BBL INSIDER: MONEY BALL

A Q&A on what is really behind the BBL review. Plus Eaves up and DiNunno’s hiatus. 

Let’s delve a little into the scheduled review of the British Basketball League’s licence to run the professional game and what we know of Basketball England’s rationale.

So why now?

Speaking to a number of figures within and close to BE over recent days, the mantra has been simple: it was now or never, with a fresh structure for basketball in Britain due to arrival in 2016 and with the BBL past its due date for examination to ensure it remains for for purpose. “What I would like is everyone to keep an open mind over the next few days and weeks,” said BE chairman Jan Hagen.

This is a play driven by money. Multiple sources have said that at least one potential investor has expressed an initial interest to the BBL in injecting capital into the current structure. Basketball England claim to have also smoked out an interested party, based in the United States, with the presumption they can put a rich enough deal on the table to transform the sport.  Although, with due respect to both camps, we’ve heard this kind of talk before with no end result.

Whether BE should have put its plans into the public domain – sparking a war of words – is another matter of debate. Although it was inevitable that the review’s existence would have leaked out, the league itself had wished to keep it low-key to avoid any commercial fall-out. BE’s management blasted ahead but it was not a PR move that has received universal approval from within its own walls – especially with an apparent back-track on the concept of putting the top tier out to tender.

How does the exit of BE’s three independent directors sync with the process?

This is where the whole matter gets a little more complex.

MVP can reveal that Ameesh Manek, Andrew Ryan and Rick Boomgaardt, the three freshly-departed directors of Basketball England, stepped down from the board due to what were adjudged to be conflicts of interest while chief executive Huw Morgan has now been excluded from overseeing the review of the premier league licence.

Why? Well, Manek and Boomgaardt – along with Morgan – are listed as directors of a London-registered private company called ‘BBall UK – Naismith Ltd’ which, Hagen confirmed, is a vehicle geared to channel the potential US-led investment. No further details on the nature of its activity is available in the public domain with Manek stating, “I cannot provide further information on (the company) at this time.”

However with the independent directors charged with scrutinising BE’s management, and ultimately the review process, it does underline why a mass change on the board was deemed necessary.

“Huw and the independent directors looked at the proposition and declared they were quite keen to be part of that,” Hagen confirmed. “At which point they became conflicted in certain issues. At that point we started running board meetings where they were excluded from certain discussions. That is currently still being managed with respect to Huw and it also resulted in the three independents resigning because they feel the conflict of interest is hard to manage.”

A legal firm has now been contracted to provide oversight on the issue. But Manek added: “I have not attended board meetings in the past 12 months and my relationship came to a natural end. Any conflict of interest was governed by the chairman and the rest of the board.”

One additional note: in the most recent accounts for England Basketball (as was), payments were authorised to the independent directors (who are typically unpaid), with Manek funded by Sport England for development work, Boomgaardt directly remunerated for management help.

“The payment was for consultancy work undertaken,” the latter declared in clarification. “In the period between when Keith Mair stepped down as CEO in early/mid 2013 and when Huw Morgan commenced in late 2013 / early 2014, I was asked to step in to provide interim management cover for England Basketball (as it was then), and provide a full handover to Huw upon his arrival. The payment was for the services provided for that period.”

Boomgaardt also added that “(I) fully support the remaining board members in their current plans.”

In reality, some might ask how the BE board could vote to abolish the BBL’s licence, or award it elsewhere, with only one independent figure (Hagen) in situ. There is more than a hint of irony in reviewing the structure of someone else when your own house is deemed to be in a state of disorder with Sport England last week providing a public rebuke over its present state of governance.

Morgan could not be reached for comment.

What are the panel’s terms of reference?

Anything and everything, I’m told, but – external investment apart – there are two other primary issues on the agenda: governance and development. The BBL’s ability to police itself and its clubs has come in for regular scrutiny since its formation and although the appointment of an independent board has been seen as a step forward, there are still plentiful – and, in my opinion, legitimate – concerns about the disparity between the best-run franchises and the worst.

The power and influence still lies with all 13 clubs and it is often only on occasions when the group acts with one voice against a mis-firing colleague – as was the case with Mersey and Birmingham – that changes are made.

