March 6, 2013

Tackling the new UAAP rule head on: Pay or cap the pay.

Rules are created to stall abuses of the current system. Rules are fine-tuned to suit the change of the times. The UAAP isn't oblivious to rule-makers and rules: after all there had been rules named after players who were supposed to be the "cause" of the rule: such as the Soc Rivera rule. Just think of these players that were named after rules as modern-day Wilt Chamberlains: they were so good, or were supposed to be so good, they made rules just to mitigate him/her/him or her team.

All this in the context of the UAAP as an amateur league: the players are not being compensated at all, save for free education and probably board and lodging. Quite noble, right?

I'll be very surprised if amateur hoopster Kiefer Ravena did not get a talent fee for this TV commercial appearance where he plays basketball.

The current new rule making rounds is the one that extends the residency of a transferee from a UAAP high school to a UAAP college from one year to two years. Previously, there was no residency: remember the BJ Manalo saga a about more than a decade ago?

The first, casualty of this updated "Soc Rivera" rule (Which included, amongst other things, financial compensation to the school that is being left behind. Think of it as transfer fee in football, or somewhat like posting fee in baseball.), is FEU's Jerie Pingoy. Pingoy saw the bright lights of Katipunan and is probably fed up in the jungles known as FEU-Diliman.

History of athletes leaving behind their teams is as long as competitive sports per se. We all know how Shaquille O'Neal left the gator-infested lands of Orlando (Mickey Mouse notwithstanding) for the glitz and glamor that is Los Angeles; or why LeBron James left the rusty old Cleveland for sunny South Beach. Every athlete wants a new challenge, or a new environment, or a new paycheck.

Much has been written about the U.S. NCAA's virtual slavery of its athletes. Unlike local college sports, American college athletes are not allowed to receive financial compensation for their athletic work, be it a shoe contract, a Milo Best Center TV commercial appearance, or taxi fare from a booster. Even the NCAA penalizes schools or players who receive financial compensation for reasons other than basketball, if they have not been informed.

Big time American college teams spend for -- and receive more from -- from its teams. Athletic apparel sales are through the roofs, ticket sales are skyrocketing, and television deals dwarf the NBA's: all of this while the main actors, the athletes themselves, don't receive financial compensation at all, unless you'd consider American public education and really shiny new shoes as compensation. 

Jeron Teng received P50,000 in a savings account c/o RCBC Savings Bank. They just gave an amateur player money.

Big time Philippine college teams are not far behind. The UAAP now has a stable financial backing with its ABS-CBN contract, and is slated to gain millions of pesos more when it's time to renew the contract. ABS-CBN will spend every peso from their war chest to retain the UAAP within the network. While all of this is happening, the schools themselves have been spending big time: UP even found someone after one of their woeful 0-14 records to sponsor their basketball team for P1 million pesos. Presumably, other schools have significantly large warchests that poor old UP. And all for this while players play hard, get injured, for free... or do they?

It's been an open secret that college, and even high school, athletes receive financial compensation in return for their efforts. This is not an argument if it's right or wrong, but it can't be denied that this is happening. The PBL even saw the error of their ways when they finally allowed athletes still playing in the UAAP (or other college leagues) to play and pay them what is euphemistically called as "allowances." College teams stay in hotels near the venue before big-time games: it's like NBA road teams. To deny this is happening is to deny that the world is flat.

So the UAAP tries to make these rules to skirt around this issue: no one wants to tackle this out in the open, or even in the hushed confines of the UAAP Board. Schools have everything to lose when they have to be under scrutiny. As a result, the UAAP is making piecemeal legislation that doesn't resolve anything, but just makes life harder for everyone. So what has to be done? The answer is simple, and there is no gray area, as the gray area is status quo: either don't pay the players, or pay the players and every school spends roughly identically. In other words, no pay, or salary cap.

And with current economic realities, who wants to play for free? Really. Bring the salary cap to the UAAP, remove the residencies, let the foreigners play, and let's stop being hypocrites. 

This post was updated on October 20, 2013.

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