Basketball / League Heads Want to Emulate Soccer's Champions League

The heads of the top European leagues are on a crusade to change the structure of major competitions. In a conference held in Paris, leaders of 17 member leagues, among them Israel, discussed a proposal to restructure competitions along the lines of soccer's UEFA Champions League.

The overwhelming majority vehemently oppose the current structure, which they believe has turned the Euroleague into a closed millionaires' club.

The proposal would grant additional teams besides the league champion - which would automatically qualify for the group stage - an opportunity to qualify through a preliminary round. Should they fail to go through, they could still participate that season in the EuroCup, ULEB's secondary competition, which this year replaced the ULEB Cup. The Euroleague competition would then expand to a 32-team structure, according to one official attending the meeting.

Almost all the league heads support the change, including the largest league, Russia, which was participating for the first time.

The Israeli league's representatives - chairman Avner Kopel and general manager Edli Marcus - see the proposal as an opportunity for another team besides Maccabi Tel Aviv to reach the Euroleague.

Euroleague CEO Jordi Bertomeu did not attend the Paris meeting. Though he was in the French capital, ULEB President Eduardo Portela - who apparently has sided with the league heads - blocked him from attending. Sources familiar with the talks say Bertomeu will have a hard time trying to preserve the current format.

"We've been looking for some time into suggestions to change the method of games," commented Portela yesterday. "No doubt the current proposal looks to be among the more interesting ones."