On development, it’s not hard to argue we’re miles away from creating a model approaching the club structure that has brought so much success and admiration to Spain, France and elsewhere. Again, some BBL franchises – with or without public funding – are starting to get genuine pyramids in place. Others’ idea of grassroots work is simply box ticking to reap various degrees of community cash.

While Basketball England’s record on building a structure has been utterly lamentable over the past decade, there is an urgent need for the BBL to set a tone for others to follow. And what demands should be imposed on any professional franchise in the future are set to feature heavily.

Where do the existing BBL clubs sit in this?

One source said it was “unthinkable” that clubs in good standing with well-honed structures would be left out of any revamped premier league. And while MVP has been told that the initial reaction of the BBL’s board was to only meet with the review commission through a single conduit, the panel still plans to offer individual franchises an opportunity to feed into the process.

It seems, at least on current sight, that we are unlikely to see some big-pocketed foreign investor offering to start a flurry of clubs completely from scratch. And as one BBL figure declared: “at least if Ron Scott (the chair of the mythical Premier League Basketball) doesn’t show up now, the next time he comes around, we can really tell him to get lost.” The last two words of that comment, I will reveal, have been edited for family reading.

The options really sit between the BBL continuing but with a much stricter frame of reference, or Morgan’s investors taking control. Or the status quo, which can’t be entirely ruled out.

What might be the bottom line?

Best case, no matter who ends up in control of the professional tier, British basketball ends up more unified in its structure than ever with professional clubs that are kept to lofty standards and boosted by an injection of funds. Worst case, this move provides the dynamite to blow the whole sport apart once again.

In either scenario, expect money to talk.

 

– Eaves (not) dropping

When it comes to the last BBL play-off spot this season, a dogfight looms. It has, claims Manchester Giants forward Ben Eaves, “been a lot more competitive than in the past which should make it interesting over the next few months.”

Just one loss (the best barometer of potential) separates Plymouth Raiders in 11th and Durham Wildcats, who are clinging onto eighth, with the Mancunians desperate to sneak into the post-season after missing out last term.

Help will arrive on Tuesday with American forward Devin Grimes who has had a brief spell in Spain’s LEB. Then later this month, the Giants plan to bring in a 6-11 Italian centre on trial. “He’s not a project but we just have to see if he can settle and if he’s what we need,” coach Jeff Jones confirmed.

Any extra bodies welcome, says Eaves, who has been a solid contributor since returning to Manchester last summer, averaging 12.7 points and 8.8 rebounds and raising his level significantly since the start of December.

“You get to know different people and different tendencies,” the 27-year-old, who played collegiately at Rhode Island, declares. “But there is a lot of talent in the league. More this year, it’s been spread out. People have made signings. Some of the lower teams feel they should have had more wins.”

The Giants are really one decent defensive stopper away from being higher than their current fate. Good in spells, they’ve also faded under pressure. Yet, even with Mike Bernard unavailable for two weeks, Eaves senses they can raise the bar.

“From our perspective, we’ve got guys who have played together for a long time and who know each other. That’s only half the battle though. It’s about putting it together.

“You have to feel confident going down the stretch. We‘ve let some games go where we should have won. But we have to feel good because we have to make a push for a play-off position. We know we have a lot of things to work on. But now it’s go-time.”

– DiNunno Done?

Mike DiNunno’s absence from Cheshire Phoenix for the past two weeks has a straightforward explanation: the American has been suspended with pay by the team.

BBL sources have told MVP that the guard allegedly refused to go back in during January 23’s win over Leeds Force when he played just 19 minutes and never returned to the floor after the third minute of the third quarter.

DiNunno has not been practicing with Cheshire and has now been sat out for two games. It is unclear whether he will be re-activated or released.

When reached by message, the 25-year-old – who was averaging 17 points and 5 assists – declined comment.

– Outside shots

Who does Plymouth Raiders’ Gareth Murray claim is his toughest foe?

Remembering Derby’s soft-spoken Trailblazer, Clarence Wiggins…

Drew Lasker praises Newcastle Eagles recruitment stance

BBL Insider appears every Tuesday on MVP

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