Tuesday, June 30, 2009

AAU Basketball: About the money, not the kids

Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran a article criticizing AAU basketball. They pretty much got it right - the culture of AAU basketball centers around 1-on-1 play, emphasizes playing games over practicing skills, and rewards selfishness (i.e. scoring 40 on the guy ranked 10 spots above you is more important than winning the game).

But they missed the source of the problem.

AAU basketball has become a business. For many of the AAU coaches at the highest levels of the sport, this isn't just a fun way for them to spend their weekends or something they do because they love the game of basketball. Instead, it is a money-making venture, and for some it is probably their main source of income.

Think about it: between appearance fees for bringing high profile recruits to a tournament, the "sponsorship" these teams get from shoe companies, or the money that coaches make off of trips to elite camps, there is a pretty big chunk of change for these coaches to cash in on.

On paper, the idea of AAU is quite appealing. Essentially, these are traveling teams that play tournaments in and around their region, with the better teams playing around the country. Not only does it give you a chance to play competitive basketball during the spring and summer, the kids get a chance to get some exposure to college coaches and play against the best in your age group.

I played AAU basketball growing up, and while my team had a few kids play D1 (we sent players to two A-10 schools), it was not quite the elite level of AAU hoops. Nobody got paid when I visited Vassar College. But I loved it. We would have practices twice a week where we would scrimmage the entire two hours against the program's alumni playing college ball at the time. We also would travel to tournaments two or three weekends out of the month.

Skill work was done on your own time, as we only had a limited number of hours to use the gym. And that is exactly where the issue lies. Since we only travelled on the weekends, and I wasn't visiting every school in the country, I had plenty of time to work out on my own. If you are playing in a tournament in Vegas one weekend, one at Villanova the next weekend, one in Orlando the weekend after that, then visiting a bunch of campus's the following week, etc., where do you find the time to take 500 shots every day, to lift every day, to do something to improve your dribbling every day.

For these kids, it becomes a vicious circle. If you are working out on your own, you aren't playing games and getting exposure. If you aren't getting exposure, you aren't going to be ranked on recruiting websites. If you aren't ranked on recruiting websites, tournament organizers aren't going to pay to get you to come.

I could go on and on about the things wrong with youth basketball in this country (they start too young, ranking recruits on websites that charge for membership, shoe companies, agents, yada yada yada). But when it comes to AAU ball, the bottom line is this: its not the system that is flawed, it is the way that people abuse the system to make a buck that ruins what could be a fantastic program.


Peter Robert Casey said...

I also think there's an element of prestige that coaches seek when deciding to jump into the elite AAU space. Having surnames like Calipari, Pitino, and Krzyzewski appear on your caller ID to inquire about one of your players, must be a draw as well.

Anonymous said...

I do not know the level of AAU to the degree of the author, but I do know that parents do want their kids to succeed, that's why they coach and get involved. I think AAU is about "some" kids, others its perhaps just a business. Some of these programs just want their programs to be associated with kids that make it to make their program to appear to be stronger. Is it all about money? I really don't think its that much money to be made when you have 9 kids and their parents are only paying about $150 to play spring and summer.

Ure subconscious said...

I agree with anonymous, AAU basketball is a good thing that has been used for bad. What industry did not start out with passion and a love for the art/ sport and then money is involved and it causes the unrighteous to be exposed!

Anonymous said...

Well I will say I have a kid in an ohio aau program and his spring fees alone were $450. Yea, I thought that was a lot...but I paid it

Anonymous said...

$400. is about the norm. I know of some over $600, which is a little steep.

Anonymous said...

I have my son/daughter play AAU basketball and most of the tournaments are the main source of income for the organizers all in the name of kids. Parents should recognize that money should be well spent on skill development rather than going from tournament to tournament spending money in this tight economy.

In my area, one AAU club advertised about forming a team for Kindergarten. This is ridiculous

Anonymous said...

There's an AAU team in CT and they are charging $1000 for their spring league and some of the kids are playing on low level team competeing against each other...it's ridiculous charge that much knowing the kids aren't going to get any kind of exposure.

Anonymous said...

We had our first experience with a high school feeder team and an AAU team over the last 6 months. The fees were $325 and $595, not to mention having to pay as a spectator to watch 10-year-olds play.

It is definitely a money maker and a turnoff. Practices focused on learning plays 90% of the time. What about skill building? No one at 10-years-old is so skilled that they no longer need to practice.

Additionally, I saw favoritism by the coaches. Play the kids who score regardless if they are shooting the ball correctly (again...no skill building). Just score and win so that the particular AAU program can get the recognition.

At the high school level I can see how the intensity of competition should exist, but not young kids. I don't think we will go back any time soon.

Keep looking parents, there are other programs out there that focus on skill building as opposed to the money and the win.

Show me the skills.