Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Teach the Children

What are we teaching our children today? Collegiate sports are supposed to be a test of character and determination. A venue for spirited and friendly competition. And the last bastion of purity in athletics where the game is played for the sheer love of it and the glory of the school. Next to representing one’s country, playing for the school is a badge of honor that not even a multi-million peso contract in the pros will duplicate.

But the state of the college game is in rapid decline. In many ways, it is more cutthroat than the pro game. Schools have engaged in a virtual arms race stockpiling blue chippers and potential wunderkinds. For what – a trophy, bragging rights, a league record, to cash in on the mega contracts their players will sign when they’re pro-bound? It’s gotten to the point where morals and playing by the book will leave your school at the bottom of the cellar where one upsmanship behind the sidelines is crucial in the hunt for a championship.

In National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities (NAASCU), one league member, unhappy over the transfer of some its super senior players to a rival, asks the board to adopt a rule that renders anyone of the age of 25 ineligible to play. Effective immediately. Even more surprisingly, the other schools ratify the rule. “Malakas yung impluwensya ng iskwelahan nila,” says one school rep who asks to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. No matter if that school has been lording it over the league. But c’mon guys. Eligibility in your league is a joke.

And the grand old league itself, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has stood pat after its suspension of Philippine Christian University for violations of its high school basketball team when there are allegedly other infractions by the other varsity squads. So now what happens? Was anyone punished? It was clear that some people weren’t telling the truth. And it is certainly hard to believe that a coach or even the players themselves could only perpetuate the identity switching. How could these boys be providing spurious diplomas and transcripts when they were never even enrolled in St. Mary’s in Cebu? According to league sources, the investigation is still ongoing. Where it ends up no one knows because as a NCAA policy board member said, “We’re a family here. We don’t want to destroy the league.”

Over at the University Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP), just as new line-ups and rookies are eagerly looked out for at the start of the season, basketball observers wonder what new controversy will rear its ugly head when the games get going. It seem that the board passes rules or statutes to suit the whims of some or to curtail the programs of others. Furthermore, they have shown no balls whatsoever when it comes to policing its ranks.

A few years ago, they suddenly decided that masteral students were no longer eligible to play. But they now allow masteral students to suit up, provided they continue their education at the same school. But again, why wasn’t this discussed during that meeting? I’m sure these distinguished board members would have dissected the whys and wherefores and implications of the rule. So why change it again? So was it a knee-jerk reaction because one school made use of these mercs to bolster their championship bid?

In 2004-05, it was suddenly decided to limit the basketball team’s line-up to 14 players from a previous high of 16. This year, it’s up again to 15. Hey, we’ve got an awesome recruit here and we should have this guy in the line-up right away. Let’s put in on the table to increase next year’s teams to 16 players once more!

This year in the wake of the controversial transfer of FEU-FERN’s high school players to UP, the league passes a rule that prevents graduating high school players from migrating to other members’ college teams without first seeking permission from their alma mater. If not they have to sit out a year of residency. A UAAP board member says that it has been something on the table over the years but is suddenly passed in the wake of the defection of Socrates Rivera and Mark Lopez to UP. “The Soc Rivera Rule” as it has come to be known, “is supposed to prevent the piracy of homegrown players. The rule is short sighted at best and leaves room for plenty of skewed interpretation. But then again, it also just tilted the talent pool towards the rival NCAA.

But that’s not all, so what the heck happened to the suspension of DLSU? Who were the culprits behind this? Were there any changes? What happened to the Ombudsman’s investigation? Why did it take so long for the investigation to conclude? And why wasn’t the team docked with a year of playing eligibility?

During last UAAP season, what really happened to University of the East’s Bon Bon Custodio? There are all these speculations about the player having compromised the team. If that is so, was there a proper investigation? If the speculations are true then it not only affects the UE team but the league’s image as a whole.

And there is the never-ending talk about game fixing that is said to have been around forever. So does not acknowledging it mean that it’s beneath them or that it doesn’t exist? C’mon, let’s all not be na├»ve schoolboys here. There’s a shroud of silence over the league leaving everyone to speculate. Everyone knows better but the powers that be would rather sweep it under the rug. To save the league? To protect some alumni because they brought a few titles to the school?

When Ron Jacobs first took over the San Miguel Beermen after Norman Black’s departure, the first thing he gave his players like Mike Mustre, Yves Dignadice, and Art De La Cruz was the Philippine Basketball Association’s book on officiating guidelines to study. They didn’t touch a basketball for a few days as they were constantly drilled and grilled repeatedly over the league rules. They learned how to use the rules to force opponents into offensive and defensive violations.

In the collegiate arena, it seems that people study the rulebook to see how they cheat or even manipulate rules to suit their purposes. The battle isn’t just won on the court, gentlemen. The boardroom victory is just as crucial.

And these are the people are supposed to be the molders of men and women into productive citizens. No wonder our country is like this.

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