THE GAME OF MY LIFE By Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) Updated August 02, 2010 12:00 AM Comments (11) View comments
Each college basketball season, the question of foreign players suiting up for schools becomes an issue, particularly since they have been the key to success of teams like San Beda in the NCAA and, to a lesser degree, its opponent Jose Rizal University and La Salle and FEU in the UAAP. Although rules have been put in place at last to minimize protests (such as disallowing them once other teams have already seen the lineups before the season), the grousing and comments don’t seem to stop. It seems as ticklish as citizenship issues in national teams and the PBA.
Students of schools with the proper residency and age – regardless of nationality – are allowed to play in both the UAAP and NCAA. Teams are allowed to have two per team, with only one to play at any given time. Those are the existing limitations on foreign varsity players.
First of all, there are no laws restricting foreigners from studying in the Philippines. Theoretically, a citizen of another country (again, with the proper educational level and other requirements) may enroll in any college or university in the country. This also means that they are entitled to other rights granted students of those schools, such as joining extra-curricular activities and sports teams. Being a student supercedes other qualifications.
It is ironic that we are proud of our skills in the game of basketball, yet acknowledge that we do not have the size for it, which is at the root of this perennial dilemma. On one hand, we wish to have the advantage of foreign-born players, but on the other, we do not want them “taking away” slots from full-blooded Filipino players. The paradox is a bit confusing when you think about it. If we are really able to compete with anybody, then we should just open things up, and allow whoever wants to play, to play, if they deserve it.
In the United States, school sports teams take advantage of having players from countries that have specific advantages in sports. Koreans and Korean-Americans represent their schools in taekwondo, students of European extraction play soccer, and so on. Those who deserve it, get to play.
One explanation for this ironic situation is that nowadays, foreign players are recruited to play for schools, with the African continent becoming a fertile new ground for player acquisition. Students there come from poor backgrounds, have natural size and athletic ability, live in temperate climates, and would love to get a free education. So they come here, and experience all the perks of being a big name in school sports. It is an attractive proposition for a few years. Eventually, like San Beda’s Sam Ekwe, they can use their training to play professionally in other countries. There are countless other examples of those who lived and played varsity sports in the US and became professional athletes in basketball and other sports.
An example of this would be San Sebastian College, the reigning NCAA men’s basketball champion. Most of the players come from Pampanga, and they have no foreign-born players at all. Yet, they were as dominant as any team has been in the league, and continue to be so this season.
And last season, JRU’s prolific shooting guard John Wilson was hailed MVP.
A similar situation emerged in the PBA when the Metropolitan Basketball Association was born. The MBA allowed each team to have a maximum of two Fil-foreign players. In its first season, the MBA also had a rule that foreign players who were born in the Philippines could play as Filipinos. The following year, the rule was rescinded, the only beneficiary was Alex Compton, who has been an outstanding citizen and learned the language while deciding to stay here. The PBA then did not put a limit on Fil-foreign players, a move which they corrected years later. Soon, there was an overabundance of Filipino-Americans and other mixed-race players in the league, and soon, local-born players openly complained that they were losing jobs.
Strangely enough, this also happened while the PBA was lending players to Philippine teams. The PBA allows players to play in the league as long as one parent was a Filipino citizen at the time of his birth.
If you recall, the same controversy swirled around foreign PBA coaches from Ron Jacobs on down. Of course, I defended Jacobs at the time, explaining that coaching was not a regulated profession in the Philippines, and that if private companies – like those with teams in the PBA – could hire foreign consultants and officers for other aspects of their businesses, why not coaches?
The NBA has managed to expand around the globe because of the influx of foreign players. And their players, in turn, have strengthened or greatly contributed to strong national teams in Argentina, Germany, China, Spain, France and other countries. Both sides have reaped benefits.
So why is it a big deal for foreign players to play in local college basketball? For one, both leagues enjoy a higher profile now with their television exposure on ABS-CBN, which has made the recognizable overseas, as well. Also, with more and more wealthy alumni getting involved in ownership or management of large schools, there is bigger money involved. Varsity sports is also a big source, of revenue for schools, from alumni donations to sponsorships.
It seems that we haven’t really made up our minds where we stand on the skill of Filipinos in sports. If we are good enough, then it shouldn’t matter who is recruited or tries out for the team. Filipinos have played as imports in Indonesia, Hong Kong and other places, and our coaches run or have run national teams in Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei, Qatar and so on. If we aren’t that good, then limiting the number of foreign players shouldn’t be an issue at all.
Perhaps we live for the day when, by choice, we will either not have any foreign players at all, or be confident enough that it won’t matter if they play or not.