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Season on the brink

Bea Micaller



Bonbon Batiller of Letran College reacts following their title quest in the NCAA Season 95. photograph by DAVID JOHN CUBANGBANG for the daily tribune @tribunephl_dvd

Season 96 of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is teetering on the brink of getting completely canceled as the country continues to suffer the crisis brought by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

A prominent member of the NCAA management committee revealed that they are seriously mulling the possibility of calling off the upcoming season as member schools are having difficulty keeping their respective varsity teams intact.

For one, this year’s host in Letran College is struggling with its finances following the long lockdown.

In a previous Daily Tribune report, Letran rector Fr. Clarence Martinez already informed athletic director Fr. Victor Calvo about their plan to downscale their athletic program if they want to continue playing in the oldest collegiate league in the country.

The Knights also reduced their meal and dormitory expenses as well as limited the number of scholarship grants to student-athletes, according to a leaked internal memorandum.

Insiders said Letran and other NCAA members are spending approximately P10 million per season to maintain their varsity programs.

Other teams share the same sentiment with University of Perpetual Help System Dalta admitting that it is toying with the idea of joining only the mandatory events — basketball, volleyball, athletics and swimming — if the season still pushes through.

“We really can’t force something to happen if it’s not meant to be,” said the source, adding that pushing through with the season could do more harm than good not only to athletes, coaches and officials, but to students as well.

“For all intents and purposes, even if we want it to push it through, we are guided by government policies. We are at their mercy as to when they would give sports leagues like us the green light to operate.”

The source said they could push through with the season in a closed-door setting, but it wouldn’t be economically viable to member schools.

After all, the league draws bulk of its revenues from ticket sales, especially from spectator sports like basketball and volleyball while sports that practice social distancing like lawn tennis, table tennis, soft tennis and badminton are not considered as crowd-drawers.

Another potential setback is the lack of venues and broadcast partner.

The source said if the league pushes through with the season, it would be very difficult because venues like the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex, Philsports Arena and Ninoy Aquino Stadium are all being used as quarantine areas by the Department of Health.

“The government is using these facilities to treat virus patients,” the source said.

“If that’s the case, we have to disinfect and sanitize the equipment after every use, making it very hard and risky for our student-athletes.”

He added that their broadcast partner, ABS-CBN, remains off the air following the expiration of its franchise. Although Congress is working hard to grant it with a new franchise, it wouldn’t happen until around August or September.

“That’s another problem,” the source said.

“It’s hard to hold games without television coverage. We will have a difficult time finding sponsors.”

Right now, the government has yet to lift the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila.

Although there is a strong chance that mass gatherings such as concerts and sports events would be included in the list of allowed activities allowed under the “new normal” around January, the source still doubts if there is enough time for them to stage the season.

“I have consulted with some strength and conditioning coaches and they said that it takes three months for an athlete to get into shape,” the source said.

“If we start Season 96 in April, it’s going to be a big problem. It is already too late because we only have one month before Season 97 starts in May.”

The source added that at this point, the most they can do is to hold games in an unofficial capacity.

“I think we can push for the May or June opening, but the sports events would be unofficial, something similar to friendly matches or inter-school sportsfest,” he said, adding that this would only be the first time that the league would be cancelled since 1962.

“With this, we can still allow our players to showcase their talents.”

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