The B. League will play its 2020-21 season with teams split into two conferences — the East and West — instead of three, which has been the format since its inception in 2016, the league announced following a meeting of its governors on Tuesday.
The number of teams competing in the top division will also change next season, increasing to 20, two more than in the previous three campaigns.
The league gave up on completing a full 2019-20 season amid the COVID-19 outbreak, canceling the remaining one-third of the schedule late last month. As a result, the B. League decided against staging promotion-relegation playoffs and will instead promote the top two teams from the second division (B2) for the upcoming season.
That will leave B2 with 16 teams for the 2020-21 season. The second division will also operate under a two-conference format.
These changes were made because of the situation created by the coronavirus. The original plan had been to continue playing with 18 teams spread across three divisions in both B1 and B2.
The league plans to open the 2020-21 season in October, though that may depend on where the situation around the coronavirus is at that point.
B. League Chairman Masaaki Okawa, speaking to reporters during an online video conference, said that it was one of the topics discussed during the meeting with the league's governing board. He also said the start of the season could be pushed back on a month-by-month basis depending on the circumstances.
But Okawa added the league needs to complete at least two-thirds of the season, around 40 games. To do that, the new campaign would have to begin in January at the latest. Whatever the case may be, Okawa said the league needs to settle on a date to start the season one month in advance because of ticket sales and other elements.
The details of the postseason will be discussed later. Okawa said the league is considering using a system that will be mostly the same as in previous years — with eight clubs (the top three in each conference and the next two teams with the best records, regardless of their conference, as wild cards) competing in a best-of-three format in each round of the playoffs. The B. League title game has generally been a winner-take-all contest, but Okawa hinted it could also become a three-game series.
The league chief added that the playoffs will have to end by the end of May 2021, since the Tokyo Olympics will begin July 23.
Asked what the league would do if players become infected with the virus, and also how it plans to prevent players, fans and officials from becoming infected, Okawa essentially said the league would do its best. He said it would cooperate with players and clubs and take precautionary measures. He cautioned that because of how fast things have been changing, it's difficult to anticipate what the circumstances will be in “in half a year.”
“It’ll be dependent on the situation,” Okawa said. “But we are talking about having(the players) checking their body temperatures and bringing thermometers (to the arenas) and preparing examination kits. But we don’t know if we’d be able to get (the kits) or not. It’s best for us to have both precautionary measures and measures for when we have someone infected. But it’s difficult to articulate about what could happen in half a year from now, that’s my honest feeling.”
Okawa said the board of governors also touched on the situation with the Osaka Evessa, who have had 11 players and two officials infected with the coronavirus. He said that it was “regrettable” one club has had that many members contract the disease.
The Evessa revealed that five players participated in a large gathering on March 24, three days before the league’s decision to cancel the season. Okawa said that they were “careless” to join such an activity, given the situation.
The board meeting was held via an online conference.
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