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India's National Basketball Championship Structure to be Overhauled
It has been reliably learnt that India’s National Basketball Championship structure will be overhauled to include new Zonal rounds, starting from the 2021 season.
At the Basketball Federation of India (BFI)'s Annual General Meeting (AGM) held in Bengaluru on Friday, 5th February, it was decided to do away with the existing Level 1 + Level 2 format, which had around 50+ teams from across India descending onto a single venue for a 7-10 day period every year.
Regional 'zonal' rounds to be held
According to the new format, regional 'zonal' rounds will now be held first followed by a National Championship featuring the top 16 teams each in Men and Women.
The 'Zones' will be as follows:
North Zone: Punjab, Chandigarh, Delhi, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh
South Zone: Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Puducherry, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana
East Zone: Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha
West Zone: Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Goa, Maharashtra
North East Zone: Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Assam. Note: Sikkim & Arunachal Pradesh are still to be formally affiliated to the BFI
Top 16 teams to play in National Round
Teams from within each Zone will face each other in a round-robin format, and the top three teams will qualify for the National Round. Besides these teams, nationally recruiting teams like Railways (men & women) and Services (only men), as well as the hosts, will directly qualify to the National Round. (In case the host team has already qualified among the top three teams from its zone, the fourth-placed team from that Zone will be invited to participate.)
To ensure that there are 16 teams each in senior men, only the top team from North East (NE) Zone will progress to the National Rounds, while three teams each will progress from the other zones. In case of senior women, two teams from NE Zone will progress to the national stage. The rationale for this has been explained as being the NE region's relatively weaker competitive strength compared to teams from other Zones.
The single-team restriction from NE will done away with at the younger age group National Championships, across the U14 (mini), U16 (youth) and U18 (junior) levels. Here 3 teams from each of the five Zones + a host team/fourth placed team will qualify.
This new National format will be introduced at the Senior and U18 levels first and then be expanded to the remaining two youngest age groups.
National Round to follow FIBA Competition Structure
The 16 qualified teams will be divided into four groups (A, B, C & D) of four, and will play other teams within their group on a round-robin basis. The top two teams from each group will then progress to the second round, where they will be divided into two new groups (E & F) comprising 4 teams each.
Top 2 teams from A&B will be grouped in Group E while the top 2 from C&D will be grouped in Group F. Results of 1st round matches will be carried over, and in the second round the 'A' teams will only play against 'B', while 'C' teams will only play against 'D'. These teams will be placed 1 to 8. 3rd &4th placed teams in Group A&B, C&D will be grouped in Groups G & H and will play for places 9 to 16.
Thereafter, the top two teams from Groups E & F will progress to the semifinal knockout stage, followed by the finals.
BENEFITS OF NEW COMPETITION SYSTEM
The new competition system is expected to facilitate the improvement of regional basketball infrastructure in each Zone, as well as local administration skills. The round-robin & two-stage (Zonal round followed by National round) format allows for players to stay in competitive shape over a longer duration, and it is expected that the level of competition will also improve as the teams at both the Zonal and National rounds will be evenly matched.
It is pertinent to note that this concept of initial regional Zonal Rounds for the National Championships is nothing new and had existed till the turn of the century. However, it was discontinued after it was found that there was a lack of uniformity in the way each Zonal round was held - with some Zones restricting participation to U21 teams, while other States at times sent second-string teams to these regional rounds. So it will be interesting to see what lessons were learnt and how these issues will be tackled as the Zonal format is revived starting from the 2021 season.
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