Yesterday, the KNBSB presented new plans for the 2022 Dutch hoofdklasse. Most of the reactions were not very positive. Sure yours truly doesn’t shy away from criticizing the KNBSB when necessary, but in this case it is too early to judge.
Even though it is too early to judge, yours truly has some questions/thoughts about the realization of the new plans.
One of the many complaints about the new plan yours truly read was about the eerste klasse, the second tier league in the Netherlands. Will clubs still be motivated, knowing they cannot be promoted anymore? Clubs can be promoted but only if they meet certain minimal standards, which are not known yet. But let’s be honest, how many clubs in the eerste klasse really want to be promoted. In the past years many passed on that opportunity.
In its press release, the KNBSB wrote about a quality boost. How do they want to obtain that? A quality boost in what? Player level? Coaching level? Educational level? That is not clear yet. When it comes to player level, with a small sport, like baseball is in the Netherlands, there is simply not enough good (player) material to give the hoofdklasse a quality boost. In the past seasons it showed. Clubs like DSS (before the cooperation with Kinheim), Silicon Storks, and recently Quick Amersfoort were dangling at the bottom of the standings, simply because most of the players on those squads were not at the same level as players of Curaçao Neptunus, L&D Amsterdam Pirates, and HCAW, to name a few. Yours truly doesn’t expect this to change in the near future, especially when you expand the hoofdklasse to nine clubs. There is simply not enough player material to have nine rosters of (more or less) equal strength. Wouldn’t a (temporary) downsizing to six clubs be a better option? In this way, the few quality players on the rosters of the clubs that will be cut, can be divided among the other six clubs (likely the remaining bottom four).
One has to realize that improving the quality in the hoofdklasse will be a lengthy process. And this can only be realized if more people start to play baseball. If more persons start to play baseball, the bigger the pond gets from where the talented players will emerge. On the positive note, after years of dwindling numbers, there was a rise (minuscule though) in members in 2021. So the downfall has been stopped for now. If the number of members will grow and the number of talents as well, then the hoofdklasse could be expanded to more teams again (referring to the previous paragraph).
According to the website of the KNBSB, to realize the objected quality impulse, more money will be needed in a more structural way. This is the reason why the hoofdklasse will become a closed circuit. In the press release, it wasn’t explained how this closed circuit would help with obtaining more money for the clubs. One can think of funds of the NOC/NSF (Dutch Olympic Committee/Dutch Sports Federation) but it is not engraved in stone. Clubs will have to find sponsors themselves as well. They simply cannot rely on the KNBSB alone.
Another comment about the new format of the hoofdklasse was the following one. A hoofdklasse without relegation will be less challenging for the bottom four teams that do not make the playoffs. In fact these teams are playing for nothing. In previous years, those teams played to avoid relegation. One can wonder how players will stay motivated. According to the commenter, this would lead to players quitting baseball… Especially the last, is nothing more than assumption. Perhaps players like to play without the stress of playing against relegation. And perhaps the KNBSB will find a solution to prevent teams for playing for nothing. One could think of a cup tournament with which the winner could win a certain amount of money.
[EDIT] Someone on Facebook rightfully said that if clubs are eliminated for the playoffs, they can try out some talented youth players. Normally, when playing against relegation, they won’t do that. Now clubs cannot go down to the eerste klasse, they can give more youth players playing time.
The presented plans are nothing more than a framework. Still, a lot is unknown. Yours truly thinks it is better to let the KNBSB and the hoofdklasse clubs complete the plans and wait how they will pan out. Like I wrote, improving the quality (no matter the area) is a lengthy process. Give this plan time to grow and to pan out. Yours truly thinks that it will take about five years (likely a bit more) before one can say if a plan like this is a success or not. Right now it is too early to burn it down, simply because we don’t know all aspects yet.