How to stop junior blowouts in England Basketball.

The never-ending cycle of meaningless games.

Ok, so you can’t stop big margin wins but sure can prevent and minimize them a whole lot better than what has been continuously happening for years in Basketball England’s national leagues.

This is a huge problem that so many people are aware of but very little action seems to have taken place over the years by the National Governing Body. These meaningless games really need to stop happening year after year.

Like so many of us in the UK basketball family, we find ourselves scrolling through Basketball England’s fixtures and results page (the only useful part of the website) searching for our own team/league results and then whilst browsing may look at results all over the country. To this day, I cannot get my head around the amount of constant blowouts across all junior ages and genders that are still going on. It’s never ending!

I’m not talking about 20-30+ point margins either. I’m talking about constant 50+ wins and quite a lot of games exceeding to 100-point wins. Yes, no typo! It’s madness. They are happening all over the country — week in, week out which has to stop!

The NBA UK through the Jr. NBA League are growing the game in schools which should push more younger kids into National League clubs [Image: NBA UK]

Nobody wins.

I’m really big on kids knowing the difference between winning and losing. To know it’s OK to lose — to learn from it, to want to get better and stronger. And, it’s also OK to win and to celebrate it — to be proud of it!

We simply can’t do either of these with big margin blowouts. No one learns and no one gets better so ultimately nobody wins. The current system has to change and this is hopefully where the NGB will start to make moves.

Change the System

League structure

The underlining issue starts when placing teams into specific leagues, which from my understanding lies heavily on firstly their location and then secondly their level of play.

Basketball England currently has 438 teams sitting in 48 leagues from U14 up to U18 (boys and girls). That is a lot of teams and even more players to try and put into the appropriate leagues where the current structure simply isn’t working! It needs a total revamp. A new catered structure with a lot more thought going into it.

Location — I understand why clubs are placed geographically to lower travelling time, costs, planning and young kids getting back late so the location part I get. But if we really want to grow basketball in the UK, junior players need to be playing quality over quantity games to be introduced into a competitive environment. This is where location has to be challenged and revisited. Playing either less games to travel further or play more at central venues may help in reducing costs which will result in more meaningful games.

Level — This is something that clearly doesn’t work with all the leagues across the UK having a mix of talent level = ultimate reason for constant blowouts. Basketball England cannot simply put teams into higher or lower level leagues based on what they did the previous season (or if they are a new team placed in the lowest league). A team can lose their best 1–3 players or also gain these type of players which can completely change the level of a team year on year.

Manchester Magic U15 Boys winning the Playoff Finals in Sheffield (2015) are known year on year to produce strong teams but this cannot be said for every club across the UK. [Image: Mansoor Ahmed]

Solution Plug…💡🔌

1. Win margins (+40 rule)

My first solution would be to monitor results and then act on them. Make a cut off win margin and stick to it. My suggestion is using a +40 point margin win as the deciding factor. If you beat a team by 40 points or more, well it’s simple — you don’t play them again in that specific season.

This is me being generous to start with or we won’t have any teams playing one another. Other countries use the 20-point rule at the junior level where as soon as a team goes up by this many they stop counting the score and either continue the game or just out right stop it. I’m kind of sitting on the fence with this one. I’m not so sure.

But the number margin isn’t the main point — it’s creating a rule that separates teams that are so unevenly matched from ever playing again that season. That’s the real issue that needs fixing.

I will use an example for the current U14 Girls leagues that has 31 teams split across 3 leagues. I have only used some results to give you an idea. Yes, these are real results where it’s awful to see for kids this young (who are likely so new to the game).

East Region win margins — Brentwood x Norfolk (+100) / Bucks x Northamptonshire (+62) / Oaklands x Norfolk (+65) / County Upper x Norfolk (+61)

North Region win margins — Nottingham x Leicester (+91) / Manchester x Bury (+115) / Tameside x Leeds (+92) / Mystics x Stockport (+113)

South win margins — Hounslow x Feltham (+100) / Richmond x Newham (+87) / Solent x Feltham (+91) / Hounslow x Newham (+88)

With the say called +40 rule, these teams and many more wouldn’t play again in the season which for me is a big plus. [The sad thing — you could even make it the +60 rule..sigh!]

A brand new girls academy at Myerscough College led by Julie Page has resulted in huge success for the U18 Girls National League side already beating Manchester Mystics by 20+ points who are one of the most well respected girls programmes in the country [Image: Myerscough Basketball]

2. Ranking Teams

So you maybe thinking what happens to the future fixtures when implementing the +40 rule. Well, you use this to firstly prevent any future blowouts (goal one) and then you rank the teams (goal two) after the Christmas break. You can then group the rest of the fixtures around the rankings of the teams.

For me, teams must be re-evaluated every single year and the only way I see this is by implementing a ranking system. If we want to be ultra British as always and not label greatness, then keep the ranking numbers private — I can slightly compromise, sometimes.

In an ideal world, I would like to see teams ranking by crossing over groups in the New Year of the season to give a bigger picture “nationally”. To not have to wait until the Playoffs to meet in a one and done game which currently happens. But taking baby steps and with the travel/cost implications, I will show creating group ranking and fixtures in the current geographical leagues which is still very effective.

Results taken from Basketball England website as of January 23rd 2017 to mirror current standings.

You will see that I have split the North league of 11 teams into two groups (1) Elite and (2) Development to give clear distinction on level. This would be replicated for all the other regional leagues across all ages and genders. The +40 rule would still apply but in fact rarely comes into effect once the teams are split which shouldn’t surprise many of us.

It’s important to note that the average win margin when the above Elite group teams played against the Development teams this season so far is 74 points per game! Yes, 13/14 year old girls are getting beat by 70+ points each and every weekend right now. It’s outrageous and just needs to stop!

3. Playoffs

You can then get creative with the playoff format by either staying in the Elite and Development groups advancing right the way up to the Final Fours or go into cross group playoffs once teams have played each other and have a final ranking. This is the fun part — getting creative with a sport that needs it more than ever in 2017.

Some will argue if a team gets beats every game by +40 points they are being left out having no more games after Xmas. Well, yes your season is cut short — get your kids to a higher level and try again next year.

This is where BE has to step in and take control monitoring team entries. To now point these teams/clubs to play in lower leagues like Central Venue Leagues until they are ready to play at a higher level and welcome them back into National League competition. It’s not a close door scenario and more to create accountability and the need to improve to get into an exclusive league. Again, I’m OK with this.

4. Central Venue Leagues

We simply need more. Way more! Is this on Basketball England to set up. Maybe. But it's something that again needs to be thought out and positioned as part of a young players pathway. Currently it’s not.

This brings up that frankly, Basketball England really need to stop letting any team into National League competition just for a numbers game (I don’t want to hear Sport England funding argument anymore). It’s exactly this ‘open for all’ mind-set paired with a very poor league structure that is killing junior basketball in the UK. CVL’s need to be clearly separate to NL but also aligned as part of the pathway.

But I believe there is light at end of the tunnel. I have put these exact ideas across to Basketball England CEO Stewart Kellet and more details to the Basketball Development Group (BDM) who are leading on improving competition. I really have made a lot of progress having some great talks with them both.

This is the positive part. Change may finally be coming.

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