By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (July 31, 2012) US Soccer Players – Well, of course the National Basketball Association is "interested" in following soccer's example with the Olympics. Numerous reports have the NBA pushing their sport's international governing body to go the route of FIFA and the International Olympic Committee. Make it an Under-23 tournament, saving the senior squads for a different competition.
Downplaying the Olympics plays up that full National Team tournament, even if it reverses the order found in soccer. With the Olympics still holding to the amateur ideal, the World Cup was established for professional players decades before the NBA or FIBA existed.
Of course, there's a slight problem. FIBA's World Championship is almost as old as the NBA itself. Started in 1950, it's traditionally had a flexible working relationship with the game's biggest league. The team the USA sent to the World Championship was just like the Olympics, college players. FIBA didn't officially accept professionals until 1994, after the Barcelona Olympics that established the USA's dream team of professional basketball players.
In other words, FIBA let the Olympics take the lead. Now, there's a push to reverse the order with the Olympics reverting to a version of the old amateur era and the FIBA World Championship becoming the basketball equivalent of the FIFA World Cup with full support and involvement of the National Basketball Association.
Meanwhile, world soccer has already been struggling with the idea of involvement with the Olympics and what it means for their own tournaments. The International Olympic Committee needs the Men's soccer tournament since it's normally the biggest draw at the Summer Olympics. That was part of the rationale for accepting a limited definition of national team, an Under-23 squad plus three overage players.
What that's meant for the tournament is a competitive disadvantage for the European teams and an opening for teams that wouldn't be among the favorites in a competition using senior squads. UEFA doesn't play U-23 soccer. They use their Under-21 tournament as their Olympic qualifiers. Even the short-run qualifying tournaments used by other Confederations give their actual U-23 squads a chance to gel. UEFA lacks that, with their countries left to use a core group of younger than necessary players blended with those that are older than 21 but younger than 23 along with the overage additions. Add to that the pressures from clubs over player releases, and the squads can quickly end up non-representative within their limits.
That's the quick explanation for a team like Spain making an early exit courtesy of Japan and Honduras. That double whammy of disappointing results might happen at full international level, but it's not exactly likely. The unlikeliness of the Olympic soccer tournament has become its hallmark.
In recent tournaments, basketball's Olympic experience is based solely on the players the NBA releases. If the USA lineup is the equivalent of an All-Star team, it's their tournament to lose. If the USA squad is missing a few league All-Stars, there's an opening for other teams.
With that in mind, the NBA is already in control of the quality of the tournament. There's no doubt the message that sends, not just to the IOC but to FIBA who would very much like a better World Championship experience.
For soccer, there's no World Cup in theory. They already have the biggest professional sports tournament on the planet. That's not true for the major North American professional sports, the ones who dominate the club game but have yet to figure out how that translates internationally. Hockey might have the experience to take the lead here, but they're as caught up in the problem that choosing between the Olympics and a stronger World Championship can become as any league. Baseball lost the Olympics and continues to build their World Cup. The US gridiron code would likely dominate an attempt at a World Championship due to the particularities of the game, but it didn't stop them from spending considerable amounts of money in an attempt to setup a European league.
Where this leaves basketball is in a position familiar to all of the major professional team sports that have an Olympic component. How much is enough to satisfy the Olympic movement and allow their players an Olympic opportunity without harming a true world championship? Not to be flippant, but if there was an easy answer soccer would've already provided it.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
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