Elite Development League

In the United States, the money in basketball stays at the top. The NBA and NCAA benefit from giant television contracts, but the youth programs never receive funds to develop better programs, train coaches and secure better facilities. The shoe companies fill this void with mixed results.

USA Basketball, as the governing body for basketball in the United States, needs to partner with the NBA to ensure that more money finds its way into the development programs. Currently, according to Tom Farrey’s Game On, USA Basketball spends only 3-5% of its operating budget on youth development and operates no coach development program.

To improve the youth development system, USA Basketball, in partnership with the NBA, must invest more than $150,000/year on youth programs and coach development.

The current school system development program with the summer AAU season creates a hodge-podge of programs and interests which fail to benefit the elite players. The United States needs a new model with a more sensible schedule emphasizing training rather than exposure.

The EDL proposal incorporates the players likely to play Division I basketball. Currently, they play for a high school team where they are better than their teammates and in leagues where they may face a team with one comparable talent, but rarely face a team with several talented players.

In the off-season, they join AAU/club teams where they play with and against other talented players, but the teams rarely practice and the games are not truly competitive. How competitive is the championship game when the teams have played four games in 24 hours?

The English Football Association examined its current system and concluded the FA needed to address several areas to maximize its young players’ potential, maintain the Premiere League’s status as arguably the world’s top soccer league and keep the English National Team among the world’s elite.

One could argue USA Basketball faces the same challenge to maximize young players’ talent, maintain the NBA as the world’s top basketball league and return the U.S. National Team to its status as the world’s most dominant team. The FA developed a model to guide elite player development and address six issues:

  1. Elite young players require a development process to protect and nurture their special talents.
  2. Technical development cannot and should not be viewed in isolation of the player’s overall educational and social welfare.
  3. FA Premiere League and Football League Clubs need to have more access to the very best players.
  4. Young gifted players are exposed to too much competitive football and too little practice time.
  5. Competitive matches are part of an integrated development program.
  6. Better qualified coaches to work with elite young players.

Rather than maintain an average development system, the U.S. must address the same six issues and create a new development program operated by USA Basketball in partnership with the NBA. My proposal:

The Elite Development League (EDL)

In my vision, USA Basketball operates the Elite Development League and each NBA and NBDL franchise sponsor a local EDL organization. USA Basketball would license each player and coach, and each coach would be required to get certified through a USA Basketball coaching certification program, much like coaches in soccer, volleyball, track and field and other sports.

Rather than play for a high school team and an AAU/club team, selected players would compete for an EDL organization. Each EDL organization would have u-16 and u-18 teams. While many criticize such an idea as the end of high school athletics, only 24 players in any given city would skip high school basketball.

EDL Regular Season

  • 48 EDL organizations presently (30 NBA, 16 NBDL and 2 affiliated with the High Performance Centers)
  • Divide into four 12-team divisions
  • Play home and home within division (22 games) from November through April
  • Play weekend games to minimize school absences and maximize training
  • Top three teams from each division (12 teams; division champs receive bye) advance to tournament to determine EDL Champion

EDL Cup Championship

  • Draw teams into 12 4-team round robin mini-tournaments played during the college recruiting period in the spring (3 games)
  • Top team in each pool advance to Cup Championship; 2nd place teams advance to qualifying tournament
  • Qualifying Tournament: Divide 12 teams into 4 3-team pools (2 games). Winner of each pool moves to the Cup Championship.
  • Cup Championship: week-long summer tournament; 16 teams divided into four pools (3 games). Top two teams in each pool advance to single elimination tournament (1-3 games).
  • 3rd and 4th place teams compete in Summer Classic with the eight teams from the Qualifying Tournament who failed to advance to Cup Championship.
  • Summer Classic: Divide 32 teams into 8 4-team pools (3 games); winner of each pool moves to single elimination tournament (1-3 games).

EDL Benefits

  • Creates a manageable 28-33 game schedule (similar to a college season)
  • Runs mid-September through mid-July
  • Focuses players on training between games (+4:1 training to competition ratio)
  • Makes every game meaningful
  • Creates breaks in the schedule without competitive games (May and June after the Cup Tournament and before the Qualifying Tournament at the beginning of July; and August, September and October)
  • Eliminates high school recruiting (players selected and invited)
  • Eliminates the constant battles for the best players
  • Restricts access to elite players (hopefully cuts down on opportunities for agents and runners)
  • Eliminates players skipping from team to team each weekend in pursuit of more playing time, exposure, gear, etc.
  • Leaves time in June to attend a college camp or All-American Camp

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