On banning foreigners
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco () - April 9, 2012 - 12:00am

There is a move being discussed to ban foreigners from playing in the NCAA. Apparently, the recent success of the San Beda Red Lions after 28 years of futility has supposedly accelerated a surge in recruitment of African or African-American basketball players.

It would be impracticable to speculate on the motive behind the ban. Some say that it is because the Red Lions have been so dominating, tallying five men’s basketball titles (one with Koy Banal as head coach and four with Frankie Lim) and one runner-up finish in the last six years. Some say it is more of a preventive measure to abrogate the dynasty and prevent a flood of non-Filipinos from taking scholarships or roster spots from homegrown students not just in basketball, but in all sports. Ironically, last season, Lim made it a point not to field his American center and former Most Valuable Player Sudan Daniel even after Daniel had recovered from a knee injury. Lim proved he could win a championship all-Filipino.

In the United States, having foreign students compete in university sports, particularly track and field and swimming, has been a common practice since before World War II. Some of these athletes have even changed their citizenships to compete in the Olympics for their adopted home lands. The worst case was the sudden change of middle distance runner Zola Budd’s citizenship from South African to British so she could run against Mary Decker of the US in 1984. In the final Budd, who ran barefoot, tripped Decker and was injured herself. Neither placed.

Technically speaking, all students at a college or university have the same rights, the right to the same quality of education, facilities and scholarships, though in some countries, the scholarships allotted for foreign students are limited. Therefore, a student who pays tuition and/or has an outstanding ability, whether it be scholastic or athletic, deserves a scholarship, regardless of his nationality. The rationale is simple, if they are better than other students and wish to represent their school, then they should get the scholarship.

Eleven years ago, when ABS-CBN Sports was auditioning courtside reporters for the UAAP broadcast, we came upon a very articulate and basketball-savvy Ethiopian student from Far Eastern University named Iyanuloluwa Adewuya. Iyan, as he was called, was actually taking political studies, but liked basketball. For those of us conducting the auditions, his nationality was never an issue. He was among the best we had auditioned from all the UAAP schools that year. He got the job.

I once had several conversations with Detlef Schrempf, the first German-born player to go through the US college system. Schrempf, who redefined the sixth man role for the Seattle Supersonics and the Portland Trailblazers, said he had guarded every member of the original Dream Team through his career. Detlef, who was conducting basketball clinics in the Philippines, said studying in America made a big difference in his life, and he decided to live in Seattle when he retired from the NBA. Needless to say, the All-Star’s contributions to basketball may not have been so pronounced had he not been successful in college in the first place.

Of course, there have also been unsuccessful attempts to recruit foreign student-athletes, such as the case of Ma Jian’s younger brother, Ma Ming, who couldn’t overcome the language barrier and other challenges in trying to get a spot for the Ateneo Blue Eagles back in the 1990’s. The older Ma was one of the last players cut by the Utah Jazz at the time.

Worldwide, schools are recruiting talent wherever it is. Japeth Aguilar of the Talk N Text Tropang Texters was recruited by four schools in the US NCAA after his father, former Ginebra player Peter, showed his UAAP highlight reel around. Japeth suited up for the Division 1 Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers, playing alongside future Orlando Magic NBA draft pick Courtney Lee. Another Ateneo product, 6-9 former Blue Eaglet Gian Chiu, got a scholarship at Desert Christian High School in California, then opted to play Division III ball for Oberlin College in Ohio. Chiu, who plans to be a doctor after his basketball career, is back in the Philippines looking for a roster spot on a PBA D-League team prior to entering the draft. Neither of them would have gotten those opportunities for education and training had the US NCAA decided to ban foreigners.

Considering the two recent racism issues our national football teams the Azkals and Volcanoes have just experienced, a move to ban foreigners would be a step backwards. Why not embrace the talent that comes our way and make use of it? Foreign students would not be able to play professional in any team sport in the Philippines, anyway. If they have an innate skill that they may use to benefit their school and earn them a scholarship, why deny them that? If they grew up in a country where that particular sport is played at a higher level than in the Philippines, why not take advantage of the technology transfer? Wasn’t that the whole point of having Fil-foreign players, anyway? Besides, as earlier stated, they are pigeonholed into just playing out the maximum five years of eligibility at university.

Politically, foreign students are not as organized and don’t have the numbers to challenge a ban. If the ban was indeed spurred by basketball, what about the Korean students who can lead the way in taekwondo, or other African nationals who may be assets as runners, or some European students who may bring in their advanced skills in soccer? They’ve already paid their dues mastering the sport growing up. Why tax them for not being from the Philippines? We would also be depriving our own students of their potential improvement. In essence, we would be rewarding mediocrity.

Frankly, that’s neither very democratic, nor very Filipino.

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