French baseball’s governing body, the FFBS, has finally released the schedule for its top-division (D1) baseball league (click here), and that, mes amis, means the countdown to Opening Day is officially on.
But before the games begin, Le Baseblog wants to highlight a few particularities with regards to this year’s program, including a change in the number of participating team. But first, a quick look at the date everyone is circling in their calendars.
Two years after the COVID pandemic began, the virus continues, unfortunately, to circulate. Right now, though, France is moving in the direction of easing restrictions (for now at least), and as far as timing is concerned, that’s great news for the baseball season.
More specifically, Opening Day will, by all accounts, take place as scheduled, and that in itself is a big change compared to last year, when the season began a full two months later than anticipated, and to 2020, when the D1 ended up being cancelled outright.
When when will France’s top teams finally play ball? On Sunday, April 10, it turns out, with double-headers taking place in four cities: Rouen, Metz, Montpellier and Lieusaint.
The reigning champion Rouen Huskies will host the Montigny Cougars. In Metz, the Cometz welcome Paris UC. The Montpellier Barracudas face the La Rochelle Boucaniers. And in Lieusaint, south of Paris, the Sénart Templiers host Nice Cavigal.
And then there were 10
For years the D1 was an eight-team league. Then, in 2019, the FFBS expanded it to 12 teams. But that format lasted just one season.
The first to be relegated were the Valenciennes Vipers, which is why only 11 clubs participated in 2021. And this year? The number is now down to just 10 teams, this time due to the departure of the Clermont-Ferrand Arvernes, who will participate in the D2.
That leaves the eight teams (as previously mentioned) that will kick off their season on April 10, plus two more squads – the Savigny Lions and Toulouse Tigers – who begin their campaigns the following weekend.
The staggered start is due to the fact that teams will be divided into two groups of five teams. During the regular phase of the season, teams will only compete within their groups, meaning that on any given week, one team from each pool – starting with Savigny and Toulouse – will be idle.
That leads us to the next big change in this year’s format, because as readers no doubt recall, last year Savigny and Toulouse were in the same group (together with Rouen, Montigny and Paris UC).
So what happened? Presumably for reasons of geography, the FFBS decided to move the Toulouse Tigers into Group B, together with the Templiers, Barracudas, Boucaniers and Nice Cavigal. The Metz Cometz, in the meantime, shift over to Group A, where they’ll compete against Rouen, Montigny, Paris UC, and Savigny.
The uneven number of teams participating in the 2021 season (with five in one group and six in the other) meant, in the end, that the two groups played a different number of games. The Group B clubs each had 20 regular-season matches, compared to just 16 for the teams in Group A.
This year will be an improvement in that regard, as all of the league’s participating teams will play the same number of matches: 16. Starting April 10 (as previously mentioned) games will be played most weekends until Sunday, July 24.
Exceptions include the weekends of May 28/29, when the league’s top eight teams will be busy playing in the Challenge de France tournament, and of June 4/5 and June 25/26, which are reserved for spillover games (matches that were postponed due to rainouts, COVID problems or any other unforeseen circumstances).
The Final Four!
Like in 2021, only four teams – the top two from each group – will advance to the playoff round. And again, the number one seed in each group will play the second-place finisher in the opposite pool in a best-of-five series.
But unlike last year, when long delay to the start of the season meant that the playoffs didn’t take place until October, this year’s semi-finals will take place in the heart of the summer, starting the weekend of July 30/31. The finals will then take place in August, with a fifth and final game – if necessary – on Aug. 21.
Which teams will make it that far? So far it’s impossible to say. But don’t worry: Le Baseblog plans to be covering the league all season, so keep checking in as the action unfolds, starting in just… six weeks!