Meet Indian Insanity-an overarching name applied to four new national competitive sports leagues in India: a collegiate basketball league, a collegiate American football league, a professional basketball league, and a professional American football league.
The name of the game is entertainment.
The Philanthropic Game
Not entirely so, say the group behind Indian Insanity who believe that their mission is philanthropic. They seek to help expand and grow the sport while giving Indian children opportunities that they have never had before.
Sunday Zeller, the Co-CEO, said that she initially thought of expanding these sports leagues in Africa, but then came to the realization that India has the infrastructure to support such leagues due to its size and propensity for quick education and quick adoption of western culture. She went on to say that a large part of the organization’s mission is based around creating opportunities for the players and creating avenues through which children, who previously may not have been in a position to attend schools, can be educated.
The group has created the first ever football scholarship and plans to create more sports scholarships. In an attempt to ensure that this success grows and continues they are asking that any college that joins their collegiate leagues, sets aside special resources to help the players get into and through college.
The rise of Satnam Singh and Sim Bhullar, has put an international spotlight on Indian basketball like never before. The same way Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo led the expansion of the National Basketball Association (NBA) into China and Africa and in particular Congo. The new Indian NBA big men, while not yet as great as the two aforementioned players are beginning to spread excitement.
Basketball despite its recent increase in popularity in India is by no means a new sport to the country. The first national tournaments in India came about in 1934 and the Indian national basketball team became a member of FIBA, the International Basketball Federation, in 1936. The Indian national team has only qualified for the Olympics in basketball once in 1980, but has placed fourth in the FIBA Asia championship. Currently the Indian national basketball team ranks 61st in the world and 11th in Asia.
Today national level basketball competitions are mainly under the governing body called the Basketball Federation of India or BFI. The BFI has for years been attempting to set up a national professional league, but has been utterly unsuccessful. The Universal Basketball Alliance University (UBA-U), is the name of the collegiate league that has been set up to serve as a feeder into the Universal Basketball Alliance league (UBA).
The professional UBA league consists of eight teams with an expansion into 12 teams occurring in the upcoming season. The current eight existing teams are the Pune Peshwas, the Delhi Capitals, the Haryana Gold, the Punjab Steelers, the Chennai Slam, the Mumbai Challengers, the Bengaluru Beast, and the Hyderabad Sky.
As of right now the league owns all of the teams, however as the league expands the plan is to sell the teams to investors.
According to Zeller, there has been much interest from big Bollywood stars, who wish to purchase teams, but as of right now there is no specific plan as to how to determine sellers. Abhishek Bachchan has been spotted at the UBA’s games.
Zeller indicated that prior to the UBA’s arrival into India, there were national leagues, but they played in barns and lacked organization and exposure.
While the UBA does not have an exclusive television deal just yet, TEN Sports, Asia’s leading sports network, has been broadcasting their games and is reportedly very interested in striking up an exclusive deal very soon. Currently TEN sports broadcasts the UBA-U’s final eight-team knockout stage of the tournament. A deal with TEN sports would ensure that for the first time in India there will be a televised basketball draft, in which players would be selected from the UBA-U into the UBA.
When looking back at a successful season that ended with the Chennai Slam easily disposing of the Pune Peshwas in the championship with a final score of 81-49, Zeller says that the next big improvement step will be improving the quality of the coaches, and expanding the marketing team.
Unlike basketball, American football has never before been present on any type on national level in India. This brings it’s own unique set of challenges to the Elite Football League of India (EFLI), the national competitive American football league and the EFLI-U, the collegiate or university league.
Zeller says of the challenge of educating the Indian population about the rules and how to play football, that the company has been infiltrating into not only schools from elementary to college, but also businesses, stating that many business men have taken to playing football on the weekends.
According to Zeller, the Indian public is very receptive to ideas and trends coming from the west, especially America, and that American football is picking up very quickly now that the first couple seasons have come to a close.
The skill level in the EFLI still needs a lot of developing, but shows promise with the establishment of the EFLI-U to serve as a feeder league where players can first develop their skills before playing in the professional leagues.
In addition to the feeder league and training camps, the EFLI had ten thousand walk-ons all striving to make the team, “with the biggest players coming out of Punjab,” says Zeller.
Unlike the UBA, many of the football teams are owned not by the league itself but by investors, both inside of and outside India. The EFLI is currently made up of 24 teams including teams in Pakistan, with an expansion to 32 teams coming in the future. The league is currently being broadcast on TEN Sports, with the league coming to an exclusive agreement with the network, for free television time over the next five years.
The 2015 Super Bowl had a record number of 114.4 million viewers and is one of the most widely awaited and watched events around the world. It is not news, by any means, that domestic leagues, regardless of the sport, have the ability to grab national attention and to build people around a country into a jubilant frenzy.
One of the largest frenzies surrounding American sports is March Madness, the collegiate basketball tournament that captures the attention of millions of viewers and generates billions in revenue. The single elimination tournament is run through the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
The idea of March Madness is what led to the naming of the Indian sports organization that is taking the country by storm, Indian Insanity.
One of the slogans of the organization is “All India, All the Time.” This slogan is meant to show that all of the players and coaches and infrastructure for the league is Indian, and not simply foreign players playing a foreign sport in India.
The goal of this according to Indian Insanity is to have the Indian public identify with the sport and see it as something that can be a part of their weekly TV watching, their possible future as athletes, and ultimately their identity.
The league states that they are taking a grass roots approach to spreading the game, by sending players out into the public in order to spread the game as a way of demonstrating public loyalty and unity.
Roshn Marwah is a longtime Bay Area sports fan and is majoring in economics and computer science at Purdue University. He can be reached at[email protected]