UP's Tots Carlos (L) and Ateneo's Kat Tolentino are among the players in their final year of eligibility in the UAAP
Added year of eligibility for college players after NCAA and UAAP suspension? It depends, says sports lawyer
Luisa Morales (Philstar.com) - March 15, 2020 - 1:51pm

MANILA, Philippines — The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation in the country has prompted a number of cancelations and terminations of sports leagues across the country.

And premier collegiate leagues UAAP and NCAA have not been exempted.

For starters, the UAAP has already suspended its second semester activities twice due to the virus scare — once in February and again in March.

The league even ultimately canceled its high school activities, while collegiate events may be pushed back as far as the beginning of May — with the continuation of the season relying heavily on further developments on the virus.

Meanwhile, the NCAA is already mulling complete termination of the season due to the threat.

The current situation has raised questions regarding eligibility of student-athletes should the season be terminated.

Can graduating athletes be granted another year of eligibility if their final season is cut short?

Philstar.com interviewed a leading expert on sports law in the Philippines, Attorney Mickey Ingles, to discuss some of the concerns fans and student-athletes alike may have during this extraordinary time.

Will graduating players be granted another year of eligibility?

In both the UAAP and NCAA, there are limits to how many years a collegiate player may participate in the league — specifically, a maximum of five years.

We asked Ingles if "super seniors", such as Ateneo's Kat Tolentino, University of the Philippines' Isa Molde and La Salle's Tine Tiamzon, will still be allowed to play next season if their respective leagues decide to terminate the current tournaments.

"It's their choice. There is no law which tells or restricts the number of years as a college student-athlete... it's all up to the board," Ingles told Philstar.com, pertaining to each league's governing body.

"The only law that restricts or gives limitations as to how associations can run their rules is the student-athlete protection act. But it doesn't talk about eligibility rules when it comes to the number of years you can play," he added.

The Student-athlete Protection Act, which was established in 2015 as Republic Act No. 10676, sets parameters on subjects such as residency for foreign student-athletes, as well as benefits and incentives a school may grant a student-athlete.

Other players may also negotiate with their respective schools on whether or not a terminated season would count as one year in their eligibility.

"It all depends on the contract between the school and the player," Ingles said.

"I don't see why the school will count this year as a playing year kasi it will go against their interest and I don't see how the player will want to count this as a playing year... Because I am sure the players would want to play," he added.

Student-athletes, who are admitted to the school through varsity offices, are often asked to sign a contract — an agreement that usually requires an athlete to render four years of service.

Atty. Ingles, however, noted that either party can claim "fortuitous events" in their contracts should they wish to.

"The cancelation is beyond the control of either the school and the player... COVID-19, it's independent. Kapag ganun, you can ask for legal excuse of their required number of years," he said.

Can schools revoke scholarships of student-athletes due to termination of the season?

Most, if not all, student-athletes receive scholarships in their respective schools — a benefit listed in the Student-athlete Protection Act.

With the future of their respective seasons hanging in the balance, Ingles weighed in on possible reimbursements of tuition fees in the event of the termination of the season.

"The prohibition on reimbursing tuition only applies when a student-athlete wishes to transfer to another school. So I'm not exactly sure if there's any other law that prohibits the reimbursement of tuition due to other reasons," Ingles said.

"But I would caution schools to not do that, as it seems grossly unfair to the student-athlete who has trained for the tournament and it's not exactly his or her fault that the season has been suspended or canceled," he added.

Atty. Ingles said schools asking student-athletes to reimburse their tuition due to the cancelation will "go against good policy".

At the moment, both fans and student-athletes alike can only wait for further developments on the virus.

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