Allen Iverson has begun his career in the Turkish Basketball League, where he will find things a little different than in the N.B.A. His team, Besiktas, is favored to make the playoffs, where he may well encounter one of the more unusual rules you’ll see.
The Turkish league system is pretty similar to those of other European basketball leagues. There are 16 teams and they play each other twice each, home and home. That’s right, just 30 games, mostly just one a week. (There is also a Cup, and Besiktas and several other Turkish teams also play in European competitions, but they normally add only a handful of games to the schedule.)
Where it gets weird is the post-season playoffs. The top eight teams qualify, in the usual seeding (1 vs. 8, 4 vs. 5, etc.). The quarter and semi finals are best of 5 and the final is a best of 7.
So how come last year the quarterfinal between Efes Pilsen and Erdemirspor ended after Efes won just twice? Well it turns out that if you face a team in the playoffs that you swept in the regular season, you get a 1-0 head start in your playoff series.
This system has the strong potential to cause problems. Let’s say Besiktas goes into the final week battling for the 6 or 7 playoff spot. And it happened to have been swept by the 3 seed but have split with the 2 seed. That gives Besiktas a real motivation to lose its last game, so it can play the 2 seed even up, rather than starting in a 1-0 hole against the 3.
Or worse, what if Besiktas had actually managed a regular season sweep over the 2 seed? Now it is looking at a choice of starting with a 1-0 lead over the 2 seed or being 1-0 down to the 3. Having that lead is a much better spot.
Perhaps the team competing with Besiktas for the 6 and 7 slots also did better against the 2 seed in the regular season. Now both teams will be trying to lose. And if they are tied in the standings going into the final game, point differential will come into play as the tie breaker. If one team hears the other is losing by 20, it may have to try to lose by 30. That could get ugly quickly.
Something like this is not completely unheard of in leagues without an odd playoff bonus. On occasion, N.B.A. teams have been accused of tanking regular season games to gain a favorable playoff draw, perhaps feeling that they match up better with the 3 seed than the 4 seed, say.
But that’s a speculative advantage. The Turkish league is giving out a concrete advantage to teams in certain matchups. A 1-0 lead in a five-game series is huge. Teams would be foolish not to try to get it (or avoid giving it to their opponents).
One of the guiding principals here at First Round Bye is that the way sports competitions are structured can have a large and underappreciated influence on what happens on the field of play. This is a perfect example.