This year is the China Basketball Association's tenth anniversary. Since 1995, it has become one of the country's top leagues, second only to the China Football Association (CFA). But unlike the ailing CFA, the CBA is fairly well regulated and efficient.
Last month, it launched its 10-year development plan, the "North Star Project," in Beijing with an aim to become the best league in Asia and among the world's best in the years to come. And according to Li Yuanwei, director of China Basketball Administration Center, the CBA's ongoing reforms also include introducing a Super League to replace the current league from next year.
So, as a transitional period, the current season will be crucial in deepening reforms and developing the top clubs. To make the league more professional, the changes include two divisions, more frequent matches, restrictions on foreign players and better services for the fans and media.
Following the NBA's example, dividing the 14 teams into north and south conferences is one of the most prominent CBA reforms. Each team will play 38 games in the regular season with 266 matches overall, 84 more than before.
The top four from the regular season will qualify for playoff games. To make sure the best teams enter the final, the playoffs will use cross-elimination to match teams. That is to say, the No.1 team from the south will play the No.4 from the north and vice versa. The whole season will last half a year.
Because of the increase in matches, the competition agenda stipulates that each team has to play three matches per week, on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, one more than before.
Some have worried that players might be overloaded, but Li responded that, "Before, many thought the Chinese couldn't follow the NBA's pace in playing 82 games each season and they attributed this to physical differences. Just have a look at Yao Ming and his performance. He joined the NBA and finished all the games."
Also, from this year, two foreign players will not be allowed to play at the same time and in the same quarter.
Another change on court is the amendment of judgment rules. To make the
games more fierce and attractive, new regulations redefine the 24-second attack violation, with heavy penalties for technical offenses and other misconduct.
In the season's opening game between Fujian Xunxing and Zhejiang Wanma, there were only 33 foul penalties. Ma Lijun, an international class referee and chief umpire of the match, explained, "We notice that Chinese players suffered a lot from poor physical performances at the Athens Olympics. They couldn't challenge their rivals under the ring. So we will encourage players to have more body contact to improve their physical competitiveness."
Off court, the new season will see several measures to make better use of the media and boost communication with the audience, such as pre-game interviews, a spokesperson system and after-game interview areas.
The theme of better serving fans, sponsors and the media indicates that the authority has acknowledged that the audience is the backbone of a successful league. And for the first time, the CBA pledged to "market" the league well, rather than simply "organize" it like before.
CFA Vice President Yan Shiduo said before the national football team's humiliating failure to qualify for the 2006 World Cup that their biggest mistake has been that "we never really treat the audience as those on whom we rely for living." Apparently, the CBA has taken the warning.
(China.org.cn by Li Xiao, November 24, 2004)