Post by Jon Pastuszek
February 16, 2013
What was viewed by many as a pretty much inevitable fate, the Bayi Rockets have been officially eliminated from post-season contention. Despite winning at home last night against Liaoning, the Rockets come up empty in tiebreakers against Zhejiang, Guangsha and Shanxi, which means no matter what result they come up with against Beijing tomorrow, they’re ineligible to make the playoffs.
If you follow the blog or the league in general, you know that the powers-that-be at the Chinese Basketball Association passed two special rules designed to give Bayi, who do not have any foreign players on the team due to their affiliation with the People’s Liberation Army and are thus at a disadvantage talent wise, a chance at finishing in the top eight: First, opposing teams can only play their imports a maximum of five quarters instead of the regular six, including teams with a third Asian import. Second, only one import can take the court during the fourth quarter.
Although people across Chinese basketball never liked the rules, the quiet hope was that Bayi would sneak into the playoffs, get blasted in the first round and in turn save some face for the league and the extremely influential army team. But now that they’re going home early for the second season in a row, the perhaps not-so-quiet hope becomes that the league doesn’t make more sweeping rule changes next year, changes that would go even further to ensure post-season participation.
Whether or not more changes go down remains to be seen. After finishing in the bottom four last season, a 15 or 16 win season could be viewed as enough of a success to prevent more drastic changes being made for next season. But surely, given the implications of having Bayi out of the post-season yet again, political or otherwise, there will be calls within the league and its apparatus to go even further. The issue of course, is how much further can they possibly go?
If there was any doubt before, there certainly isn’t any now. Even with rules designed to give Bayi clear advantages over their opponents, they’re still not good enough to get into the playoffs. That leaves the league with a few different options.
The first, and most unlikely of options, is that they could remove Bayi from the league altogether. Given the immense tradition surrounding PLA athletics, not just in basketball but in other sports as well, and given how the team still operates as a reflection of China’s national strength and pride, that’s simply not happening. The second is that Bayi reforms its policies and signs import players; an extremely practical solution that would take care of this entire problem, but again an unlikely one as the idea of allowing someone from a foreign country to enter the Chinese military arena — even if its only basketball — is something that would probably never be accepted internally.
Then there’s the third option: More rules. But beyond further limiting opposing imports playing time, what else can they do? Restrict opposing teams from playing foreigners all together? Or how about sweeping changes league-wide, such as eliminating the Asian import or only allowing each team to sign one import as opposed to two?
Finally, there’s number four, which is simply do nothing. Allowing things to remain as they are woud not solve any of the issues at hand, but it at least would keep the league on even footing for another season. Yet with expansion on the horizon, Bayi will be facing more competition from teams with foreign players instead of less. Which means that they’re going to be at even bigger disadvantage going forward if the rules remain as the are.
At present, it’s difficult to know what is going to happen. But exactly what will determine how seriously the league values long-term development over politics. With record investment, increasingly high level foreign talent, widespread improvement of Chinese players, an unprecedented level of parity and higher-than-ever fan interest, the league finds itself in its best overall position in its 18-year history. Whether they decide to compromise that progress by creating artificial advantages for one special team that willingly chooses to put itself at a disadvantage will tell exactly how serious they are on capitalizing on all of that.
In the meantime, we, along with a lot of other people, will be quietly hoping the content of this post will be irreleveant by the time next season rolls around.