before. To be honest, there’s no template; nobody has done this before to say this is the correct, or this is the incorrect approach. We from our side said that we needed to take thιs decision to provide a level of certainty to all the stakeholders for the participants, and now, of course, we all need to sit around the table and look at the details to make the best out of these challenging situations.