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PostPosted: Mon Jan 24, 2005 3:16 am 
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Team handball, or simply "handball" to the rest of the world, is the second most popular sport on the planet, but hardly shows on the American sports radar. For those of you who aren't familiar with team handball, see this summary.

The concept would be to create a league to encourage the development of players at all levels by providing a "carrot" (a pro league) other than the US National Team and a few fledgling college programs. While most of the players in the pro league wouldn't necessarily be competing for spots to represent the US in international play, it would hopefully encourage youth to take up the game.

The league itself would essentially start as two parallel four-team "bus leagues" to keep travel costs down. Each team would play 36 games across 18 weeks from mid-February (after the Super Bowl) to mid-June, playing 2 games each weekend, preferably on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Venues preferably would seat 1500 to 3000 (keep in mind that a handball court is bigger than a basketball court, but smaller than a hockey rink).

One division would consist of New York, New Jersey, Boston, and Philadelphia. The other division would consist of Washington, Richmond, Greenville, and Atlanta. Each market was chosen based on factors of population, geography, and its existing team handball base (usually a club and/or college team, with Atlanta and New York the runaway winenrs).

Players would be played roughly $100 to $125 per game. As an added wrinkle, players would be paid a minimal wage or stipend for practices. Rosters would be limited to fourteen active and two injured reserve players. Each team would be allowed a head coach and an assistant coach.

The rule changes the league would make would be geared towards making the game longer, as most high-level games are done in 90 minutes.

1) quarters of 15 minutes, instead of 30-minute halves
2) clock stops after goals when less than 2:00 to play in a quarter
3) each team would have a total of three timeouts, instead of two; only two may be carried over to the second half
4) tie games would be broken in a shootout

The first preseason would be a training camp for athletes willing to learn the game-four to five weeks of practices in October/November. Given that I had a teammate at Alabama who nearly made the national team in his first season playing the sport, some good athletes who are willing to learn could easily turn into high-caliber players given time to develop their skills. At the same time, prospective referees would be going through their own training.

After Thanksgiving, the goal shifts from training players to forming teams. Experienced players would then join training camp graduates for tryouts and preseason practices. Teams would play two weekends of preseason games in January and early February. Referees would use the preseason games and teams' intrasquad scrimmages to practice.

After the regular season begins, each team would have two games and ten hours of practice a week.

The division champions and runners-up would play in a single-elimination tournament at the site of one of the division champions. The #1 seed from each division would face the #2 seed from the other division in the semifinals.

An all-star game would be held the following week.

Near the end of the regular season, youth initiatives would be launched in each team's market (see the Atlanta area for a current example) to bring the game to school-age children in each city. Hopefully, teams will be able to build their youth programs to have leagues running when their second season starts the next winter, possibly crowning youth league champions in games played on their own home court as undercards for regular season games. Elementary students would be the target for the first year, middle school students added the second year, and grades 9-12 being added in the third or fourth-year. Pro league players and coaches would be expected to volunteer their time teaching the game.

As the league strengthens itself and builds a fan base, it would enter regions that allow it to repeat the same formula. Play would remain regionalized during the regular season. Future expansion would target areas like the following:

Texas - Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, Houston
Florida - Panama City, Jacksonville, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale
Midwest - Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Fort Wayne

... etc.

Each round of expansion would see new preseason training camps set up to train additional athletes who are new to the game. As the youth leagues continue to grow, it's possible that players could go pro upon graduating from high school. These players, along with a few talented athletes who learned "on the job", would help pump up the talent pool for the United States in international play-hopefully making the USA a powerhouse instead of a doormat-and allow them to refine their skills throughout the year much closer to home.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 24, 2005 2:40 pm 
a) I've played handball. It's fun. But I also liked dodgeball much better and that's not ever going to be professional. Funny movie, but it's not a pro sport.

b)
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the second most popular sport on the planet

Unless you're posting from another planet (or moon) I'd argue this point. Not only is the sport lagging in North America, but I don't see any world coverage of handball that comes close to what's available for rugby, cricket, basketball (my vote for #2) or auto racing. There may be large numbers of participants in rec leagues, but #2 is a stretch, IMO, and possibly a large one.

c) If you're serious, start at the collegiate level. Much like Olympic sports allowing this sanctions by the NCAA could serve to foster development of the game while promoting interest.

d) I'm actually responding to an inquiry regarding the viability of a handball league! I just don't know what to say now...


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 24, 2005 2:49 pm 
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In terms of number of participants worldwide, soccer is first, handball is second, and I believe basketball is third.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2005 12:15 pm 
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You could argue that cricket is bigger... given popularity in India and several other places. Maybe not convincingly, but you could argue that.

I know someone who's planning a Dodgeball World Cup in North Carolina. Dude's had this idea long before the movie came out. I'd call it a speculative venture. Of course, I've not mentioned how popular Rollerball is, haven't I?

I watched some handball at the '84 Olympics (sold out at Fullerton's Titan Gym) and the finals at the '90 Goodwill Games in Seattle (the facility now known as Mercer Arena, which holds about 4,000). People go when there's an event, and that's about it... there's just no way you can make something viable right now. I should mention that the court required is larger than a basketball floor, though smaller than a hockey rink; making a participation sport out of this game is going to be shortchanged by trying to play it in the average high school gym.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 10, 2005 3:02 pm 
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BTW, I should mention a few more things.

I think cricket is bigger, I KNOW rugby has a bigger profile, and I believe basketball is bigger than handball. Handball is primarily big in Europe, but may have small pockets of support in Asia. Basketball is now bigger in China, South America, and in some countries in Europe.

I'm going to go to my sensitive soccer side here for a moment. I want America to win the World Cup someday. As long as we were tweaking the rules to "Americanize" the sport, we sucked on the world stage. Now that MLS is more normal, you get 2002, and even more room for improvement. Since a National Team is going to tie into issues with handball, DON'T CHANGE THE RULES. Americans have become wise to such things. If TV found a way to remove commercials from soccer programming without removing the commercial presence, it can be done with other sports.


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