September 24, 2022 

2022-23 EuroLeague FAQ – Part 1

What is the EuroLeague, and why should you watch it? Your questions answered

The WNBA postseason is over, and we have more than half a year until the first 40-game WNBA regular season arrives in May 2023. In the meantime, the only thing we can do is turn our attention to the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, which is currently underway, and the European basketball season coming soon.

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Hoops across the pond will tip off in October, with each country’s league and domestic competitions on different schedules. But the largest tournament, the EuroLeague Women regular season, will get started on Oct. 26. Before we reach that point, there will also be a few qualifying games for teams still vying for a place in the regular season, with those matches taking place from Oct. 11 through Oct. 19.

You might be completely lost about what all of this means, but fear nothing, folks, as we’re here to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the EuroLeague. In fact, we’ll answer so many that we’ll need a Part 2 next week!

What is the EuroLeague?

You may have heard about WNBA players playing overseas and competing year-round. There have also been headlines lately about impending WNBA rules, known as prioritization, that will fine and/or suspend players for being late to return from overseas play. That’s precisely where the EuroLeague pops up in the picture.

European pro basketball, contrary to that played on American soil, is played on both national and continental levels, joint but separated at the same time. Teams around Europe play in domestic leagues (and a bunch of national cups, too), and depending on their performance in those competitions, they get a chance to compete in the EuroLeague. (However, some clubs have performed well enough to make the EuroLeague but lack the money to appear in the tournament. This happened to the Latvian club TTT Riga for the 2022-23 season.)

You can consider the EuroLeague the European counterpart to the WNBA in that it features the best teams across the continent and the best players in women’s basketball.

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Are WNBA players going to be blocked from playing in the WNBA?

Yes and no. For the 2022-23 overseas season (lasting from October to April) and into the 2023 WNBA season, the league will take a “soft” approach against players who decide to play basketball in Europe or any other non-American continent, for that matter. WNBA players with three or more years of experience will be fined if they don’t arrive by the start of training camp or May 1, whichever is later, and suspended for the entire season if they don’t arrive by the start of the regular season. Players coming off of their rookie or sophomore WNBA seasons won’t be penalized in any way.

Things will get harsher in 2024, as players with three or more years of experience must report by the start of training camp or May 1, whichever is later, to avoid being suspended for the entire season. (There are limited exceptions, such as for national team duty.)

Why is this a problem if the EuroLeague ends in April and the WNBA does not start until May?

Mostly because the WNBA wants to protect its product and players rather than lose players for a period of time.

Although the EuroLeague finishes in late April, some teams around Europe still compete domestically (in their nation’s league playoffs and cups) into May. The WNBA came back on May 6 this year and the EuroLeague’s final game took place on Apr. 10. Add some national competitions to that, and all of a sudden you get dangerously close to that early May date.

There is also overlap between both continents’ competitions in the fall. Last year, for example, the last game of the WNBA Finals took place on Oct. 17, but the EuroLeague regular season had started on Oct. 6. That means that players who jump straight from the WNBA to Europe or other continents are playing non-stop for a full calendar year without any downtime.

Now, take into consideration the injury risk that such a load carries, and you’ll get a solid idea of why the WNBA wants to stop the current cycle of never-ending activity.

Do relegations and promotions happen in the EuroLeague?

Not in the EuroLeague, but they happen in the national and domestic competitions. It is hard for the best teams — basically, those that make the cut to be part of the EuroLeague field — to get relegated from their national league. It can happen, but it doesn’t happen often.

The EuroLeague doesn’t use any sort of promotion or relegation system. The best teams around Europe get invited to take part in the competition; some get straight into it (based on their most recent results) and some have to qualify through a separate tournament. Those teams all compete in the regular season and the playoffs to win a championship.

As is the case in the WNBA, do all of the EuroLeague teams play each other multiple times?

No. First of all, the EuroLeague regular season is comprised of 16 teams, but those teams are not “franchises” in the American context. European teams and their players operate as different parts of multiple systems that intersect in this supercharged competition called EuroLeague. Basketball (namely the WNBA) and other major sports in the United States use a single system in which players are all part of the same pool and sign deals with their respective leagues, then are with a particular franchise until their contracts run out or they’re moved. On the other hand, each team in Europe nurtures its own talents via an internal development program, and there is no such thing as a draft that links players to the EuroLeague once they declare.

And no, not all 16 teams play each other in the regular season. In fact, they only play against seven other squads in home-and-away matchups.

Tell me more about the format.

Despite some interruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic, the EuroLeague maintained its usual format last year: There are two groups of eight teams each, and within each group, each team plays each other in home-and-away games. The top four teams in each group qualify for the playoffs, and the fifth- and sixth-best squads get to play in a lower-level continental competition (the EuroCup Women, which is similar to EuroLeague but entirely separate).

In the EuroLeague postseason, which starts around February, the quarterfinals are played in a best-of-three series. The series winners move onto the Final Four and the competition enters a single-elimination, winner-take-all format for the semifinals and the final. There is also a third-place game, though nobody wants to be part of that match.

So the EuroLeague starts in October and lasts until February, right?

Right, for the qualifying games and the regular season. The fun comes after that, though, with the postseason leading up to the Final Four and the championship game.

That’s a long regular season! And then the playoffs…

There won’t be any WNBA games any time soon, so tell me a better plan than watching the best players compete in Europe for the next several months!

That is all for now. Check this space next week to read the second part of our EuroLeague FAQ. From there, we’ll cover the games and top performances each week, starting with a preview of the qualifiers and running through the regular season and postseason.

Written by Antonio Losada

International freelance writer covering the WNBA overseas. Bylines at places, touching different bases. Always open to discussion over @chapulana || Full portfolio

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