Sunday, January 17, 2010

Are All AAU Coaches Slimy?

The NCAA has apparently passed legislation designed to eliminate the situation where a team hires an AAU coach in order to recruit a player. While I view this as a clear positive, (less incentive for slimy people trying to take advantage of high school players), I think it is worth playing the devil’s advocate for a moment. What if banning this practice isn’t a good thing?

People frequently argue that college athletes should be compensated at a higher level for playing popular, revenue generating sports. If you support this possibility, is it wrong to think of paying these same students money when they are in high school? Is it wrong to compensate them at a time when they may not have the same access to training, equipment, a safe environment, or even good nutrition?

Society tends to think that giving money to teenagers isn’t necessarily the best idea. Sometimes it is better if an adult can make decisions that will benefit the athlete in the future. And many people who try to associate with teenage athletes provide these things. They are mentors. They provide access to safe training facilities. They provide free meals for teenagers who might not be able to get dinner every night. They provide advice and guidance about how to train and how to become a better player. And a key reason many people provide these services is because they hope to get a shot at big time college basketball job some day.

In fact, for every “coach” associated with a McDonald’s All-American, there are thousands of coaches doing the same thing for players who will never play in the NBA. Some of this is a sincere commitment to young people, but some of it is also a hope that one kid will eventually be a ticket into something bigger. The dream of getting a hooked-up college gig, doesn’t just lead to benefits for the kids who become stars, it leads a lot of coaches to help kids who don’t pan out too.

Moreover, if any coach is given a college position as a result of associating with the kid, almost certainly the relationship must have been positive for the kid. Or the kid would not have made the “deal” happen. I.e., if someone is just a leach, the kid should be able to let the university know that the job isn’t necessary.

Now, not every “associate” is acting in the recruit’s best interest. And not every kid figures out that there are good influences and bad, and you need to associate with the good people. But my point is simple. Something that removes an incentive to work with and help out young people is not unambiguously good.