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.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bleachers Brew #385 Can the Philippines create our own version of March Madness, the NCAA tourney and the one true national champion?

This appears in the Monday, March 31, 2014 edition of the Business Mirror.

It’s Madness
by rick olivares

Once March rolls around, people think of how the coldest months of the year are over and how spring is just around the corner. Here in the Philippines, it’s a time for the annual graduation rites from schools so there’ll be sighs of relief and happiness. And of course, there’s March Madness, where the US NCAA concludes its tournament with a national champion declared.

I filled out my bracket in hopes of winning Warren Buffet’s billions but as the tournament has always shown, the best designs of mice and men are quickly dashed. So much for my penciling in Kansas as champs. So much for Rick Pitino’s defending Louisville Cardinals who were ousted by rival, the University of Kentucky Wildcats in the ongoing tourney. So much for the run by Dayton.

As the tourney began and progressed, for the umpteenth time, I – and I am sure many others feel the same way as well -- thought of college basketball in the Philippines and asked, why can’t we have a similar tournament?

Come on, we are practically copycats. Our local NCAA is a derivative of the US NCAA that was formed in 1906. Our PBA copies everything the NBA does. And hello, D-League!

You can point out and say that we already have the local Philippine Collegiate Champions League that is organized by Rey Gamboa and Joe Lipa. Sure it is. But let’s face it, the most prestigious college basket title in this country is the UAAP.

I am not advocating reinventing the wheel. The system and machinery that Messers Gamboa and Lipa put in place are there. Make use of it. Now it should be augmented and give perceptions a 180 degree turn.

Here are a few ideas on how to create that one national tournament ala the US NCAA.

Give prominence to all the collegiate leagues
There have been attempts to merge the UAAP and the NCAA and that was a misguided plan. Even better, why not align all the collegiate basketball leagues in the country to play their tournaments in the first semester of every year? There are at least 16 different and organized collegiate leagues around the country and some of their tournaments are played in the second semester.

How many people have heard or even read about what happens in the National Capital Region Athletic Association? How about the Baguio Benguet Educational Athletic League?

Aside from basketball officials, ardent sports followers, media, and the local communities, no one. Yet Manila schools mine them for their rich talent.

The PBA isn’t all UAAP and NCAA. Schools and leagues outside the two have produced Ranidel De Ocampo (St. Francis of Assisi College), Gary David (Lyceum of the Philippines University), Marc Pingris (PSBA), and Peter June Simon (University of Mindanao) to name but a few.

Now imagine the other undiscovered talent from all over.

Re-branding these collegiate leagues
If these different leagues can be packaged and marketed like brands ala the American Big Ten, ACC, Ivy League, and Western Athletic Conference just to name a few then they can become bigger.

As it is many of these leagues are run by people who do not see the big picture. Furthermore, because of their affiliations care more for themselves than others. Just because one is a former athlete that doesn’t mean he or she possesses the skills needed to guide the league in terms of leadership, marketing, or even to the next level. Every one needs to be a little more professional.

These stronger regional tournaments will be a boost for their local communities in more ways than one. Aside from regional pride, there are the local economies that will receive a boost.

All one has to do is look at what the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association did right and improve on it.

Stronger and more prominent local and regional tournaments will mean local boys and girls will stay home to play rather than venture into Imperial Manila. The product must be good for the people to watch. That will give the team star power and help in getting local business interested in sponsorships. You have to give a face to the league whether it be the schools or the players or a combination of both (I’d go with the latter).

Fix the scheduling and the SBP must give a firm push
The UAAP ends before the first semester does and isn’t it anti-climactic to have the national tournament after when all the fervor dies down? The NCAA plays all the way to November.

We have to look back at how the old NCAA and UAAP used to be played well into the school year and not at the start. There were times when inaugural tip-off was in August and not June.

Clearly, the schedule must be studied very well more so with Ateneo and UP pushing back the start of their respective school years. There must be some moving around of tournaments. Immediately after the UAAP, the University Games are played. Come November, it’s the PCCL’s turn. I know that PCCL management has done what they could to accommodate all the teams, hence moving it back. That is why the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas should be behind this concerted push.

The argument that we are too fractured and divided not just by ethnic lines but by geography is hogwash. I think our forefathers had a more difficult time molding these different lands into one country. Furthermore, the United States is far more bigger and not just in terms of land mass. Other countries even in the region have gotten their football pyramids to work.

All it takes is political will and it will get done. This is definitely challenging but it can be done.

The national title must be viewed as something very prominent.
Having said that, the national tournament and championship must be made bigger than anything else combined. And I mean not just the size of the trophy.

If all the leagues are in on the program then this title will mean a lot. And given everything that has gone before, it’s going to take a paradigm shift. And it will take a massive public relations and media campaign to help get it done.

Getting the media to cover it
The fourth estate is just as crucial to the success of this. About eight years ago, there were less than five people covering the UAAP Women’s Volleyball Tournament when it was being played in the UP and Ateneo Gyms. Now, there are at least 40 media types assigned to the games.

As I mentioned, if there are good matches and that is communicated via local television, radio, print and digital media then it will take off. Digital is the easiest and most cost efficient way to get the news out.

I shake my head at the old school way of writing who won, the biggest lead, deadlocks, and the ubiquitous quote from the coach that you can cut and paste among everyone else. Who the hell writes that way? I have been to over 20 different countries and I do not see sports written that way. Not even in Southeast Asia. No one will remember the freaking score or who scored what at the three-minute mark. Tell the people what happened. To borrow a line from the late American sportswriter Jim Murray, “There is no city ordinance that says they gotta read you.” Added the great Rick Reilly, who has won so many sports writing awards in the US, “Make people want to read you.”

If the dinosaurs insist, go with the new media guys. They are more dedicated anyways and aren’t hacks who lack imagination.

It sounds like a quest even too tough for Hercules, right? Maybe. But you’ll never know what could happen if you get down to it. All I can say is, it’s madness all right.


  1. Nice idea to pursue a truly one true National Basketball champ locally...but will it be feasible on a National scale? Perhaps , as part of paradigm shift you mentioned, mini steps can be implemented in the PCCL to make it truly exciting and not "favorable" to UAAP / NCAA Teams.For starters , why not make the PCCL a "one loss and you're out" tourney" even during the Final Four and Final per se! Do away with the "twice to beat" , "thrice to beat" or even the "best of 3,5 or 7" formats ! These modes are just set in place just to please the broadcaster's greed for advertising money! Once we focus on the tournament itself and not be subservient to the TV stations' wishes for monstrous commercial ads revenues, then we can start pursuing other innovations. Only then we can truly have a one true champion !

  2. one big difference between the US model and the local one is the importance or lack of it placed on the conference championship/ the Philippines, the UAAP and NCAA champs develop a "we already won our leagues, what else do we have to prove" attitude in the PCCL.