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North American’s Guide to Euroleague

I realize that I may have gotten ahead of myself with some of this Euroleague coverage. Without a strong base for how the Euroleague is run, some readers and I may get lost with some of this coverage. So let’s just take a look with how Euroleague is structured.

How does a team qualify for Euroleague?

Unlike the NBA, team’s participation in the league isn’t automatic. Euroleague is a mash of the best, most popular pro teams from several autonomous, domestic European pro leagues. To determine which teams qualify for Euroleague, the governing body, ULEB, uses a licensing system.

The A Licenses grant automatic entry into the Euroleague for three years at a time. These licenses are awarded based on a formula of competitive balance, television revenues and home attendance. The ULEB suspended Virtus Roma’s A license after the club finished in the bottom half of its domestic league. To compensate, the ULEB awarded a license to Asseco Prokom Gdynia. 13 total A licenses are awarded. In addition, there is another ‘wild card’ license. It is awarded for three years and is based on A license criteria. How this is different from the A license is a mystery to me.

B licenses grant automatic entry into Euroleague for one year. They are directly based on team’s rankings in the domestic leagues. Seven are awarded per year.

A C license is granted for one year to the winner of the Eurocup which is the lower league for European play.

Finally, there is a qualifying tournament. It has been covered here before. 16 teams are awarded licenses to compete in this tournament. The top two teams qualify. These are classified as B licenses. The chart below distinguishes these licenses with a * symbol.

Country (League) # of Teams Teams (License type)
Spain Spain (ACB) 5 FC Barcelona Regal (A) Bizkaia Bilbao Basket (B) Real Madrid (A) Caja Laboral Baskonia (A) Unicaja Málaga (A)
Italy Italy (Lega A) 3 Montepaschi Siena (A) Bennet Cantù (B) Emporio Armani Milano (WC)
Turkey Turkey (TBL) 3 Fenerbahçe Ülker (A) Galatasaray (B*) Anadolu Efes İstanbul (A)
Greece Greece (HEBA A1) 2 Panathinaikos BC (A) Olympiacos BC (A)
Russia Russia (PBL) 2 CSKA Moscow (A) Unics Kazan (C)
Belgium Belgium (BLB) 1 Spirou Basket (B*)
Croatia Croatia (A-1 Liga) 1 KK Zagreb (B)
France France (LNB Pro A) 1 SLUC Nancy (B)
Germany Germany (BBL) 1 Brose Baskets (B)
Israel Israel (BSL) 1 Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv (A)
Lithuania Lithuania (LKL) 1 Žalgiris Kaunas A
Poland Poland (PLK) 1 Asseco Prokom Gdynia (A)
Serbia Serbia (KLS) 1 Partizan mt:s (B)
Slovenia Slovenia (SKL) 1 Union Olimpija Ljubljana (B)

How does the Euroleague season work?

The 24 teams are separated into four groups of six teams at random. Each team plays two games against the teams in their group: one home, one away. The four best records advance to the round of 16. The tiebreakers are best record in head-to-head games between all tied teams and higher cumulative score difference between all tied teams. There are more tiebreakers, but those are unlikely to come into effect.

From the round of 16, the remaining teams redraw into four groups of four. The same double round robin format applies and so do the tiebreakers. First and second place teams from each group advance to the quarterfinals.

In the quarterfinals, a first place team is pitted against a second place team from a different group of the round of 16. They battle in a best-of-five series, the first place team has home-court advantage. The winners of the the quarterfinals go to the Final Four.

The Final Four is held at a predetermined site. This year it is in Istanbul, Turkey. Instead of continuing with a series format, it’s a straight-up knockout round. March Madness style. Losers in the semis play for third. Winners play for the championship.

What are the rule differences between the NBA and Euroleague?

Euroleague follows FIBA rules. Good news for NBA fans, FIBA rules are moving closer to NBA rules. The trapezoid lane is now a rectangle and there is now a no-charge semi-circle. The three-point line has been moved back from 6.25 m to 6.75 m (or 22” 1.74” for lazy Americans).

There are still major differences. The games are 40 minutes with 10 minute quarters. Each player gets five fouls. The ball can be grabbed, swatted or touched once it touches the rim (love this rule).

Other than that, it’s basketball.

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