In light of the recent allegations that former North College Hill super star O.J. Mayo improperly received gifts and money while in high school and at the University of Southern California, Heath Schneider checks with a commentary on the problem with AAU basketball and what needs to be done to eliminate the corruption.
There’s a problem lurking around teenaged athletes these days and it’s not hiding in the corner. It’s out there in the middle of the room but no one is talking about it.
It’s not drugs. It’s not sexual activity at an early an age. Believe it or not, those two things are talked about more than most parents want to hear about. An average 13-year old can teach sex education nowadays without blushing.
The problem, in this case, is AAU basketball.
While the concept of AAU basketball was nicely laid out in its infancy, somewhere along the road of time, its path was lost.
The AAU website (www.aausports.org) has a (difficult to find) mission statement. It reads, “The purpose of the AAU Basketball Programs is to initiate, stimulate, and improve opportunities for amateur basketball competition and to promote and develop leadership, sportsmanship, fitness, and athletic excellence.”
That hard to locate mission statement comes from link to the rules of AAU. The link is surrounded by advertisements for Nike, Rawlings, Eastbay and ESPN among others. Evidently, AAU isn’t paying enough of the bills with the “paltry” fees of $14 per player, $16 per coach, $300 for tax-exempt status per team, and up to $625 per team for a tournament.
It recalls the immortal words of then-NBA Players Association President Patrick Ewing during the 1999 NBA lockout, “Yeah, we make a lot of money, but we spend a lot, too.”
For something that professes to “improve opportunities for amateur basketball competition,” AAU is making it difficult for average players to get into the sport. This isn’t the make-it-take-it, pick-up game that was played 20 years ago on the playground. This is big business.
The Sacramento Business Journal reports that West Coast championships for AAU will be held in Placer Valley, which sits north of Sacramento, California, in 2008. According to Greg Van Dusen, chief executive of Placer Tourism, three towns in California can expect to see a windfall of over $1 million for area during the 4-day tournament. Not bad for a group of towns with less than 200,000 people combined. From the AAU side of things (with a projected 100 teams in the tournament), that comes to about $45,000 just in tournament fees for teams.
Money is just one issue. Unfortunately, there is zero regulation that goes along with participation in AAU basketball. That means there is an increased risk of fatigue and overuse injury. Additionally, the lack of a governing body enforcing strict standards has led to slick hucksters coming in and targeting the very youth that AAU is professing to serve.
Known as “runners” or “street agents” these people are simply shills for the agents and athletic goods companies. Typically, their job is to try to project a future star and get close to him. Once reaching the inner circle of the athlete, he can levy his pull with the player in an attempt to get the athlete to sign with the agent or shoe company the street agent is working for at the time. It’s a long term investment, but the shoe companies and the sports management companies are investing for the big payoff. They aren’t just hoping for the next LeBron James or Kevin Durant to come through for them. They are actively seeking them out at an extremely young age.
In an interview with ESPN in 2005, Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino said, “The runners are worse now. There's more of them, and they're finding different ways to get to players. Now you have agents hiring runners who are assistant AAU coaches.”
AAU president and CEO Bobby Dodd brushes away any responsibility for the people in and around the young players. In an online chat session at ESPN.com Dodd wrote, “The AAU does not have teams, coaches or athletes. This is a myth that exist[s] in the marketplace. The AAU does not pay the bills or select the teams or coaches. Organizations, such as churches, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, Corporations, etc., select, fund, and organize teams.”
That’s part of where AAU has gone wrong. In politics, during this election year, talking heads on the news channels tell the public about the “vetting” of candidates, emphasizing the importance of knowing who you vote for in November. Certainly, AAU needs to scrutinize who it allows to serve as coaches in its organization as opposed to just accepting the $16 fee and pressing forward.
The stance that “AAU coaches” don’t exist is akin to pretending that no one will be killed in a slasher movie when the music reaches a crescendo. Myron Piggie, a former crack dealer that happened to coach AAU basketball nearly a decade ago, is someone that Dodd understandably doesn’t want to have linked to AAU, but he could prevent future incidences by protecting the kids and doing real research on these would-be coaches.
Think about the brewing scandal at Southern California right now. O.J. Mayo came into college with as much hoopla as any player in recent memory. He leaves with a cloud hanging over his head because he allegedly broke NCAA rules and took extra benefits/cash/everything anyone would offer him. Is the AAU to blame? No, the AAU opens itself up to this kind of dirty activity every time a runner or a street agent or a Myron Piggie is around the organization.
If the allegations swirling around Mayo are indeed true, it’s possible that trend started when he was traveling the country on AAU teams. Those runners and street agents pegged Mayo in junior high as a superstar, albeit one waiting for his voice crackle in a Peter Brady moment.
Some athletes will assert that playing AAU ball is the reason that they received a Division I scholarship. The simple response to that argument is that if a player has talent, coaches will find it one way or another.
Overall top pick in the 1999 NFL draft Tim Couch came from a town of about 200 people. Current Cleveland Browns starting quarterback Derek Anderson is from Scappoose, Oregon; a town of just under 5,000 people. In basketball, Ohio State’s Jerry Lucas hailed from Middletown, Ohio (population 42,000 in 1960) and played in an era long before AAU existed. His name got out to the coaches. To paraphrase the voice in Field of Dreams, “If you have talent, they will come.”
AAU doesn’t need to be abolished or send to the scrap yard but, it does need an overhaul. It needs better regulation to protect the players from street agents and runners. It should push to sanction the people that coach AAU teams. AAU needs to return to its real mission, making athletes better but making the players better people as well; not just continuing its burgeoning legacy as a basketball factory without scruples.
Note: The opinions expressed in the following article are that of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of JJHuddle.com or the Bucknuts Media Network.