Expanding ABL ponders divisional alignment

The ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) could undergo a massive revamp next season depending on the number of expansion teams active next year, according to sources.

Thailand Slammers.
Marcus Chhan

By Marcus Chhan

The ABL currently operates on a round-robin format where the six participating teams play each other four times in a 22-game regular season before the Playoffs to decide the Championship.

At the moment, the four top ranked teams in the regular season qualify for the Playoff Semi-finals which is a best-of-five series, as is the Finals.

However, the ABL is currently locked in talks with as many as four interested parties on expansion teams and FOX Sports understands this could have huge implications on how the 2014 season plays out.

Sources tell FOX that the ABL have already started drafting a few different schedules for next season and one of the outcomes could be a total restructuring of the ABL to form "divisional alignments" - not dissimilar to what the NBA has with its Eastern and Western Conferences.

It is understood that the ABL would consider divisional alignments with as few as eight teams - this would require just two expansion teams on top of the six teams currently playing - although they would ultimately leave it up to the team owners to make the final decision.

The ABL would not comment on what they regard as speculation at this point but its chief executive officer Anthony Macri did describe a recent team owners meeting last week in Manila as "very positive" for the league's future.

"Team owners meeting this past week in Manila was very positive - owners understand long-term strategy and not consumed with quick results," he said.

"When it comes to expansion, it is more important that new owners fit our vision and values, and are ready to take on long term commitment.

"We don't want to add if owners are not really ready for the responsibility - it hurts our brand if they don't stick around."

How the ABL teams would potentially be divided up next year is still unknown, but any outcome would certainly have an impact on the current Playoff system which on Thursday saw the top seeded San Miguel Beermen progress to the Finals after accounting for the Sports Rev Thailand Slammers in four games in their Semi-final series.

Waiting for San Miguel in the 2013 Finals, are defending champions the Indonesia Warriors in a rematch of last year's Championship series.

Warriors coach Todd Purves, who will make history if he leads the Indonesians to back-to-back titles, has thrown his support behind not only expansion but the possibility of divisional alignment in the ABL next season.

"Absolutely! I would encourage expansion. The more exposure we can give our league the better," Purves said.

"I think it [divisional alignment] could [work] with enough teams. It would probably save teams some travel costs as well."

With the very real possibility of additional teams next season, the ABL are also believed to be looking at whether it would be viable to add an extra round or rounds to the Playoffs from next season.

Another issue the league has to deal with next season is the 27th Southeast Asia Games (SEA Games) which will start on 11th December and will run for under two weeks.

This season the ABL tipped off on 11th January but with teams like the Jobstreet.com Singapore Slingers heavily affected by the exodus of their local players to the games, the start of the 2014 season will be delayed.

A source speaking on condition of anonymity said the 2014 ABL season would push to stay in relatively the same window - the first 6-7 months of the year - but the league would need to give its teams "at least a month from the end of the SEA Games" to prepare properly for the new campaign.

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