Monday, July 27, 2009

AAU Coaches: Always hustlin'

There has been a lot of talk this summer about the corruption that goes hand-in-hand with youth basketball these days. Not only are these AAU coaches slowly destroying the concept of fundamental basketball in our nation's youth, but squeezing every dime they can out of their connections has become the norm at the elite level of AAU ball.

First came the Charlotte Observer's report on online recruiting service's. Basically, the hustle is that AAU programs will start, or become "affiliated" with, a recruiting service that charges for a yearly subscription; the thought is that yearly subscription also doubles as a fee for admission into the recruiting carnival of the player's in their program. Then came the Wall Street Journal's article criticizing the way youth basketball is run in this country.

And now? Pete Thamel of the NY Times takes us through what might be the most brazen hustle of them all.

This is basically how it works. The NCAA sanctions certain tournaments that AAU coaches are allowed to attend. The price of admission is, say, $10 to get in. Perfectly acceptable. These tournaments have sunken costs - it isn't free to rent the gym time, to pay for the refs, etc. What isn't acceptable is the $275 it costs coaches to buy the packets containing such information as player's names, their contact information, and - something just a teeny bit useful - the number they are wearing.

These packets are mandatory for coaches to buy.

Say you are a coach and you are out on the recruiting trail to watch a player you know. He is playing in a tournament within driving distance, and you decide to swing by to see him play and, more importantly, have him see you seeing him play. You are there for one game, know the kid you are there to see, and have no need to spend that much money on a packet of printed paper.

You are still going to have to drop a few benji's.

Or you won't be watching the game.

Just ask Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings:

Just after sitting down with some fellow college coaches, two tournament employees told Stallings that he had to pay $295 for a packet of rosters and information that doubled as an admission fee for college coaches. The coaches in attendance told him that they had been required to do the same thing. Stallings said he had paid a $10 admission fee and did not want or need the packet, so he hit the road out of principle.
Or Yale's James Jones:
James Jones once paid $350 to watch one player play a single game in South Carolina. His other option was to buy the tournament organizer Jeff Schneider’s $600 recruiting service.
Tom Izzo has a horror story as well:
Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo refused to pay $100 for admission to the Summer Jam tournament in Milwaukee earlier this month after one of his assistants had already paid $250 for the packet that doubled as an entry fee. Izzo said the tournament director should visit him if he had a problem.
The sleaze involved in high school and college basketball, and the corruption of the process of getting high school hoopers to the next level, almost makes the sport unbearable for me to watch. Knowing that a recruit will decide where he will attend based on someone associated with a shoe company; watching what is a beautiful game when played correctly degenerate into a glorified Rucker League game; seeing "recruiting experts" rate the best 11 and 12 year olds and seeing coaches offer scholarships to kids that have yet to even decide on a high school.

I can handle all of that.

I'm not naive enough to think that cheating doesn't happen, or that in an industry worth billions of dollars there aren't going to be some shady people with questionable ethics.

But this?

Forcing coaches to pay that much for a scouting service or an identification packet, with the the prize being the ability to talk to a 16 year old kid?

That's extortion.

And, as Rick Pitino will tell you, extortion is a pretty serious crime.

The worst part is that the NCAA not only allows it, but they enable it by not changing the rules. Nothing these tournament organizers are doing is a sin in the eyes of the NCAA - only to those of us with a moral compass. And it would be so simple for the NCAA to fix. All they have to do is make a rule that you can charge X amount of dollars for a recruiting service or for a player's program at an AAU Tournament. If it is more, they pull the college coaches from the tournament. If there are no college coaches there, why will the big name recruits and AAU teams want to play there? If no one wants to play there, how does the tournament make its money?

It really that simple.

But the rules won't change unless the big name coaches speak out against them. The Bill Self's or the Jim Calhoun's or the Ben Howland's. The coaches with the clout to make a change.

The odds of that happening? Almost none.

These are the guys that are either cheating effectively or winning without cheating. Why would they want the system changed? They have their connections. They don't want to ruin friendships with the AAU programs.

Awesome. We've traded our favorite sports integrity for wins and dollars. Excuse me while I bathe with my toaster.

1 comment:

Tmachir said...

great article. It is all about the Benjamins in this day an age. Everybody is trying to get their hand in the proverbial cookie-jar. At first I just though it was just the over-involved dads, shady scouts, and AAU coaches/handlers, but now its everybody involved in the game.

With all this money floating around, somebody should be investing in a SAT-prep course.