The 2019-20 British Basketball League season is officially done and dusted.

The least surprising news in the British Basketball League’s 33-year history was confirmed on Monday morning, over two months on from what – even back in what now seems a lifetime ago – was anticipated to be its concluding game at March 15’s BBL Trophy final between victorious Newcastle Eagles and Solent Kestrels as the coronavirus lockdown loomed.

As widely expected, Glasgow Rocks will not be crowned as champions. The league’s board decided that they will not be awarded the title despite topping the table by four points with only five games remaining at the point of cessation.

Despite a vocal plea from the Rocks’ owner, Duncan Smillie, that they should acquire silverware for the first time in almost two decades, opposition from other teams – and the numerical reality that the top seven sides were all still mathematically in contention – doomed their chances.

“Obviously this is not the way anyone wanted to see the season end and we worked hard to try to find an alternative solution,” claimed BBL chair, Sir Rodney Walker, in a statement.

“The 2019-20 season was one of the most exciting and competitive we’ve seen and shaping up to a very exciting finish, and we look forward to building on that as we move into the new 2020-21 season.”

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Hope that the BBL could yet find a way to complete its season had long ago evaporated amid the reality of the New Normal. Few owners had given the idea any real credence from the moment play was initially postponed.

Almost all of the BBL’s foreign players returned home in March and, amid the rules during lockdown and emerging from it, there was no prospect of a route to even stage games behind closed doors in the short to medium term, let alone one which would filter teams through to a money spinning finale at The 02.

An option tabled to the eleven clubs, to finish off the term with playoffs and a final in September, was discarded following discussions last month with “the validity” of that option, officials said, considered to have been “limited”.

But what now?

With a lengthy delay expected until crowds are permitted to spectate at indoor sport in any part of the UK, some fear the BBL will not be able to start its 2020-21 season before next Christmas with lucrative revenue from events such as summer camps also now set to be drained from the collective pool.

“It’s just not viable for the BBL to play games behind closed doors,” acknowledged the BBL’s chief operating officer, Andy Webb.

The overall financial hit, estimated to be around £1 million across the league, is “significant”. At BBL level, losing the annual Playoff final is thought to have cost the league in excess of £200,000 in precious profits although it is understood that media rights holders Perform will only delay, rather than reduce the fees agreed in their contract, due to the prospect of extra fixtures next term.

“We’ve been hit very hard by the financial implications of Covid-19,” Webb underlined. “A part of that is the revenue we get from the Playoff finals. I’m disappointed that we were looking at record sales for The O2 – that makes it tough. But we’ll be back – and we’ll be strong.”

While a decision has been taken to potentially add extra games next term – with each team playing one another three times in the league – to deliver extra revenue for cash-strapped clubs, admitted Webb, no firm date has been set to tip off the new campaign despite a hope that action may recommence “in the autumn”.

“We will only set our launch date when we have information from the Government that it is safe to do so,” he said.

“Clearly playing to full arenas would be ideal but there is currently no certainty on when that will be, and we are exploring all options in close consultation with our clubs.”

He added: “The safety of players, coaches, club staff and fans is paramount and we will be adhering to all guidelines to allow them to return safely. We do understand that these plans can change and so we’re doing appropriate contingency planning while retaining flexibility, so that we can act quickly and safely when we need to.”


A statement from Glasgow made clear their irritation at not landing what would have been a first-ever league title.

It said: “When the season was postponed Glasgow Rocks had completed 75% of their championship games and were clear at the top of the table with only five games remaining.

“It is disappointing but not in the least bit surprising, that the BBL board have decided to dismiss the efforts of our coach and players who at the time had proved themselves to be the strongest team in the Championship. Glasgow Rocks accept the decision of the BBL and will make no further comment on the matter.”

Photo: Mansoor Ahmed

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