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If youth sports is professionalized, then pay the kids

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The Village Voice’s Graham Rayman is shocked that the AAU, the high-level cesspool every young basketball player must swim through if he is to reach the sunny beach of the NBA, has started putting together its own national rankings of its affiliated boys’ basketball teams — including the 10-and-under teams. And Rayman isn’t easily shocked, not with his own experiences coaching elite-level boys basketball. In his catatonic state, Rayman wonders what this says about the state of youth sports:

So, where’s it all going? Maybe toward the professionalization of youth sports?

We’re kidding here, of course, but let’s just play out the logic here, and suggest why not just have an NBA for kids. There’s a Swiftian “Modest Proposal.”

Let’s do away with the BS and just pay kids to play. The more competitive teams already play something like two tournaments a week year round, and practice at least two times a week. A lot of teams practice five times a week. It’s pretty much a job already. So, seriously: contracts, agents, drafts, the works.

Anyone want to invest?

(Raises hand.)

Graham Rayman, I’m way ahead of you on this one. In a 2006 column for NBCSports.com, I called for participants in the heavily sponsored, big-money Little League World Series to strike for their share of the booty:

Young people, you have two choices. The fight for what is yours can end in, as Marx put it, “either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”

“The common ruin of the contending classes” is what happens when your teachers gives the whole class a pop quiz because one guy threw a spitball. So that means you have only one choice. It’s time for a revolution! It’s time to strike!

That’s right, strike!

We’re not heading for the professionalization of youth sports. We’re there. It’s just that kids are the only ones not getting paid.

The reason the AAU is ranking its own clubs is to continue to build its hype as the place you have to be if you have any pro dreams whatsoever, thus causing parents to shell out big bucks to be on a team, and those teams to shell out big bucks in AAU affiliation. (By the way, you can only be ranked if you participate in a certain number of AAU tournaments against other AAU teams.)

I’m sure Rayman knows this, but the AAU sidelines are rife with hustlers and cheats trying to worm their way into the hearts and minds of single-digit-aged players (and their coaches) so that someday they can be that kid’s agent or paid hanger-on. As this Yahoo Sports investigation showed, the coach is often a willing participant in these shenanigans, to the tunes of hundreds of thousands dollars sent in the direction of his team.

Rayman might think he’s kidding, but I’m not sure in his heart of hearts he is. Or should be. If the agents and AAU coaches want to give little Johnny Hotshit a retainer, then why not? I’m sure the parents and/or guardians would be more than happy to sign a contract. The biggest danger would be signing a rip-off deal that ties a kid to an agent for a long, long term, and/or notes that all monies are advances on an NBA contract and must be paid back. But that could be worked out. And the kid would get something while he crisscrosses the country, all in the likely vain hope that he’ll go pro.

How vain is that hope? Check out this piece from 2004 giving an unofficial top 25 AAU team rankings (hey, the AAU might have been thinking if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.) Check out the names. You’ll recognize Greg Oden, Jeff Green, Brook Lopez and Gerald Henderson. But most of the names are who-dats and cautionary tales, such as Edwin Rios, who went from big-time star to burglary arrestee. And those names, not counting anything they got under the table, didn’t see a dime for their time and hard work.

Written by rkcookjr

January 22, 2010 at 12:47 am

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