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.
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.
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?