For as many years as I can remember, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) has allowed teams to have at least 3 grade exceptions per team. Well, that long-standing practice has apparently changed, and will have a significant impact on travel basketball. According to a very reliable source, at their annual board meeting in Fort Lauderdale, FL last week, the AAU changed their rules to prohibit any grade exceptions in ages 7-14 effective immediately.
As we all know, the key to placing high at the AAU Nationals is often about the number and quality of a team’s grade exceptions. With this new model, teams will be forced to refigure, as kids are forced to play on teams based on their age. Any many cases, teams will lose their best 3 players who will now be forced to find teams in their own age. The specific details of the rule changes are not yet known, but any way you cut it, the face of middle school basketball will change forever.
Undoubtedly, the impetus for such a dramatic change could be directly related to the number of cheating scandals AAU experienced this past summer. Those of us who follow travel basketball closely know the players, organizations and situations that could be responsible for AAU’s dramatic shift in policy. If you think about it, hundreds of teams participate in AAU Nationals every year, and of those hundreds of teams, about a quarter of those teams are the truly elite, have quality grade exceptions, and have a realistic chance of winning it all. Consequently, AAU was faced with allowing a few teams at the very top to negatively affect the majority of the “middle of the road” type teams who are really generating most of the revenue.
We will all wait to see the ramification of the rule changes and time will only tell how teams and organizations will respond. Programs like the National Youth basketball League (NYBL) could be part of the answer for many teams, as their bylaws place no restrictions on grade exceptions. For many parents, who have tired of all the hype and exposure given to the so called grade exceptions, this news will be a God send, and will help even the playing field for their child. Hold on folks, things are about to get really interesting!