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A grand opportunity

The PBA board of governors will definitely be incomplete as their scheduled planning conference begins in Los Angeles this week. This is concrete proof that none of the issues which propelled the impasse over commissioner Chito Narvasa have been resolved. Now, each team’s representative is exercising his right to participate or not participate in their own democratic processes. This stalls several major decisions which only a majority of the board can make. Aside from also setting a scary precedent, it just doesn’t look good.

If the two opposing sides cannot even come to the table to talk, then how will any compromises even begin? First of the issues to be decided is the status of the commissioner, who runs the operations of the league and all its departments. Can an OIC officially make any decisions without the needed two-thirds majority behind him? Who will sign the checks and (since it’s Christmas season) the bonuses due soon? Though there is no announcement to that effect, some teams are anticipating a delay to the start of the coming season.

The dilemma is that there is no mediator suggested by either side and acceptable to both. Even if any of the board members call everyone up, lines have been drawn and sides have been taken. Each side is suspicious or untrusting of the other. A neutral third party has to bring both sides together. It is complicated because, outside of the sister teams, there is no formal unification of either side and hence, no one to speak for his group. With no leaders, there are twelve voices, instead of just two. A rabble is harder to direct than a tug of war.

How can the healing process start? Firstly, what has been done to rile up one side cannot be undone. The draft and all its accompanying trades – before and after – cannot be undone. It would cause even more trouble. The board cannot move forward in any way if it is still lugging around the baggage of the recent past. I’m not saying moving on without finding some viable way of satisfying everyone is right or wrong. There are some decisions that cannot be reversed. One can of worms has already been opened. It can’t be closed again. That is the whole crux of the matter, the irreversible nature of the drafts. You can’t tell a team what to do with their picks, either. That autonomy, which is part of the problem, is inalienable, too.

What can be done to ease the stalemate? Firstly, someone has to step forward for both sides and settle some of the smaller and more mundane issues: scheduled games, submission of players’ requirements, etc. Add to that contracts with external suppliers, training of the referees, and the like. Everything to keep the engine running while the vehicle is still in neutral. Chew on the little things first, get something done, build some trust. As Stephen Covey said, eat the elephant one bite at a time. 

The more complicated part is getting the opposing sides to agree on the bigger issues. Is there anything that would make the block of seven agree to retaining Narvasa? If he goes, what will the other side want in return? It’s starting to sound a lot like congress, where votes for this bill or that are used as chips in the never-ending back-scratching competition.

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The league might also want to review its structure. Does the commissioner have to personally be at all the games? Given the volume of games being played by both the PBA and the PBA D-League, wouldn’t his time be more effectively used using the games to woo sponsors, other sponsors and new fan groups? After all, the association has the best basketball minds at its disposal. Besides, that might be where future commissioners can come from. The league has not had an administrator rise from the ranks. It may be time to consider creating a process of ascension. Or they could give the commissioner a pair of deputies to handle the more time consuming responsibilities. More hands make work light. And size projects stability. 

Perhaps, also, the league could establish a committee of neutral personalities to review potential trades and give their input for consideration. After all, trades are important and impact the league for years to come. A three-man recommendatory panel may add valuable insight on proposed player exchanges. Again, emphasis should be placed on impartiality.

The PBA may not yet realize it, but this is a grand opportunity to genuinely work together to build a stable future for one of the citizenry’s favorite institutions. As in horse racing, both the horse and the rider must be in tune. Should one be inefficient, the other may get the blame. The league has a chance to turn this disagreement into a moment of prodigious growth, for itself, the teams, players and, most of all, the fans.

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