After a growing chorus of complaints about the format of the European Champions League, the continental club championship tournament, the CEV (governing body for volleyball in Europe) has announced a number of sweeping changes. The most vocal critics have been the purveyors of the most powerful league in Europe: the Italians. That includes the president of Trentino threatening to skip the 2018 Champions League, complaining about long travel and 3 games per week hindering the team’s success.
The biggest change will be to eliminate the final 4, where teams played semi-finals, with the winners advancing to the finals the next day and the losers playing for a bronze medal. The CEV has opened up bidding for the neutral-site hosting duties of what they’re calling an ‘ultimate Volleyball show’ for 2019, 2020, and 2021. That venue will host both the men’s and women’s championship matches on consecutive days.
In a break from volleyball tradition, which has created some awkward matchups, the CEV is also eliminating the automatic pass for the host nation of this grand finale. It looked like Alba Blaj from Romania was one of these undeserving-free-pass teams in the 2018 Champions League, though with a win over Galatasaray in the semi-finals they proved their level.
The first 4 rounds of qualifying (with 18 teams entering in round 4, and 2 advancing from earlier rounds) will take place in round robin pool-play formats. The quarterfinals and semi-finals, now a straight bracket format, will each feature home-and-away legs before the winner-takes-all final. This replaces the prior 6-team to 4-team format that was harder for fans to follow.
The new structure will also unify the formats for the men and women, and will change the way that teams and leagues are ranked for entry in the Champions League.
The Champions League has been hosted in Europe since 1959 for men and 1960 for women. Most importantly, the seeding of the 18 teams (out of 20 total) that advance to the 4th round of each tournament will “reflect the quality of their performance on the court as well as their investments in Volleyball and in the delivery of an elite product.” A cynic would read that as wealthier leagues and teams receiving more favorable seeding, at the behest of threats from its wealthier and more powerful members.
VakifBank Istanbul are the two-time defending women’s Champions League winners, while Zenit Kazan have won the last 4 titles. 3 countries, Turkey, Italy, and Russia, have won every women’s title dating back to the 2004-2005 season; Russia and Italy have won every men’s title dating back to the 2007-2008 season.
A full summary of changes, courtesy the CEV, are below. After the list of changes is a summary of the new structure:
- The same number of teams, i.e. 20, will participate in the 4th Round (League Round) of both the men’s and women’s competition, divided into five pools of four each, playing a double round robin. Out of these 20, 18 start their journey straight from the 4th Round to reflect the Champions League Ranking List, and two will progress there through the 1st-2nd and 3rd Rounds. The losers from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Round fixtures will continue their journey in the 2019 CEV Volleyball Cup.
- The CEV have introduced a new Champions League Ranking, which takes into consideration the performances achieved by all teams from the same National Federation that competed in 2016, 2017 and 2018 editions of Europe’s premier competition. This is to emphasise the status of the CEV Volleyball Champions League as a ‘top product’ and to make sure that the top teams from the strongest national leagues participate in the Champions League. This ranking reflects the investments and performances of all teams representing the same country in Europe’s elite competition. However, to ensure consistency with the policy adopted for the 2017 and 2018 editions, the winners of each National Federation’s league remain eligible to register and to participate in the CEV Volleyball Champions League. Click here to retrieve the relevant ranking as well as the allocation of spots for each National Federation.
- The seeding of 18 teams in the 4th Round will reflect the quality of their performance on the court as well as their investments in Volleyball and in the delivery of an elite product. As for the previous rounds, the level of competition will be fairer, thus increasing the chances for teams from the lower-ranked National Federations to progress to the 4th Round.
- After completion of the 4th Round, 8 teams will continue their journey in the quarterfinals, whose eventual winners will contest the semi-finals. Both the quarterfinals and semi-finals will feature home and away matches.
- A single match, a ‘grand finale’ whose winners take it all, replaces the Final Four in each gender. The CEV will now conduct an open and competitive bidding process to select the neutral host of this ‘ultimate Volleyball show’ in 2019, 2020 and 2021. In a major change compared to the past, no team will progress straight to the final stage of the competition after gaining the hosting rights for the event. The ‘grand finale’, due to take place in one venue on two consecutive days, will allow long-term planning and appropriate promotion of the event, increase international and media public attention and account for a ‘total Volleyball experience’ that fans will never forget.
2019 Champions League Volleyball Format
Main Phase (Knock-out with Home and Away Matches):
4th Round – 20 Teams divided in 5 pools of 4 teams each (Round Robin with Home and Away Matches)
Playoffs Phase (Knock-out with Home and Away Matches):
Semi-Finals (Knock-out with Home and Away Matches):
Final (Gold Medal – Knock-out with a single leg match)
- The Drawing of Lots for the 1st , 2nd and 3rd Round will be held in Luxembourg on Thursday 28th June 2018.
- The Drawing of Lots for the 4th Round will take place as part of the European Volleyball Gala, the date and venue will be communicated in due time.
- The Drawing of Lots of the 1/4 Finals will take place in Luxembourg on Friday 1st March 2019.