Manila Moves
BLEACHER TALK - Rico Navarro (The Freeman) - August 2, 2020 - 12:00am

And they’re off! Cebuano basketball players are going to the UAAP and NCAA. In order of when the news broke out, LA Casinillo, Gab Cometa, Soysoy Escobido, Nichole Cabañero, Jancork Cabahug and Nathan Montecillo are headed to the big city for the rest of their basketball stints as student-athletes. Casinillo, Escobido and Cabañero are travelling with five other players from Iloilo to play for the UST Juniors team, a.k.a. “Bisdak All Stars.” Cometa will soon be a Red Lion while Cabahug is joining the UP Fighting Maroons. Montecillo is joining the UPIS Juniors squad. That’s six and counting.

Now many are asking. Is this good or bad news? Why did they all make the move to Manila? Why not stay behind? Let’s take a look at the different reactions, factors and thoughts about these movements, shall we?

Sports critics and fans have come out all over social media to criticize the CESAFI for cancelling the coming season and paving the way for this “exodus” of players to Manila. Some have gone even further to hit the CESAFI for not being able to come up with programs to have their players stay behind. The irony of it all is that these are valid points when taken from a purely sports perspective, and we don’t disagree.

But yes, there is a but. What some critics don’t see is the other side of the fence: the financial bleeding that all schools (not only CESAFI) are taking in this pandemic. We must recognize that CESAFI schools are first and foremost educational institutions. They are not professional sports clubs. Sports is a complementary activity to their thrust of education. In times of crisis, schools will stick to the essentials of their core business: education.

Schools these days are dealing with three major issues. The first is that enrollment has dropped by 20% to 30%. And we all know what that means: lower enrollment numbers mean lower revenues up against an overhead that hasn’t changed from the previous school-year. The second major issue is the need for all schools to switch to online education. This means investing in the training of the faculty, a different set of tools to learning and assessment, plus the need to invest in IT (more bandwidth and equipment needed especially for the bigger schools). The third major issue is that schools still have their current manpower and other cost components that haven’t gone down. By sticking to the basics, the non-essentials have had to go. Contracts of most (if not all) coaches have not been renewed. Personnel from non-academic units have been either laid off or have been asked to go on down-sized work rotation schemes. Custodians, utility personnel, security guards, consultants and yes, coaches, are part of this lot. The good news is that the athletic scholarships of a majority of the student-athletes have been maintained. Tough, but this is reality.

Another aspect that people don’t realize is that the CESAFI will never be able to compete with the UAAP and the NCAA in terms of perks, benefits, allowances and commercial value. The country’s Manila-centered set-up is a fact that we all have to accept and this is true not only for sports but for the entire society: politics, education, economy, business and all of the above. To ask the CESAFI to establish a league that can rival the UAAP is like asking Panalay Basketball to outdo the PBA.

Thus, moving to Manila for players is always part of the dream and they’ll move when the opportunity presents itself. But another issue comes up here too. It’s the “how” of their transfer that doesn’t sit well with local schools. Some players and their parents decide to transfer to Manila but do not advise their Cebu school or coaches of their decision. They wait for the news to break out in media to make the “formal announcement.” Moreover, the student-athlete’s new coach rides along and puts on a poker face. This smacks of a lack of delicadeza and zero sense of gratitude (utang kabobot-on). After everything that a school has done for its student-athletes, it’s only proper that a simple “Thanks” must be extended before, not after, the news breaks out. Saying “thanks” after doesn’t have any meaning anymore.

That’s why I salute the players and their parents who go through the process of advising their former school’s management and coaches before going public with their decision. Don’t worry. Schools will not hold on to their players for dear life as they know that moving to Manila is a career move. In fact, they’ll be proud of having been part of the player’s development as a player and as a person.

My prayer now is that the UAAP and NCAA find the right formula in staging their games and ensuring the safety of all its stakeholders assuming that a vaccine is nowhere to be found. Will they go with an NBA Bubble approach? Will they follow the PBA’s protocols?

Or will they stick to the basics and study?

NCAA UAAP
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