Photo: EuroLeague Basketball

In an exclusive with TalkBasket.net, EuroLeague Chief Operations Officer, Eduard J. Scott, talked about the upcoming Final Four (May 17-19).

Mr Scott also referred to the increase in the number of teams (from 18 to 20), the level of officiating, the relationship with FIBA and more.

Another EuroLeague season is coming to an end, with the Final Four a few days away. Do you believe the league has exceeded the expectations for another year?

“One more year, once again, we have seen incredible stories on the floor. Anadolu Efes, which was 16th last season, made it to the Final Four this year for the first time after 2001.

Teams that were struggling last year, like Barcelona, came one win away from the Final Four. Milan and Maccabi were back in the mix and fought for the playoffs until the very last round. Zalgiris won its last six games and qualified for the playoffs.

For one more season, the competition has exceeded our expectations in the competitiveness and quality the participating teams have shown.

It is very difficult to make a prediction. We have four teams that are coming to the Final Four in a very positive way. We have to wait until this week to see how the players and the coaches are.

It is not often, the four top teams with the home-court advantage have qualified for the Final Four. This makes it even more unpredictable.”

From next season onwards, 18 teams will be playing in the EuroLeague. Do you think this change will raise the level of competition? Are there any mid- or long-term plans for a further increase in the number of teams participating in the EuroLeague (eg. 20)?

“After three years where, unfortunately, we had no French clubs in the EuroLeague, we are very excited to have ASVEL Villeurbanne (the most historic club in French domestic basketball) back to the competition and with an interesting ownership group led by Tony Parker. It was very important to get the market back.

ASVEL has really grown over the past three years, both in France and the EuroCup. They are ready to step up in the EuroLeague, but it will be challenging.

The other clubs are realistic that it is not the type of competition where a club, which has been away for some time or has never joined, that can come in immediately and fight for the Final Four.

That, objectively saying, will be a difficult task. They will definitely have a positive contribution to the rest.

The other clubs that will have an associate, two-year guaranteed participation is Bayern Munich, which, until the penultimate round, was challenging to make the playoffs. They have proved they are equals with the existing teams inside the competition.

There are no plans, short or mid-term for any type of changes to the number (of the teams participating, from 18 to 20).”

EuroLeague Basketball
Photo: EuroLeague Basketball

During the playoffs, there were some incidents where players and coaches were complaining about the referees’ decisions. What are your thoughts on the the level of officiating this season?

“Until next weekend finishes, we will not have completed the season in all competitions of EuroLeague Basketball.

Up until now, as we discussed in October, the clubs have approved and, with a couple of small exceptions, there has been an increase in the communication between the clubs and our officiating department.

It is perfectly productive, normal, encouraged part of any elite level competition that there is a healthy dialogue between the clubs and the officiating department. They are also able to share their feelings, observations and opinions about how the games have gone specifically and about officiating also.

We are satisfied, but our season evaluation is incomplete until we have the Final Four and the Tournament Finals of the U-18.

Any one of our 67 referees are officiating in the EuroLeague and the EuroCup on the basis of being the best in Europe. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Director of Officiating to nominate, including the Final Four, those he considers are best place at officiating at the highest level possible.

This season it is the eight referees that have already announced. Next year, we feel comfortable, under his responsibility, we will always have a very high level of officiating with eight of our best referees selected.”

In an exclusive interview with Kyle Hines a few days ago, the captain of CSKA Moscow talked to me about the EuroLeague Players Association (ELPA), the success of the project and its following goals. As EuroLeague Basketball, how close is your relationship with the Association?

“It is very productive definitely. Since the creation of the EuroLeague in 2000, we had 18 seasons of competition until the players organize themselves and create the EuroLeague Players Association (ELPA).

We were very, very happy when this occurred, because it is necessary to have a more structured, more formal relationship between all the stakeholders in order to have the elite competition correctly organised, grown, improved.

In the previous years, that wasn’t possible in Europe for various reasons. Since the players organised themselves in ELPA, we have had many frequent meetings and many frequent conversations with the management of ELPA in the last 11 months.

We have been able to agree and start implementing things among the clubs and the players and we are very positive that this will continue to grow and improve as far as the relationship between the EuroLeague and ELPA.

We fully support that a collective body agreement can be reached in the following years and that will be beneficial for everybody and will make a better system product for the fans, the journalists and everybody within the EuroLeague system.

The ELPA definitely is necessary. It is necessary part to have the different stakeholders correctly represented in order to reach the full potential.

Last season, our referees also organised themselves and this season the EuroLeague Coaches Boards was announced, the coaches organised themselves. These are essential next steps to improve the entire competition system.”

Photo: EuroLeague Basketball

Do you believe the presence of Andreas Zagklis as FIBA Secretary General can help put an end to the ongoing conflict between the EuroLeague and the World Federation regarding games schedule, national teams competitions etc etc?

“We are still in mourning after the sad passing of Patrick Baumann. But, we were pleased to hear the appointment of Andreas Zagklis as the new FIBA Secretary General at the end of the year.

At the moment, having the Basketball World Cup in China, this is a massive project and priority for FIBA and their national federations.

It is completely logical and understandable that FIBA need to focus on the delivery of this big event, not only in China, but in the rest of the world.

Our club position has not changed at all, we are still perfectly able to sit down with FIBA and discuss any proposals or ideas either side may have, which continues to respect the status quo and the current competitions system.

We hope so (to work towards a common solution), but this is a question more for FIBA and the national federations.

EuroLeague Basketball clubs have made their opinion and position clear for several years now, so it is unnecessary to re-discuss or re-visit the opinion the clubs have.

Obviously, after two years after the first initial cycle of national team qualifiers that lead up to the World Cup, it is more for the national federations to make this evaluation and not really for the clubs.”

CSKA Moscow head coach Dimitris Itoudis has mentioned over the past few years that the EuroLeague should consider having a best-of-five or best-of-seven series until the Finals, similar to the format of the NBA. Are there any long-term plans for such a change or will the Final Four format remain intact in the following years?

“In this aspect, the EuroLeague is no different to the EuroCup or many domestic leagues, like the VTB League, where CSKA Moscow is playing. VTB have tried different formats over the years (playoffs format, Final Four one etc).

In 2000, the EuroLeague had a playoff format (where Virtus Bologna faced Baskonia). It is also true when we got back to the Final Four, which has still been in place until today, the overall quality that the Final Four brings to the EuroLeague. In the short and mid-term, the Final Four will remain as it is now.

In the long-term, there is neither a decision nor guarantee that a playoff or Final Four format will be adopted.”