Home Domestic Leagues Fixing a spotlight on the BBL’s fixture list

Fixing a spotlight on the BBL’s fixture list

The 2010/11 BBL season was a long and tiring one, starting off in mid-September and culminating in the BBL play-off Final on the 30th April where the Mersey Tigers edged a close contest against the Sheffield Sharks 79-74.

Over the course of the season teams jostled for league position and as the final standings were being confirmed on the last weekend of the season, the BBL was able to sit back and congratulate itself on one of the most fiercely competitive and entertaining seasons in recent history.

So imagine my surprise when I cast an eye over the fixture list and noticed a disturbing imbalance in the distribution of back-to-backs played by teams.

Okay, I’ll admit it: I only looked into the back-to-back situation because the team I cover, the Leicester Riders, were struggling mightily with playing the second night of their back-to-backs on the road and I wanted to know if it was a league wide issue or merely a problem that Coach Rob Paternostro was experiencing. What my research uncovered, was a lack of parity in the number of double headers teams played, with some only playing 4 weekends worth over the course of the season and some playing as many as 11.

So with an increasing interest in the connection between the number of back-to-backs played and the fortune of the teams playing them, I spent longer than was probably necessary breaking down the back-to-back wins and losses of every team in the BBL with the aim of finding a correlation.

Would I find that the number of back-to-backs played equated to where a team finished in the table? Would the statistics reveal that BBL treble winners, Mersey Tigers, were gifted the easiest schedule because of playing the fewest back-to-backs? Would I stumble onto a formula for winning, based around back-to-back games?

In short, the answer is ‘no’ to all three questions.

A team’s finishing position was not dictated solely by the number of double headers they faced, nor was there any winning-related formula to discover. And the Mersey Tigers won the treble because they were the best team in England all season long. They had more talent, worked harder and had arguably the best coach in the league, that’s why they won.

But what I did discover, was that far from teams being given an equal course to run and making the race for the title a fair one, each team’s schedule varied wildly with teams like the MK Lions playing only 8 back to back games all regular season long, while the Plymouth Raiders and Leicester Rider were forced into playing in excess of 20. My workings out also showed that the MK Lions (and this is nothing personal Lions fans) were the opponents for teams in the midst of a back-to-back weekend twice as many times as they played in back-to-backs themselves. This ultimately meant that they were fresh and rested when they took on 8 other teams. An undoubted advantage.

It could be argued, and rightly so, that every team has it’s own obstacles to overcome and that fixtures are merely one of those obstacles. It could also be argued that the best teams brush aside any issues and continue winning, regardless of any schedule irregularities.

All valid points and ones which have been proven to be correct by the Newcastle Eagles who had to deal with a slew of injuries and a congestion of fixtures in the league run-in. Instead of wallowing in self pity, the Eagles took positive action in replacing those lost to ill-health and continued on their winning ways. And it was that action and that attitude that allowed them to challenge right until the last days of the season against a Tigers team who, let’s not forget, completed a remarkable treble winning triumph despite enduring a league high 22 back-to-back fixtures (11 weekends) over the course of the season. The Tigers treated the fixture list in much the same way as they treated any team opposing them – they swept them aside – as they won 18 of their double header games (81%).

There is no doubt that the Mersey Tigers deserved to win the 2010/11 title but what would have happened if the equally deserving Eagles had topped the table and left the Tigers in 2ndplace at the finish? Could the Tigers have pointed to their schedule throwing up double digit double headers while the Newcastle Eagles were only required to play in 6 weekends worth? Could the Tigers have had a legitimate complaint about both teams not being presented with the same challenging schedule?

I’ve spoken to those of importance within the BBL and I’ve been informed that the schedule is affected by the availability of the home court meaning that some teams were only able to play on certain dates due to the court being otherwise engaged. Sounds reasonable but I’m not sure that any team adversely affected by the fixture pile-up would find it quite so palatable.

For a league that is looking to grow and eventually compete with Europe, it is vital that the BBL becomes more professional. And that starts with the very basics – creating an even playing field throughout the league. Until that time, the BBL will always be on the back foot.

Something the Plymouth Raiders, Leicester Riders and Mersey Tigers know all about.

Follow Keith Firmin on Twitter @keiththejourno

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