In a recent article on the ISL, I briefly expounded on the J-League and how it has two sections in a season. There are two champions in a year and the league champion is decided by a series of playoffs between the winners of each section and the top two point accumulators in each phase.
This also happens to be a feature of Latin American soccer leagues with the traditional season from August to May divided into two parts termed the ‘Apertura’ [aperˈtuɾa] and ‘Clausura’ [klawˈsuɾa] tournaments. These words are Spanish for ‘opening’ and ‘closing’.
In Haiti, where they speak French, it’s ‘Ouverture’ and ‘Fermeture’. In Belize, where English is the pre-dominant tongue, it’s simply the ‘Opening’ and ‘Closing’ seasons.
The National American Soccer League also adopts a similar regime dividing the second-level league into ‘Spring’ and ‘Fall’ championships.
The terminology varies across different countries.
In Argentina, it’s ‘Inicial’ and ‘Final ‘(Spanish for “initial” and “final“). In Colombia, ‘Apertura’ and ‘Finalización’ and in Costa Rica, ‘Invierno’ and ‘Verano’ (Spanish for ‘winter’ and ‘summer’).
In some countries, these tournaments are national championships by themselves. In others, there is a final stage much like the J-League where the top teams play each other to be crowned the season’s winners. In yet others, the two league winners play each other in a curtain-raiser at the beginning of the next season.
Most tourneys with fewer teams utilize a double round-robin format while in leagues with many more sides participating, only a single round-robin format suffices.
Relegations, if any, are usually on an aggregate basis.
Application to IPL
This year, the Champions League Twenty20 was scrapped by the Australian, English and Indian boards jointly.
The reasons given were poor viewership and lack of sponsorship.
Franchises from India, Sri Lanka, West Indies, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and England take part. England have not participated since 2013 citing clashes with their domestic season.
Amongst all the T20 leagues taking place today, the Indian Premier League is the richest, most glamorous and most successful by far.
However, the competition is plagued by player withdrawals and injuries as well as viewer fatigue given the sheer number of matches over a period of two months.
This year, the IPL followed the ODI World Cup. It was difficult to attract television sponsors given their budgets had already been exhausted on 2015’s premier cricket tournament.
This is a perennial problem with the IPL when international tournaments are scheduled either before or after it. The BCCI, with its clout, may have cleared the ICC calendar for its showcase tourney but it has no control on the purse-strings of corporate sponsors and where they choose to spend their advertising money.
The splitting of the IPL into two phases can be the solution to these worries.
A shorter tourney would be more attractive to sponsors, cut both player and viewer fatigue and keep interest right from the beginning without having the audience tune in towards the end of the league to clue in as to which teams would finally qualify for the knock-out rounds.
The current format is a double round-robin league featuring home and away games.
Each side plays a total of 14 games. In a single round-robin league, this would be reduced to seven each.
Seven is not an even number. Half the teams would be slightly advantaged, playing one game more at home. This, of course, is offset by them playing one less home-game in the latter phase.
The division into two pieces would allow for a much tighter ship. Interest in the next phase would be retained by the addition of a playoff round deciding the eventual victor.
This would also allow players to make themselves available for at least one phase of the tournament and not have them either arrive or leave abruptly midway through the tournament. The first phase could be scheduled for April and the second in October using the spot vacated by the Champions League.
An addition of four more games as a season closer can always be accommodated. This, of course, may entail expenditure on two more trophies but that is a small price to pay for a much more streamlined event.
The clamour for reform in the IPL ought not to be confined to spot-fixing allegations, conflicts of interest, transparency and probity in ownership.
The tournament itself needs to be examined and vetted to see that it can withstand the wares from mushrooming leagues in other sports that slowly but surely will erode their viewership.
Standing still on a moving treadmill is never a good idea.