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The Money Trail

The summer “live period” began on July 11th, a window in which coaches can attend certified events and evaluate prospects.

The landscape is dominated by exposure team events during this time that will corral thousands of prospects in one location such as Las Vegas, Myrtle Beach, Houston, Indianapolis and Milwaukee. This time allows college coaches to eat at the buffet, going through their lists of prospects and seeing dozens in one location.

Thousands of hopefuls, dreamers and prospects and their families will invest thousands to be there hoping to a catch the eye of a coach that could land them a college scholarship. The coaches and the media will be in the gym and there will be a buzz every time that a head power conference coach walks in the building. The coaches are there to be seen and some to discover a hidden gem through the endless gym hours.

Club basketball has become big business, selling this shot at a scholarship to thousands for thousands. For the typical program that is travelling to two national tournaments and one regional tournaments the costs end up being $1500-$2000 per player. Funding becomes difficult.

There is a variety of funding sources that are making it possible for teams and players. There are only few options to raise money for your team and some are better than others.

There are some teams that have everyone paying their fair share and that make it work. That is not the majority and certainly not the story in the inner-city. Some teams have rich benefactors, maybe parents or professional athletes, who often brand the team after themselves.

The sneaker companies fund certain teams with apparel, footwear and even some capital. Under Armour for example, is spending $4 million dollars this calendar year on grassroots basketball. A large portion is earmarked for the funding of AAU programs and summer events.

Nike will spend over close to $500,000 on the Peach Jam alone. Of course, there are certain, high profile or brand events they are a must for these programs to attend to please their sponsor. While implied but not required, there is a preference for teams to keep the players in the brand as they progress up the levels from club basketball to college and then the NBA. That is why they fund it all together for the association with the prospect and the marketing investment in the brand and its future brand ambassadors.

Sadly, it gets worse. Colleges, while no one wishes to admit it, fund certain programs. They buy players and invest in programs. The stakes could be anywhere from $50,000 up front to get a program off the ground and upwards of $5,000 per month to maintain that level.

Then of course, there are agents who are involved in grassroots basketball for “Research and Development” purposes.

The NCAA recently exposed four prominent AAU programs/AAU coaches for have connections with prominent agent Andy Miller. The programs and their coaches are banned as currently constructed to participate in any live period event. The NE Playaz, SEBL, Florida Rams and World Wide Renegades were caught but they are not alone. For years, agents have provided funding for programs and players alike. The NCAA has decided this relationship crossed the line.

You can look closely and see the ties that certain grassroots programs have with agents by seeing where or who their players sign with. It’s not much different than the college coaches who work closely with agents and recommend the best fits for their future professional careers.

With the NBA booming to unprecedented levels and major universities treating their athletic programs as major businesses, the pursuit of the athletic dollar has never been stronger.

The United States is the only nation that does not have a basketball federation with a vertical plan from “biddy basketball” development to the professional level. It has a system comprised of major power brokers that each use the system to how it best suits them. The NBA and the NCAA have developed the sport to new economic levels and those in grassroots who cultivate and invest in the development of the talent are now looking to be stakeholders as well.

Club basketball has provided this opportunity. The current system that the NFHS and the NCAA comprised has allowed it to prosper. This July the blueprint will be on display, with thousands of tickets sold, millions of travel dollars, tens of thousands of concession dollars and thousands spent by college coaches for entry and prospect data. The boy, the basketball and the dream is the image that is being sold but the current system has seen that dream mortgaged, sold and borrowed upon five different ways by all the stakeholders.

This August we’ll revel as a nation as Team USA (a nation of 300 million) beats Lithuania, Spain, Australia and the like (nations of 30 million) on the way to a probable gold medal and the development of the game and the plan on how to connect all the levels will lay on the sideline as if everything is perfect with basketball in America.

But it might be the almighty dollar and a defunct system that truly wins the gold.

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Leigh Klein is the owner of Five-Star Basketball Camps and formerly on staff at Texas and Rhode Island. Each year at Five-Star, he trains hundreds of future college basketball and NBA stars such as Michael Jordan, Grant Hill, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. He will be blogging for 247Sports on college basketball and recruiting.

Follow Leigh on Twitter @leighalanklein and let him know what you think about the blog.

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