Fixing the Basketball League of Ireland

While the name itself had become self-parody, didn’t you prefer it when you could just call it the Superleague?  Anyway…

On Thursday, Basketball Ireland notified clubs of a new proposal which would create a new category of player which would allow those studying or working in Ireland to compete in the senior Irish leagues.  This is a change from the policy last year which basically prohibited any non EU citizens (typically Americans) from playing in the league unless they were registered as a professional player by a club.  These professionals were limited to one per club in recent years, having previously been two along with a “Bosman” player.  (Side note: I’ve never quite understood why these players are called “Bosmans” as the Jean-Marc Bosman case was about freeing European players up to move from their previous club once their contract expired without transfer fee.  It seems like “European passport holder” would be a more accurate description of these players in the basketball context).

Since the Superleague did away with the “two Americans, one Bosman” rule, the standard has noticeably plummeted.  Crowds have dwindled from “low” to practically non-existent.  Participation in the Superleague has also plummeted to the extent that aside from Moycullen, all member clubs last season came from the Dublin-Cork-Limerick corridor.  This is quite a shift from the All-Ireland league that I remember during my time in Belfast, or even my more recent stint in Dublin.

This new proposal seems geared towards remedying the problem.  Category 2A would include all potential players who were in Ireland for non-basketball purposes such as work or study to play on court at the same time as one category 2 player and three Irish players.

Initial skepticism on the part of the basketball community suggested that clubs will simply take advantage of this rule and bring in a second American on the premise of a “coaching job” in the local community (not hard to arrange for any club) whilst playing for a full season alongside a regular “professional” American who would, in all likelihood, also do a significant amount of coaching.  Two practice sessions and one game a week is hardly a full time career, after all.

The statement read:

A new Category 2A player category be created for Non EU/EEA students or Non EU/EEA workers, who are resident in the island of Ireland . A team shall be allowed have one Category 2 and one Category 2A on court at any one time or two Category 2A on court at any one time(a team shall not be allowed two Category 2 players on court at the same time). A maximum of two players from these categories will be permitted to be on the scoresheet for any game.

The real problem with this proposal, in my view, is that it doesn’t really change anything for the better.

EU players, under existing rules, have had to provide evidence that they have been in Ireland for a full year before being allowed to play in the Superleague.




BREAKING NEWS: people aren’t moving to Ireland to play basketball.

One guy who did move to Ireland to play basketball…and stayed…and married an Irish lass…and even got himself an Irish passport, is Jermaine Turner.  How does this help Jermaine at all?  He’s still going to be a category 2 player, unless he takes a regular job and basically admits defeat in his quest to have the archaic rules which would see him eligible to play for the Irish national team, but not as a domestic player in the domestic league, changed.


Wingfoot Summer League 2013 SLIDER 1

Mike Calo – second from the left

Now, a guy like Mike Calo, the legend-in-his-own-time….sorry, mind…not time, this helps him.  He moved to Northern Ireland with his wife and has worked the whole time he has been in the country.  Mike would be the perfect example of a category 2A player.  So, to a degree, that particular wrong will have been righted.

But the question we have to ask is why not just go the whole hog and open up the top flight of Irish basketball to the very best players that can be lured to the emerald isle?

Why not have a top league where clubs can sign basically whoever they want?

How great would it be to have three guys who can dunk Americans on every team in the Basketball League of Ireland Premier Division?

How great would it be for the young Irish players of the biggest clubs like Belfast Star, recently recommitted to the new league for the new season, to be exposed to three or four professionals for an entire season?

How great would it be for the Quinn brothers, the upcoming superstars of the Belfast basketball scene, to be able to train with three Americans, guys who have been through the High School, AAU and NCAA systems, three or four times a week and to be able to play against three Americans every weekend?

How great would it be for kids like Jack Summersgill and CJ Fulton to be able to meet these guys and learn from them while still in their basketball infancy?

How great would it be for younger kids like the Calo twins to go to camps hosted by three American professional basketball players?  Who is hosting these camps at the moment?  Do they even exist?

How much more exciting would it be during the preseason to see what clubs are recruiting what players?

How much more attractive would basketball be to potential sponsors if three high-flying Americans were tearing up and down the courts of Belfast, Dublin and Cork, throwing down dunks and blocking shots instead of the plodding version of the game that has existed in the league for the past few seasons?

But, I hear you say, it will only help the bigger clubs.  Smaller clubs will over-stretch themselves in an attempt to compete.

My response to these claims: Dave Cullen.

Cullen receives ESPY Award from Samuel L. Jackson

Most of you have heard of Dave Cullen, I presume?  Say what you will about the man, but boy does he know how to get sponsors in.  Look at his annual tournament: never without a series of significant sponsors.  Are you seriously telling me that there aren’t guys with similar abilities at all the top level clubs in Ireland who would love to have the prospect of three Americans to take round to local stores to get a few quid/euros in every month to help pay for them?

UCD Marian even has a deal with the Sandymount Hotel to give their American somewhere to stay.  Nobody else is able to find their way to a similar arrangement?

