Programs vs. Teams: It's Up To You
In Illinois their is a vast number of programs and teams from Chicagoland, Northern Illinois, Central Illinois, Metro East, and Southern Illinois. Within organizations such as the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) who claims the Metro East area of East St Louis, Belleville, Collinsville, Edwardsville, Alton, and other towns as apart of the Missouri district called the Ozarks. Circuits such as Nike (EYBL) Elite Youth Basketball League, Under Armor Association (UAA), Adidas Gauntlet, and NY2LA Association. Each program is represented by a tier, the different tiers are liken unto the how the NCAA basketball is set up with it conferences and divisions.Then you finally have the difference between sponsored programs and non-sponsored programs. Programs have multiple teams within their structured entity as Elite teams and non Elite teams, this is what makes it different from a team which is usually one entity, but sometimes they have two teams with a big age gap between the two teams ex:(17U & 14U). Programs also reload year after year despite the turn over ratio because the loss of players going to different programs/team, as a team usually consist of local kids and may hold a tryout to see if their is someone that they possibly missed. Teams are more spread out through the young ages of 9U-14U and usually die off going into the 15U/9th grade year because the best player(s) go and play for a program because of the benefits that it offers, so lets get into some of those benefits.
Sponsored vs Non-Sponsored - to earn a sponsorship doesn’t always matter on how many games you’ve won as a youth program or team, its more so about what player or prospects that you have on your team. Sponsored programs are the cream of the crop and their is a reason why they are sponsored because they have a supply and demand market, lets take a look, majority of the sponsored teams come from metropolitan areas over 300,000 people, and areas with over 1,000,000 people have more than 2 fully sponsored teams. 17U teams are the sponsored teams and 16U and 15U receive benefits from them and may only fully sponsor two or three players on these levels. Just because a program isn’t sponsored doesn’t mean that they aren’t a bad program, a lot of times the Non-Sponsored teams compete and beat the sponsored teams money doesn’t define a program all it does is attract players, i mean lets be honest who doesn’t like free gear.
Circuit Basketball - Grassroots Programs have different tiers you have D1 Power 5 type Programs better known as shoe teams, Mid-Major/Low-Major/D2 type Programs like those in NY2LA Association Circuit and some Non-Circuit teams that play in NCAA certified events and heavy hitter tournaments, and then you have your D3/NAIA/Recreation type Programs who will play at some NCAA certified events also but very rarely have success and play in ones where you never see a coach and a lot of local tournaments where you necessarily aren’t playing against potential NCAA student athletes. Very rarely you will find an individual team that participates in any type of Circuit and if they are, their is a specific player that the company is trying to market for future purposes as you see how the scandals are unfolding that the FBI is investigating. Scheduling is also a contrast between programs and teams, just because you play on a circuit does not guarantee you a scholarship, but playing in front of the right coaches at the right tournaments at the right time is what helps your chances.
Finances - Play a big role in travel basketball and once again their is a difference between Programs finances and Teams finances. Program finances may scare away some parents and their student athlete misses out on a great opportunity, but a lot of programs are willing to assist players and have ways for players to gain money for their program fee. Individual teams fees may be cheaper and seem like the best fit for your budget with the way of the economy. Fee’s are only one part of the financial obligation, you also will have travel fee’s that fall on you individual for transportation, hotels, and food. With individual teams once again you may also save money because of the tournaments and locations that they will participate in, as with a circuit program and big programs you will have to take flights because of the events that they participate in will call for it, however it is well worth it, which brings me to my final point.
Be Realistic - You should always set a realistic expectation for your student athlete and not miss out on the best opportunity that is available for them. Its so easy to get caught up in the gear and end up not playing versus playing in NCAA Certified events in front of scouts and college coaches from all levels. Be real about your student athletes skill set and not get upset because they didn’t make a team or don’t get a lot of playing time. If your honest you will put them in the right situation. I get people all the time who call me or email me and say my son averaged 20 points per game this Summer but has no college coaches after him. So my response is always who did you play for? What events did you play in? Who did you play against? Its always best to research Programs and Individual Teams to find the best fit for your student athlete to help them try to obtain their goal of playing at the next level. It’s easy to research the history of a team or a program if they have a website, they should all have an alumni page showing you the players that has played for them in the past and where they went to college to play basketball is a good indicator of the programs success from when they started to where they are now. It’s not just the fact that they may play on a circuit thats just one benefit, but their directors are working also to get them to the next level. I’ve even had a call where a guy stated the turnover ratio is horrible in programs more so than teams, and yes that is true, but like I told him the difference between the two is a program always reloads year after year while teams don’t they are stuck with being the same or a total rebuild mode the next year. So when making your decision next spring on who you are going to play for, research the programs and teams and find the best fit for your student athlete. The financial obligation is just an investment in hopes that you will not have to pay for college. At the 14U-17U levels; success is not determined by wins it’s about who you play against, who you play in front of, and gaining exposure and scholarships.
Written by: Geoffrey Day for Ball So Hard