Liga Calcio Chaos: Did Serie B shrink in the laundering?
Everywhere in the world except North America, relegation is a sporting drama. Teams rise and fall on merit. In Italy this summer, commercial interest became the deciding factor.
Much like non-league teams in England, it's customary for teams in the lower divisions in Lega Calcio to win promotion on the pitch but fail in the boardrooms.Some can't afford the category registration for the higher league. Others are rejected because their grounds don't meet the criteria or for other sporting concerns. However, this summer any acceptable limit was exceeded. While heralding Ronaldo's arrival at Juventus as indicative of Italian football's renaissance, a battle of the have-nots waged in Series B and C.
In Serie A, Chievo Verona was found guilty of administrative doping. The Flying Donkeys inflated their balance sheet with fictitious capital gains. Such a serious accusation should have led to a severe penalty, perhaps a points deduction in last season's table that might cause relegation. With that in mind, Crotone hoped to be readmitted to Serie A. Unfortunately for I Rossoblu, appeals postponed the sentencing phase, allowing Chievo to remain in the top flight.
In Serie B, Bari and Cesena declared bankruptcy. Avellino failed to comply with administrative admission requirements. Immediately Ternana, Siena and Pro Vercelli requested their readmission to Serie B. Further developments motivated Novara and Catania to also apply for second-tier status. Neither had the proper prerequisites to make the request but somehow became immediate favourites in the expanding race.
Like an Olympic sprint or a rowing competition, in which the fastest losers from qualifying heats face each other to determine who makes the medal round, Federcalcio was expected to organise a tournament among the applicants to fill the three available places that would keep the division at 22 teams.
Instead, the competition was continually postponed all the way up to the Serie B draw. Then the unthinkable happened. Serie B president Mauro Balata agreed to a request from the 19 registered clubs that ran against every rule in the FIGC charter. He allowed the league to contract to 19 teams rather than 22. There would be no repechage.
Decisions to alter any league's competitive format cannot be immediately implemented. There is a three-year waiting period that allows clubs to adapt. Ignoring that rule triggered appeals from the Serie C clubs denied admission. None played their early matches so as to remain eligible for promotion while their appeals were heard.
When the ruling arrived, it favoured Balata and the existing Serie B sides. Each now benefits by splitting television revenues in 19 rather than 22 equal parts, but 19 is too few competitors in which three sides are relegated, two promoted directly, and six more compete in a playoff. The ruling sets a dangerous precedent should there be further bankruptcies or illicit dealings.
At least one is right around the corner. Chievo exchanged players with Cesena, inflating unnamed players' value for budgetary reasons. A ruling on Chievo is in the pipeline. Cesena's subsequent bankruptcy drew a 15-point penalty valid for last season, relegating them from Serie B. Entella would have claimed their place but declined because the readmission criteria puts them at a disadvantage.
Now? Nobody knows. The decision is postponed again. Entella played and won in Serie C. Even so, readmission seems inevitable. The Biancoclesti have seven [and counting] matches to make up. In the meantime, Viterbese, continues to protest their inclusion in Serie C group C while other teams await matches against now idle Entella in Group A.
While Ronaldo is delighting in Serie A, the remainder of Italian football loses credibility by the day.