If these are issues, then how about we engage in a process of knowledge sharing?  Invite Dave Cullen to your club and ask him how he gets all these sponsors and try to figure out a way to do the same.  Or, better yet, approach the local GAA organisation and see if some sort of co-operative arrangement can be made with them.  There is no good reason for Irish basketball not to try to engage more fully with the GAA; hell, the sports even share similar skills that could seriously benefit the development of young players in either.  What’s more, the GAA is dripping with cash.

The GAA wants nothing to do with basketball?  Another two words for you: Kieran Donaghy.  Basketball is good for the GAA.

Why not make the top flight of Irish basketball as good as it can be, then have a second league that is designed for local guys to develop through more significant playing time – just like the National League used to?

Irish basketball is not getting any better as it stands.  This new rule will help a little but the opportunity is there for serious revitalisation of the sport.  Why not grab it with both hands?


Andrew was something of a latecomer to the game of basketball, having given up rugby after leaving high school. Joining Edinburgh’s fabled Pentland Tigers, he quickly moved on to the East Lothian Peregrines in the Scottish national league before moving to Belfast where he played with Queens and then with Belfast Star. After a year in the superleague, he moved back to Scotland and played with the Scottish Rocks in the BBL. He “retired” (the McDermott rule for using the word “retire” instead of “stopped playing” does require you to have been paid to play, so technically he retired) and moved to Seattle where he began life as an academic, which currently sees him working at University College Dublin. He is a legitimate non-frontrunning Miami Heat fan, having taken up following the team in 2001.


  1. Basketball Spectator

    / Reply

    The big question is what is Basketball Ireland’s long term plans for the new Premier League, is it to get the best competition for our top Irish players or is it to make it one of the top spectator sports in the country.

    If its the 2nd option it can be done with good long term planing.

    The problem at the moment is the majority of basketball players & supporters are in no way connected to a current SuperLeague or new Premier League Club.

    Basketball Ireland need to go down the franchise route & have maybe 10 Franchises spread throughout the Country were every player, club & school have to be connected to one franchise.

    Take Dublin as an example, there are 3 Premier Leagues Clubs in the league yet there is nearly 40 clubs registered to the DMBB, so who do the other 30 plus teams support.

    If you had 2 franchises in Dublin they would have the support of nearly 20 clubs each. & half of all the schools.

    If you have 1 Franchise in Ulster they would have the support of a whole province.

    The franchises would have so much support that they should have no problem getting sponsors, their paid players can coach in their connected schools & clubs keeping their wages bill down. with all this support it would make it financially viable for the franchise.

    Using this as a starting point Basketball Ireland now have the whole country as the market for the Premier League instead of just the current teams.

    Basketball Ireland could look at where they need to have franchises.
    For example they could go with 2 in Cork, 1 in Kerry, 1 in Limerick, 1 in the West, 1 in the Midlands, 1 in the South East, 1 in Ulster & 2 in Dublin or in any other area that the game might need.

    This will also cut the costs of the current clubs in the Premier League giving them a chance to build a bigger & better underage structure, resulting in better young Irish players & you never know in 20 years you could have a competitive Irish team.

    Probably doesn’t read as well as it sounds in my head but as a spectator sport Basketball in Ireland has hit rock bottom and something needs to be done to get it back to the heights of the Mid 80’s, where you had 4 divisions & over 36 clubs had sponsors, then in one go the IBA as they were called at the time switched to 1 American per team & at the same time put in a rule that each club had to have its name or location in the title making all the big sponsors run, no more Bugerking International, Dawn Milk & Premier Milk toppers, without a doubt from a sponsors point of view Premier Milk toppers gets the sponsors name out there better than Premier Killester.

  2. Basketball Fan

    / Reply

    Great post. Franchise idea sounds great, just alot of work required and people to buy into it. But i like it!

    Just a few ideas went through my head when I read the comments below the story. I agree with Tom O’Malley and Sean McMahon 100%, make the league the best it can possibly be. Some Irish players may not get the minutes they want in the league with better pro’s there, but they are gonna get better every training session and every game when they do play. The younger players get better and have better chances to get scholarships in the states and hey they have a former collegiate player with them twice or three times a week to give them a load connections!!

    You have to have the rules the same for both Premier League and Division One for promotion and relegation to work. How amazing would it be at the end of the season when the likes of UUJ and Moycullen battling it out not to go down for a season and the likes of St. Mary’s and Titans then fighting it out to go up a tier!! It would be amazing to watch and the sport! If you didnt have the same rules then the likes of Thunder who had x amount of Americans playing suddenly losing key members of their team due to eligibility and then getting destroyed following season in top flight.

    If you make the league the best it is, I would imagine you would have as many teams working with universities to get scholarship students in. Its a win win for both college and club. The club benefits having the player there to play and mentor other players, the uni gets an international student who is the flagship for their uni at collegiate level. Gareth McGuire seems to have some kind of working model working up at UUJ if he’s got UL and NUIG onboard already.

    Also from reading the different comments on facebook also, one way you can tell a player is a pro or not straight away is if he/she has an agent. Just something that seems fairly basic to me? Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Also with no rules or proposals released on EU and Irish players why are people jumping to conclusions and giving off already. Its going to be different alright next season but this proposal is a step forward, baby step if that IMO.

  3. Mark

    / Reply

    Same as what happened in the 90s.
    .. dublin killed the game with one American. Rule

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