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Unusual scheduling makes it tough on players, fans

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Finalizing a schedule for a league with an uneven number of teams creates real challenges.

For example, the 21-team circuit must always have one squad with a bye week to make the schedule work. Other times that number may be three, but rarely five or more.

Not playing inter-conference games for months at a time, though, isn’t something the league has to do. It’s not a requirement.

In examining the schedule and analyzing its shortcomings, one can see there have only been three inter-conference series this season.

Those series: Toyama vs. Osaka, Tokyo vs. Takamatsu and Sendai vs. Hamamatsu Higashimikawa.

As the league’s fan base increases with new markets for teams being added year after year, it should find a more logical way to sprinkle in non-conference contests for all teams throughout the season, league insiders have noted. This would give them greater exposure to all teams, and more opportunities to develop a greater appreciation for the league’s stars, mainstays and up-and-coming players.

Take a look at some scheduling quirks:

■ Chiba, for instance, has only six home games in March and April, with two of those two-day showdowns against West opponents, Shiga (March 9-10) and Ryukyu (March 16-17). The Jets have 10 of their final 12 games on the road.

■ Niigata was scheduled to play six straight home games between Dec. 15 and 30, before hitting the road for 15 of their next 17 games on the road (a game against Sendai was rescheduled for January after an earthquake in Tohoku the previous month).

■ Shimane has 16 games to play in March and April to close out the regular season. Of those eight series, only two are against West foes — at Ryukyu on March 30-31 and at Shiga on April 27-28. The Magic’s other opponents in the season’s stretch run are Akita, Shinshu, Gunma, Toyama, Iwate and Saitama.

Logic dictates that as the playoff chase heats up in the spring, teams ought to play more games against teams in their own conference. It’ll benefit the entire league to make structural changes in how it schedules all games.

Around the league: Two-time Best Five guard Naoto Takushi, who has previously suited up for Ryukyu, Kyoto, Niigata and Oita, will make his Iwate debut this weekend, according to a league source. The cash-strapped HeatDevils and Takushi could not come to terms on a renegotiated contract at the height of the team’s financial crisis in November.

Center Paul Butorac, released by the Yokohama B-Corsairs in December, has resurfaced with the JBL2′s Toyota Tsusho Fighting Eagles.

During the B-Corsairs’ bye week, Yokohama coach Reggie Geary took a trip to Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, where he and his wife and two children, saw Daibutsu (the Great Buddha).

Evessa center Rick Rickert is pleased with the leadership Bill Cartwright brought to the team when he was named coach Jan. 21.

Now, the real work continues as Cartwright implements his offensive and defensive systems.

“It feels like training camp right now,” Rickert said earlier this week. “We had a three-hour practice today, so we were able to put a few new things in our offense. Coach expects a lot out of us, and this is exactly what we need to get to the next level.”

Movin’ on up: The host Shiga Lakestars swept the defending champion Ryukyu Golden Kings, who have dropped three straight games, last weekend in Otsu.

Shiga (17-11) is in the thick of things in the Western Conference playoff race, with the same record as Fukuoka and just behind Shimane (18-10), Hamamatsu (20-10) and Ryukyu (20-6).

“We’ve been playing some good ball recently as we’ve won seven of our last eight (games),” Lakestars coach Al Westover told The Japan Times.

“The challenge is to keep it going, and, of course, to keep getting better.”

Looking back on Sunday’s game, Westover said his team’s mental strength paid off.

“It was a good sign when we got down by 12 points in the first quarter on Sunday,” he said, “and we were able to fight back and get the lead and, of course, the victory. Earlier in the year, we might have folded, but the group is now playing with a lot of heart, enthusiasm and confidence.

“To build on our recent success and to be one of the top teams in the league, we have to bring it every weekend. We are excited about the rest of the season and the challenges that are in front of us.”