Sunday, October 17News That Matters

Nobody Saw the Knicks Coming

You ask; I answer. Every week in this space, I’ll field three questions posed via email at Please include your first and last name, as well as the city you’re writing in from, and make sure “Corner Three” is in the subject line.

(Questions may be condensed or slightly edited for clarity.)

Q: Knowing your fondness for both basketball and soccer, what was your perspective on the proposed European Super League? The idea that there would be reserved slots in a breakaway soccer league for 12 to 15 founding clubs and a few rotating slots set aside for qualifying teams looks very much like the current EuroLeague basketball setup. Why is this format deemed OK in basketball but not soccer? — Stew Levine (Plano, Texas)

Stein: If European basketball had all the best players in the world, as do the elite teams in European soccer that wanted to break away from UEFA and form their own version of the Champions League, there would be a similarly raucous outcry about the EuroLeague template. EuroLeague basketball doesn’t have anywhere near the same mass following as soccer’s Champions League because the best basketball players in the world are overwhelmingly in the N.B.A.

Yet it’s great that you brought up the EuroLeague, because the link here wasn’t being mentioned enough. Many in Europe described the Super League proposal as a desire among the owners of the 12 breakaway clubs in England, Spain and Italy to adopt an American major league sports model, at least in part because of the influence of American owners in the group who also own N.F.L., N.B.A. and Major League Baseball franchises. Another handy way of looking at it was that they wanted to adopt a EuroLeague basketball approach, in which Europe’s traditional powers were essentially assured of staying in the league no matter how they fared in their domestic leagues, with elements of the American franchise system mixed in.

Owners of the richest soccer clubs abroad surely envy many things when they compare the Champions League to the N.B.A. or the N.F.L. They want a league that their teams don’t have to qualify for every season, that carries no threat of relegation, and that has the most high-profile clubs playing each other more often — all to collect more television and commercial revenue without having to share as much as they do now. Even though their ambitions swiftly unraveled this week, I think we can safely presume that they would prefer the EuroLeague structure, which still falls under FIBA’s jurisdiction, over fully embracing the N.B.A.’s template.

To truly adopt the American model for major league team sports would mean signing up for a salary cap (with luxury-tax penalties) and, if not some sort of draft procedure, likely a league office headed by an independent commissioner to keep order. The teams at the heart of the Super League proposal don’t have to deal with any of that now and are presumably prepared to go only so far in reinventing themselves.

Also: There is an interesting N.B.A. footnote to all of this. Leading up to the Champions League final, I wrote this piece in May 2019 about the N.B.A.’s growing interest in working a soccer-style cup competition into the middle of its regular-season schedule. The N.B.A.’s thinking: Adding an extra trophy for teams to chase might give the 82-game regular-season grind more meaning and excitement.