The college basketball dream is dying. The majority of basketball scholarships are no longer going to poor kids in the inner cities, they are going to middle-class kids with college educated parents. The number of Division I student athletes coming from families in which neither parent has attended college has declined nearly a third from 2010 to 2015 (approximately 400 fewer athletes). The age of urban basketball is over; college basketball is being suburbanized.

Why is college basketball in the process of conforming to the liking of the middle-class?

Since 2010, there has been a shift in the culture of basketball. AAU has replaced leagues and camps, sneaker sponsored circuits have limited collegiate exposure, and athletes are transferring form their local high schools to attend more competitive private schools. These reasons, combined with a nationwide academic and displacement shift, has caused the gentrification of college basketball.


The Dominance of AAU Basketball. The dominance of AAU is shaping the culture of grassroots basketball. Kids are no longer playing on the playgrounds or in leagues, rather they are practicing for their tournament this upcoming weekend. It is becoming increasingly important not only to be on an AAU team, but to be on a sneaker sponsored team at a young age. Because less opportunity is given, “late bloomers” are becoming harder to find. While this favors suburban kids because they have more access to resources, a city kid could have his dreams crushed by 8th grade if he has not been given the opportunity to play on an AAU team.


Access. Money = Opportunity. The middle-class has noticed the disappearance of leagues and camps and has adjusted by giving their children more advanced training at a younger age. Because they can afford to do so, suburban players are surpassing inner city kids in regards to experience.


Exclusivity. On the heels of AAU’s dominance is the exclusivity created by sneaker sponsored circuits. Beginning in 2010, sneaker circuits have had the majority influence over who is and who is not a Division I player. Being on a Nike, Adidas, or Under Armour team is the easiest way to receive a scholarship. College coaches are taking less risks on players who are not on a sneaker sponsored team. As suburban basketball improves, the rosters of sneakers sponsored teams will posses more suburban kids than inner city kids.

Example: Philly Pride is excelling on the Under Armour circuit with a team the consists mostly of players in the Philadelphia suburbs.


College coaches minimizing risk. “It’s changing for sure. You know, our jobs are on the line. I get paid too much. Let me ask you this, why would I risk it all on a kid like that [an inner city kid], when I can get the same player in the suburbs […] Unless he’s a star I can’t take risks like that. And on top of that, the game is changing. Street ball isn’t winning anymore. Look at Nova. They won with all suburban guys.” – Atlantic 10 coach (asked not to be named).


Private Schools vs. Public Schools. Private schools, including catholic schools and charter schools, are depleting the inner city public schools of young talent. Players are transferring from their local public schools to attend private schools that can offer a better basketball opportunities. Inner city basketball players would rather ‘wait in line’ at elite private schools than be a star at their local high schools. While this strategy works out for the players who eventually become stars, it limits the opportunities of the players who did not receive the playing time and/or practice time necessary to develop.


Example: New York City basketball players are exiting New York City public schools as early as 9th grade due to players not being qualified and/or better basketball opportunities.


Rising Academic Standards. In 2016 the NCAA raised the academic standards for Division I and Division II basketball. We all know who this is hurting…


Basketball is being suburbanized. If you feel like you are being left out, it is probably because you are.

If you liked this article we highly encourage you to check out Tom Farrey’s, The Undefeated article, “The Gentrification of College Hoops.”


Wes Rines / Sam Rines