On Tuesday, FIBA will draw the groups for the 2014 World Cup in Spain. And now they have announced the four wild cards who are joining the 20 teams who qualified through tournaments. Those teams (with their current FIBA World Ranking) are: Greece (No. 5), Turkey (No. 7), Brazil (No. 10) and ... Finland (No. 39).
Fifteen teams paid their fees to be considered for the wild card spots, including No. 6 Russia, No. 12 China, No. 14 Germany, No. 18 Nigeria, No. 21 Italy, No. 25 Canada and No. 28 Venezuela. Finns are fantastic, Finnish basketball is growing in stature and rewarding nations who invest in their basketball program is always worthwhile. But Finland is not more deserving of a spot in Spain than any of the above-mentioned teams. Including Finland at their expense makes for a worse World Cup.
Here's how FIBA Secretary General Patrick Baumann explained, in part, Finland's winning case:
"The fourth, Finland, impressed at EuroBasket 2013 by beating four teams from the Top 15 in FIBA's Ranking Men as they finished ninth in Slovenia."
Finland finished ninth in a tournament that sent its top six to the World Cup. Actually, it shared ninth place with 50th-ranked Belgium. The FIBA World Rankings take into account multiple tournament cycles, since performance one year can have really odd results based on player availability. (Turkey and Russia were, for example, awful at Eurobasket 2013, but have been so excellent elsewhere that they maintain high spots in the rankings.)
There's no situation in which you are reasonably assured of getting a better tournament by including Finland -- who at its best finishes tied with Belgium for ninth in Europe -- over Russia, who could hang with Team USA on the right day.
I'm personally chuffed by the casting aside of Canada, a program which has the talent pipeline to actually become an elite team in the next decade. Perhaps the Canadians couldn't guarantee all of its top talent (Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Nicholson) would play in 2014.
But without a lot of that talent, Canada came within inches of qualifying via the FIBA Americas tournament last summer. They came a lot closer to an automatic berth than Finland did.
So why did FIBA really pick Finland over Russia, China, Canada or the others? From a Thursday press release by Finland-based mobile gaming giant Rovio.
Flying to support their fellow Finnish forest-dwellers, Rovio's Angry Birds are joining the Finnish Men's National Basketball Team, more commonly known as the Wolfpack, in its goal of receiving one of four Wild Card bids to the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
As part of the Finnish Wild Card bid, Rovio has agreed to provide advertising inventory in its ground-breaking mobile entertainment platform to the Wolfpack and the 2014 FIBA World Cup, if Finland is selected.
This is not the Finns' fault. This is FIBA's fault. Part of FIBA's criteria in choosing wild cards is financial. That means awarding berths, at least in part, to whichever country can deliver the most TV revenue or send the most fans. Small countries like Finland can't compete on that playing field, certainly not with China or Russia. So the Finns turned the tables a bit, recruited a major Finnish corporation and won. This is not the Finns' fault: it's FIBA's fault for being so openly open to what is basically bribery.
Picking Finland as the final wild card team wasn't a basketball decision. It was just Baumann closing a sale on a big advertising account. This is akin to the NBA picking the Cavaliers to make the playoffs despite being No. 13 in the East standings just because Dan Gilbert offers up a massive Quicken Loans ad campaign. But in the NBA, fans would be too outraged. In FIBA, everyone involved is almost proud of how things turned out.
The good news is that this is the last time FIBA is picking wild cards -- in the future, all World Cup spots will be determined by qualifying play. You can trust that FIBA will still find a way to make shady deals with the actual basketball as a secondary concern at best.