Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the B. League ran out of all options but one: canceling the remainder of the 2019-20 season.
The league announced on Friday that it will not play any of the games remaining on the schedule, including the postseason. The decision was reached during an emergency board meeting earlier in the day.
The revised regular season was to end in early May and be followed by the playoffs. The final was to be held on May 11 at Yokohama Arena.
The league initially went on hiatus from late February to mid-March, as the national government called for a postponement of large gatherings, including sporting events. The B. League then resumed its season on March 14 with games held without spectators. But after only one weekend, the league suspended the campaign again on March 17 after three players and a game official recorded a fever.
According to league chairman Masaaki Okawa, the decision was made “unanimously” this time.
Okawa said during a video news conference that the B. League had to make the tough decision for various reasons. But he added that the biggest one was obviously the coronavirus, which is spreading throughout the world and could threaten the safety and health of players, coaches and staff.
“We’ve prioritized the mental and physical health of our players, coaches and club officials,” Okawa said. “The spread of this coronavirus has been beyond our imagination and we’ve emphasized that we cannot afford to expose our players and others who are associated with our league to the danger.”
Okawa said that because the postseason has been called off, the league will not declare a 2019-20 champion.
He insisted, however, that teams’ win-loss records would remain intact. Therefore, the teams with the best winning percentages are officially the conference winners.
In the top division (B1), the Alvark Tokyo (32-9), Kawasaki Brave Thunders (31-9) and Ryukyu Golden Kings (27-14) are the East, Central and West Division champions. In the second division (B2), the Sendai 89ers (35-12), Shinshu Brave Warriors (40-7) and Hiroshima Dragonflies (40-7) are the East, Central and West Division kings.
The Alvark captured back-to-back league titles in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons.
League officials plan to discuss whether or not to present 2019-20 season awards, such as Most Valuable Player, at a later date.
Because the league abandoned the promotion/demotion playoffs as well, it will install an exceptional regulation that states no team in the top division will be relegated to B2 for the 2020-21 campaign. Instead, the two second-flight teams with the best records (Shinshu and Hiroshima), will get automatic promotion to B1, although they will have to be issued club licenses to make the move to the top flight.
The license council is scheduled to meet on April 24.
Thus, the circuit will have 20 teams in B1 and 16 in B2 for the 2020-21 season. Okawa said the allocations of the teams in the two divisions for the 2021-22 campaign and beyond will be discussed later.
Okawa hinted that with 20 teams in B1, it would be difficult to retain the current three-division system in the top flight.
The 61-year-old league chief, who has held his position since the start of the inaugural 2016-17 season, acknowledged that the league and its teams must cope with financial losses due to this decision.
For instance, Okawa projected that B1 clubs will earn about 30 percent less for this season than previously estimated. As for B2 teams, he’s estimated a 20 percent drop in revenue.
“To me, we have to weigh in two concepts. One is to overcome this crisis by forming solidarity with the players, league and clubs,” Okawa stated. “And the second is, all the 36 clubs (in B1 and B2), maybe we should include B3 as well, we want to make sure to help them raise money so that there won’t be a single team that can no longer exist.”
As for the players, Okawa said their base salaries should fully be paid, although they may not receive some bonuses for competing in games and winning depending on the club.
League officials held a meeting with the Japan Basketball Players Association on Wednesday, giving players a forum to discuss issues related to the cancellation of the season.
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