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AAU Grade Exception Rule Eliminated

Today the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) made bold statement when they eliminated grade exception rule for teams competing at 14 and under age groups. Before we weigh in on this hot topic, there are three things we must consider: basketball as a game, a culture and a business.

As a game, there are hundreds of thousands of young athletes who enjoy the game basketball. It’s a great team sport that is fast paced and fun. In many sports, athletes can get by on speed and strength.  However, basketball requires unique skills and intelligence, which is generally acquired through experience.

The AAU grade exception rule had a great impact on the game of youth basketball. Many years ago, reclassification was a discreet conversation between a parent and a coach. A well thought out decision to give an athlete more time to develop physically, athletically, emotionally and/or academically. Parents who were against this rule called it “cheating.” Although no rules were broken according to AAU standards, it did give players a competitive edge.

Soon reclassification became a trend. The decision was no longer individualized and based on a child’s development.  It became more of a self-serving decision for the parents and coaches who seek the immediate gratification of watching their child/player dominate on the court, particularly at the elementary and middle school levels.

Due to the physical or athletic disparity in young athletes, many began to exploit the loophole in system while seeking this competitive edge. Even those against the idea reclassification began to consider reclassifying their athletes, because they were tired of being on the tail end of a beating. This created two distinct sub-cultures in the youth basketball circuit: teams that included grade exceptions and teams that competed based on age.

When grade exception teams meet each other, the playing field is level. It is also deemed fair play when age-based teams compete. These cultures can co-exist with little to no problems- until they meet each other. We all know how it plays out. Age-based teams lose…badly, while grade exception teams excel and are often referred to as the “elite teams.”

So how does this affect AAU and the business of youth basketball? Many feel AAU’s decision to eliminate grade exceptions will level the playing field, force players to work harder and coaches to coach. There are thousands of registered teams under the AAU umbrella and grade exception teams are certainly the minority not majority.  Others, who are in support of reclassification feel the rule change will diminish the level of competition.  They also threaten to support alternative leagues and events who will not turn away teams with grade exceptions.  Furthermore, these alternative leagues are using the rule change to their advantage. By voicing their opposition to the rule and using propaganda, they conspire to capture AAU’s small market of “elite” teams, while attempting diminish the perception of AAU being the gold standard for youth athletics.

I believe this decision will increase participation at AAU events. With youth basketball teams having more options to compete than ever before, it is imperative youth basketball events and leagues do what is necessary to satisfy and maintain their consumer base, while maintaining a sense integrity. Can these two cultures co-exist in the world of youth basketball? Or will one soon swallow the other?

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Below are the official rules from AAU.

Age based divisions shall be used in boys’ basketball for the following: 7U, 8U, 9U, 10U, 11U, 12U, 13U, 14U. Age/Grade based divisions shall be used in boys’ basketball for the following: 15U/9th grade, 16U/10th grade, 17U/11th grade, 19U/12th grade.

7 & Under:  An athlete can be no older than 7 on August 31, 2015

8 & Under:  An athlete can be no older than 8 on August 31, 2015

9 & Under:  An athlete can be no older than 9 on August 31, 2015

10 & Under: An athlete can be no older than 10 on August 31, 2015

11 & Under:  An athlete can be no older than 11 on August 31, 2015

12 & Under:  An athlete can be no older than 12 on August 31, 2015

13 & Under:  An athlete can be no older than 13 on August 31, 2015

14 & Under:  An athlete can be no older than 14 on august 31, 2015

15U/9th Grade:  An athlete can be no older than 15 on August 31, 2015.  Grade Exception: An athlete who is in the 9th grade as of October 1, 2014 and who is no older than 16 on August 31, 2015 is eligible to play in the 15U/9th grade division

16U/10th Grade:  An athlete can be no older than 16 on August 31, 2015.  Grade Exception: An athlete who is in the 10th grade as of October 1, 2014 and who is no older than 17 on August 31, 2015 is eligible to play in the 16U/10th grade division

17U/11th Grade:  An athlete can be on older than 17 on August 31, 2015.  Grade Exception: An athlete who is in the 11th grade as of October 1, 2014 and who is no older than 18 on August, 31 2015 is eligible to play in the 17U/11th grade division

19U/12th Grade:  An athlete can be no older than 19 on August 21, 2015.  Grade Exception: An athlete who is in the 12th grade as of October 1, 2014 and who is no older than 20 on august 31, 2015 is eligible to play in the 19U/12th grade division

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