Pay the Kids or someone else Will: How Shoe Money Corrupted Basketball
By Brandon Blakeney


For the second time in less than three years Louisville’s hoops program among other schools are at the center of major negative press.

This piece isn’t a roast or shame on the universities listed, (Auburn, Nebraska, Miami, Oklahoma State). The Universities aren’t solely responsible for the “dirty culture” label being plastered all over college hoops; shoe companies, travel ball middle men, and greedy families, all had a part in getting this disaster in motion. Something that has been going on for years finally broke mass media, when the death penalty whispers started circling around one of the game’s most profitable programs and the public took notice. To truly grasp all this one must understand the system, the entitled culture major shoe companies have established in amateur hoops.

The rule of AAU came to an abrupt end when Nike, Adidas and Under Armor decided to invest millions into youth basketball. It started with the top travel ball programs receiving sponsorships, once the potential projections came into play these companies went all in and created their own leagues. These leagues attempt to pry the majority of the top talents from their local teams, and serve as direct pipelines for college coaches to come in and land blue chip talent. Top players from every state come together and battle it out on three circuits. One local travel ball coach expressed his frustrations saying “it’s almost impossible to compete with the resources the shoe teams can offer; the kids get to play for free, travel all over the country, and they get all the free shoes and gear, who would say no to that.”

A lot of the time this shoe circuit brand of basketball is a mix of streetball isolations and borderline all star weekend defense. All the hype revolves around highlight dunks and flashy scoring outings.

All of the players serve as the main attraction in major cities that sign on to host these annual hoops showcases, the publicity these camps and tournaments attract has continued to explode. With social media present every where we see celebrities attend travel ball games to catch a glimpse at the next big star, some of these youngsters are celebrities already in their own right (see Zion Williamson). The shoe brands benefit the most from this exposure. The true victims are the players who lose eligibility and in the grand business scheme of things is it truly wrong for families to accept or demand compensation' When their son’s performance provides for an adult’s job or a program’s funding, not to mention a specific player’s likeness being sold through various avenues.

Shoe companies, coaches/owners, and universities all make money in part due to these players so why should they be forced to abide by a constitution drafted in the stone age.

If the NCAA didn’t want this the board should’ve prevented the shoe companies from capitalizing on a faulty system. Universities receive millions from shoe companies to dress their athletes in select apparel. Losing programs don’t tend to make much money so it shouldn’t be a total shocker companies would pay out dividends in order to secure a product investment. Top players at Nike or Adidas sponsored programs are expected to continue rocking those sneakers in the league, because you can’t get something without giving in return.

We live in a society ruled by immediate gratification in every walk of life, there is immense pressure to win NOW. Under these conditions it’s now apparent coaches along with shoe company execs will do anything to sign the next big talent (pay players, pay families, pay travel ball coaches, fund AAU programs). The fact we see FBI officials investigating youth basketball leagues was the last straw I suppose and maybe a much needed wake up call.

The NCAA underestimated the role of travel ball coaches and their influence. Some of these guys work full time for their programs offering training and guidance in part due to salaries funded by shoe company investments. Along with most contracts there are stipulations attached and delivering players comes with the territory.

If expectations aren’t met the program could lose its shoe sponsorship, “You hear of programs who almost lose/or end up losing their shoe company sponsorship because former players turn pro and don’t sign with that shoe company as professionals.” said the Coach. So much money and expectations are put into these travel ball programs that grassroots basketball has completely overtaken high school ball.


College programs linked to the ring attempted to save face by firing all coaches under investigation, but how could dirty business operate for several years unnoticed at multi-million dollar programs' Are there even higher authorities that turned a blind eye, officials who indulged in the winnings and everything that came with it'

Until all wrongdoers are found and dealt with this cycle will continue to exist and prosper, who knows how deep this really goes.

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