Inside Events: National Club Basketball Association
21 Aug, 2019By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An Interview with Sandy Sanderson, CEO
The National Club Basketball Association (NCBBA) is the fastest-growing intercollegiate club basketball league in the United States. The organization provides collegiate student-athletes with the opportunity to play competitive, organized college basketball, and to continually improve this experience for all participants.
The National Club Basketball Association is a division of CollClubSports.
Sports Destination Management: College basketball is incredibly popular. Is club basketball just as popular?
Sandy Sanderson: It is, and we are finding that programs are increasing. We’ve actually been doing the men’s league since 2013 – we started with 28 teams and we’ll be up to 140 teams when we kick off this fall.
One of the things we’re launching this year is a women’s division. For the last two years, women have been contacting us and asking for club play; unfortunately, we didn’t have the resources in place. We’ve set a goal of 35 teams – which would be the inaugural largest season for any of our leagues – and we’re up to 33 teams already.
SDM: Are the schools that offer club basketball also offering varsity programs, or do they join because they want to play, and the school doesn’t have a team?
Sanderson: What we’ve seen in that club basketball is offered largely in schools where there are already varsity programs. Often, these are big name schools, and a lot of the kids who were good basketball players in high school but who didn’t want to commit to a varsity program still wanted to play the sport competitively. In other words, they’re playing because they like to play.
In club basketball, they get to wear their school colors and get off campus to play competitively. We provide a varsity feel for how we run things, we provide a website so people can see stats, scores and schedules – that’s very important not just to the players but to the parents, grandparents, friends and family members who maybe can’t make it to every game but who want to see how their athletes are doing.
SDM: Is it hard to get schools to create club teams?
Sanderson: Not really – the hardest thing about recruiting teams is getting students on the phone to talk about where they are and what they need.
SDM: Do you approach the schools?
Sanderson: No, a student has to start a team. If they ask us, they are in our queue as a potential lead and we can help them get their meetings scheduled and we can provide them with information on what to do, what to avoid and so on. They can’t necessarily get grants from us, but some schools will offer money to help get club teams off the ground – although sometimes, they will wait a year to see if the program can prove itself.
SDM: But it has to be good experience for the students, not just to play but to manage a team.
Sanderson: That's one of the great things; the kids learn to market their program, recruit players, organize practices and plan travel. It's a lot of responsibility and they learn from it.
SDM: Part of the competitive play is the post-season, which includes a championship. But leading up to it is a regular season, and then regional play.
Sanderson: Yes – in men’s play, we have seven regions. This year, for the first time, we’ll be selecting sites for regional championship games.
SDM: Based on which criteria?
Sanderson: We’re trying to make it a little easier for the teams to travel to the games so we’re choosing places more people can make it without too much driving.
SDM: What about with national championships?
Sanderson: We look for a central location. We send representatives to conventions and that led to our partnership with Visit South Bend | Mishawaka in Indiana. It was a great location, and we’re already talking with them about a two-year extension.
SDM: What is the playoff format?
Sanderson: It’s single elimination but we’re building in more activities to add value to the travel for teams who don’t advance. For example, we’re having a skills competition to create a fun environment and keep people playing.
SDM: How many people travel to nationals?
Sanderson: We estimate 15 team staff members per team that make it to the playoffs will travel to games. Mostly, these games are student-coached so there isn’t a large coaching staff. Something we’ve also noticed is that parent and fan attendance has not been very good. It could be that in basketball, a lot of them don’t have parents who travel, whereas in our programs in baseball and softball, they do.
SDM: Are they competing for anything like monetary prizes?
Sanderson: No – we don’t give out monetary prizes – just a trophy, and of course, they get hats and shirts.
SDM: Regardless, do you feel like club sports, and in this case, club basketball, can be a recruiting tool for schools?
Sanderson: Absolutely. We’ve seen schools also say, ‘We have a lot of club sports offered and our basketball team has won its conference three years in a row.’ More importantly, though, it’s a great way to make friends. When kids arrive at school, they often have to find a way to make friends and fit in. Some join fraternities or sororities, some meet people in their classes – and for those who are athletes, and who want to stay part of that crowd, this is a way to find your place. What we’re seeing is that some of these kids, who have been playing basketball since they were five years old, are really happy to be able to continue to play for their school. And with our women’s league having what will likely be our biggest opening right off the bat, we’re really excited.