I watched my first game on October 5, 2002. It was game three of the finals between the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the De La Salle Green Archers. Because I couldn’t fully appreciate the action on the court due to my relative unfamiliarity with the game, I got pulled in by the cheering and the beats brought about by the drums. It was because of this atmosphere that made me watch more games as the years went by, and made me appreciate the intricacies of basketball. That’s when I learned:

Collegiate basketball in the Philippines is a spectacle.

The crowd is more invested (and therefore more rabid), the teams are fueled by passion, and the atmosphere is wild, even more so with the respective cheering squads.

And then the game started to change.

UAAP Season 70 was when the schools started being prohibited to cheer during timeouts. In UAAP Season 77, the board tried to ban the brass bands only to bring them back a few games after. The drums were limited to six bass drums and four snare drums the next season, and the numbers were reduced to five and three last season. On August 26, 2018, two weeks before the opening ceremony, the UAAP Board made the controversial decision of reducing the drums to two bass-one snare. The board stated that the volume of the drums has made it hard for coaches, players, and referees to communicate on the court. This decision has created a storm on social media, with most of the fans in protest against it. The board heard the outcry and decided to reduce the number of drums by just one, effectively making it four bass-two snare drums. 25 total brass instruments are allowed inside big venues, and are not allowed in smaller arenas like the Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan.

If we roll it back to Season 79, Ateneo Blue Eagles coach Tab Baldwin drew the ire of the drummers of the UAAP. In the interview after his first game against the UST Growling Tigers in season 79, he said that he believes that the drums “generate artificial noise in indoor stadiums, going as far as using the word “farcical.”

To be fair to Coach Tab, basketball is indeed a game of communication. Coaches talk to their players on court, teammates talk to each other. Offensive and defensive strategies are more effective when the coaches and the players are able to deliver their ideas to each other seamlessly all for the sake of winning the game. It’s the primary concern of fans; for their teams to win. By all means, Coach Tab’s goal is to win basketball games.

He was a rookie coach then but has since adjusted to the “farcical noise,” winning all but one of their elimination games in Season 80 and clinching the title in a game three that featured loud fans and even louder drums. Picture this: Isaac Go’s dagger without the drums, or the crowd not cheering “GO ATENEO” after. It just does not seem right.

Even players were flabbergasted by the news regarding the limiting of drums. Jerie Pingoy of the Adamson Falcons is one of the many players who expressed their disappointment with the drum limit. “Paano magkakathrill ‘pag ganun? Hindi (nakaka-affect ng communication sa court), mas nakakaboost ng morale kasi mas ganado ka kasi all the fans are watching and nag-eenjoy sila.”

Professional players who played in either the UAAP or the NCAA would be quick to say that they miss the energy that the drums provide, with even the teams renting the services of school bands to give a bit of pep to the finals games. Back in 2013, school bands played for the Gilas Pilipinas squad that eventually broke the curse of Korea and made us dream bigger by qualifying in the FIBA World cup.

Let’s try to make it an objective discussion and compare the Ateneo Blue Eagles from Season 79 and 80 led by Coach Tab Baldwin:

SEASON 79 SEASON 80
POINTS MADE 72.1 86.9
POINTS ALLOWED 66.3 73.7
FIELD GOAL % 40.7 43.5
FREE THROW % 67.4 71.6
TURNOVERS 20.5 16.4
OPPONENT’S TURNOVERS 17.9 17.1

 

These statistics were chosen because these are the ones most likely to be affected by the lack of communication from drumming, among other factors. The UAAP season 80 Champions scored 14.8 more than in the previous season, converting more field goals by a margin of  2.8. The Blue Eagles took care of the ball better (20.5 TOV/G in Season 79 vs 16.4 TOV/G in Season 80) even if they pushed the pace faster (79.5 vs 81.69). While the defense gave up 7.4 more points, the average lead per game of the Blue Eagles went up from 5.8 to 13.2.

If you are a student of the game, it would seem like a stretch to try and correlate basketball statistics with the drumming. You know what, you aren’t wrong. It is a stretch to try and relate these things, in fact, drawing such a conclusion would even be considered as a fallacy. But let this be the point of the table above: the topic of this drums issue was never about objectivity. It wasn’t about the concern of winning, or who gets the most rings. It’s a cliche, but it holds true: this is a topic that involves the heart. Something tables, numbers, and statistics aren’t able to completely comprehend. If there’s something that can help you comprehend this, let it be moments.

Here’s one. Thirdy Ravena drives to the rim, Kib Montalbo helps, Thirdy turns, Passes it to Isaac Go, Elevates, and Swish. As legendary commentator Sev Sarmenta puts it, “And listen to this crowd roar!!!!”

Just like how it was in 2002. No deep understanding of basketball needed. Just listen to the crowd. Drums ably complementing the voices around the stands. It’s absolute pandemonium, the best kind.

Aside from the quality basketball games, the school spirit is what gives the UAAP its identity. The rivalries of the schools are not only defined by the games, but also by the screaming fans and the drums (and brass instruments) that work tirelessly with them. The UAAP atmosphere is euphoria in a bottle, and it’s high time that the UAAP board realizes that.