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Regular-season play begins again for bj-league

by Ed Odeven and Kaz Nagatsuka

Nearly a week after the devastating destruction in Tohoku due to the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that killed several thousand people, followed by the Fukushima nuclear plant’s ongoing radiation crisis, the bj-league has decided to resume competition this weekend to lift people’s spirits.

But nothing else has been officially determined yet.

“We, the bj-league, have been running this league as a local-rooting league, and now we think about what we can really do,” commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi said on Thursday at a news conference in Tokyo’s Minato Ward. “And we have figured out that our mission is to encourage the victims and those who suffer.”

Kawachi announced the league will hold four regularly scheduled two-game series — all featuring Western Conference teams — on Saturday and Sunday.

As expected, he also confirmed that the Sendai 89ers (24-12, second-best record in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the 34-4 and defending champion Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix), Tokyo Apache (20-14) and Saitama Broncos (14-24) have concluded their seasons.

At press time on Thursday, most, if not all, of the Apache’s foreign players and staff were already in the United States. Tokyo coach Bob Hill told The Japan Times early Thursday that he had returned to his Texas home.

For this weekend, the matchups are as follows: Kyoto Hannaryz (20-18) vs. Miyazaki Shining Suns (12-26), Osaka Evessa (24-14) vs. Shiga Lakestars (22-16), Shimane Susanoo Magic (17-21) vs. Ryukyu Golden Kings (24-14) and Rizing Fukuoka (21-17) vs. Oita HeatDevils (16-22). Kawachi described this weekend as “revival support games for the victims.”

He added: “We, the bj-league, would like to help out the victims in their recovery as best as we can.”

After this weekend, the schedule remains undetermined, the commissioner said, citing unknown factors, including environmental conditions.

“As a result of the Tohoku-Kanto earthquakes in the past few days, we, as the bj-league, would like to show our deepest sorrow for those who were lost and the victims,” Kawachi said, reading from a prepared two-page document.

For this weekend’s eight games, all teams will observe a moment of silence before tipoff. All players will wear a symbol on their uniforms to honor the victims of the aforementioned disasters.

The league, which has collected more than ¥10,000,000 in relief funds while working with its 16 teams’ local fundraising efforts, plans to donate proceeds from the eight games to further assist earthquake and tsunami victims. Boosters will also be asked to continue supporting the league’s fundraising efforts.

What remains a big question mark is the fate of the Eastern Conference’s other four teams — that is, if East squads play games, starting as early as next weekend. The Phoenix, Niigata Albirex BB (19-17), Toyama Grouses (12-24) and Akita Northern Happinets (12-28) are currently idle for a second straight weekend.

Kawachi reported that the 89ers’ office and main arena were both damaged. As for the Apache and Broncos, he noted, aftershocks have caused concern for both teams and persuaded them to not attempt to stage games at Kanto arenas, which can use large amounts of electricity during games.

Regarding Saitama, Kawachi said, “their team office has been hit by blackouts and they came to the decision not to play while there’s a shortage of power.”

The league, meanwhile, views the unfortunate end to three of its six original teams’ 2010-11 season as a grave situation.

Or as Kawachi put it: “It is extremely sad. This is a heartbreaking decision for us.”

Above all, he stated, “the Saitama Broncos and Tokyo Apache are also in difficult situations to play games, although they have the will to continue.”

If the season continues after this weekend, Japanese and foreigners players from Tokyo, Saitama and Sendai could possibly be available to other teams in a dispersal draft, though no details have been ironed out yet if such a system will be implemented.

Kawachi acknowledged the league faces an extremely challenging situation as rosters for the league’s remaining 13 teams could change drastically in the coming days.

“Depending on the (U.S.) Embassy (and individuals in the States), some of them are telling their compatriots to come back home,” he said. “So we don’t know what the future holds. Everything comes down to each player. If they want to play, that’s their decision and we respect that.”

Depending on how the ongoing crisis in and around Fukushima Prefecture materializes in the coming days, along with available power and travel around the country, the league still has major issues to address.

“How we determine (the schedule) and whether we will have the playoffs are up in the air right now,” he said.