Once again, the NCAA is firmly sticking to its guns about not having foreign players on its varsity teams. We reiterate that, as a long-standing private entity, the association is at full liberty to do whatever it wants, if that is what it believes is best for its student-athletes. But by the same token, the league’s decisions will also have to bear scrutiny, as the games have always been public, and have courted a large audience at the games and on television. And they are not the only ones looking out for their players’ welfare.

One league official bragged about having ten reasons for the move, allegedly far more than the reasons contradicting the ban. First of all, it’s not the number of reasons; it’s their substance and weight. Even in the Bible, the Ten Commandments can be distilled into two (love God above all and love your neighbor as yourself), or even just one (love), as we are taught in theology class. So let’s examine the facts. 

In the mid-1970’s, President Ferdinand Marcos commissioned a study through Secretary of Education Carlos P. Romulo, to learn why the Philippines was no longer as dominant as it once was in international sports. The study revealed two things: the rest of the world got better, and Filipino sports officials got complacent. This persisted after the 1980s, when funding and politics became constant banes of local sports. Many athletes ended up simply competing in the country unless travel was absolutely necessary. Thus, the Philippines became more isolated, and dominated mainly Southeast Asia. The PBA was once insular, as well. Previous management in the 1980s believed that it was primarily for a Filipino audience. This was coincidentally still at the start of the massive OFW emigration that decade. Then the BAP coerced the league to field a team to the 1990 Asian Games, where it was painfully confirmed that Filipinos were no longer even the best basketball players in Asia. It is only in the last decade that the country has made up a lot of that lost ground, thanks to the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas and the PBA.

One of the reasons given justifying the ban on foreign basketball players (and other athletes) in the NCAA is that they won’t end up playing in the PBA. What does the PBA have to do with it? The PBA has imports, and stopped using two at a time after 1991 precisely to give locals more opportunities to play and improve.

Having imports allegedly does not develop big men. While growing up, doesn’t every child start out playing against a bigger brother, uncle or father? Don’t we all admire and try to emulate someone who is taller, stronger, more athletic? It gives us a target, a goal. It is a natural part of the growth process. The inevitable overcoming of a seemingly unbeatable opponent is an ultimate joy of sports. And naturally, the foreign players who come here wouldn’t be in bigger leagues like the NBA because they themselves are still students, and very few successfully make the undergrad leap to pro ball. Some even go back to school to finish their studies. 

As an adjunct to this, those NCAA players who do advance to the PBA will no longer be intimidated by taller imports, and will be used to playing with and against them. In that regard, foreign college players do prepare local players better. It didn’t bother players then. Why should it bother players now?

The imports are allegedly for hire and play for the highest bidder. That implies that the NCAA cannot police its ranks, and some schools are just better at recruiting than others. And doesn’t that apply to local players, as well? We’ve all heard the stories of college players being wooed with cash, mobile phones, cars, houses, passing grades, jobs and so on, on top of scholarships as incentives to play. Of course, nobody has been able to prove anything. And why can’t other schools keep up with their more successful rivals? 

Moving on, the NCAA says it cannot verify the eligibility (i.e. age) of foreign players. Isn’t that the league’s responsibility, regardless of where the player comes from? Wasn’t it just a decade ago that an active local Philippine Christian University (PCU) high school player was caught falsifying his birth certificate before the Dolphins left the NCAA?

If we look at the past to examine the future of NCAA players, only a few of them will actually end up playing in the extremely competitive PBA (where, once again, there are imports). Some others will try to play commercially overseas (where there are imports), and they have played all over ASEAN long before the ASEAN Basketball League (which has imports) existed. The Indonesian Basketball League once had Filipino imports on every team. Some of the other NCAA alumni will end up coaching abroad (where there are imports). Former college players from the Philippines have coached national teams of several other countries (which have imports). That is their career path.

This writer has avoided speculating on the motivation of NCAA members who voted for the ban. Some assume it’s racist; others say it’s to curtail the success of one member school in basketball. Still others claim it’s to protect homegrown talent. Those cannot be proven at this time. 

The NCAA has a rich history of contributing to the growth of Philippine sports, basketball in particular. But going against the globalization of the sport will hold its players back. Foreign coaching, and playing with and against imports exposes local players to how it is abroad, good and bad. Thirdy Ravena is only the latest proof. How much harder will it be to achieve the NBA dream when your formative years were spent in an environment that was allergic to foreign players? If the varsity players are only being prepared for competition within the league, then fine. But if you are looking after their future, it just doesn’t make sense. It’s one more thing they will have to overcome.

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