“All that glitters is not gold.”
When the Student-Athlete Protection Act of 2015 was passed into law, there was a collective celebration among student-athletes across the Philippines, especially in the UAAP as it became illegal for collegiate sports leagues to set highly restrictive residency periods for students that want to transfer schools. Five years later and the winds of change have come upon the UAAP with the recruitment scene looking different from what it was before.
The biggest impact this new piece of legislation made was on the rookie recruitment scene. Recently, news of key high school athletes transferring schools for their freshmen year made the social media headlines, including the likes of youth team mainstays Carl Tamayo, Gerry Abadiano, and Kevin Quiambao, opting not to join their Bullpup mentor in senior’s competition. Under the law, no residency requirements are allowed to be imposed on a student-athlete who is fresh out of high school and wants to play for a different institution.
This has led to a golden opportunity, not only for the student-athletes but also for the different athletics programs as well. The Student Protection Act was passed in order to ensure that the welfare of student-athletes is taken care of, and that what happened to the likes of Jerie Pingoy whose transfer to Ateneo stifled his growth as an athlete, would not happen again. In this regard, this piece of legislation has accomplished its goal with flying colors.
But one of the goals of the law has not yet been met—addressing commercialization. Rumors spread in hushed tones that schools would often offer highly desired recruits more benefits than they publicly let on.
A condo here, a supermarket branch there, luxury vehicles, work for relatives, we’ve heard about them all before, but none would admit to these items being a factor when it comes to recruitment. An open secret, the elephant in the room that nobody wants to acknowledge, when it comes to the so-called commercialization of student-athletes, these are the elements that the law sought to remove, but inadvertently pushed back into the limelight.
Current Adamson Soaring Falcons head coach Franz Pumaren recently lamented about how “out of control” the recruitment scene has gotten. He believes that a strong basketball program is no longer enough for top recruits, and that it’s the other things that make a difference in a player’s choice.
In today’s recruitment scene, these extras have become the minimum in order to entice top prospects, and it makes sense. The Student-Athlete Protection Act was designed to empower student-athletes to protect their own interests, even if that means giving their family financial stability. After all, sports have been touted as an opportunity to improve a person’s social status, and for many recruits, scholarships alone won’t be enough for them to survive.
It’s just a reality that there will be people for whom scholarships, board, and lodging will not be enough to sustain their journey. So, it’s difficult to fault them for using their talent, their skills and their hard work to try and get some benefits out of it.
Unfortunately, this creates a marketplace for recruitment wherein talents play for the highest bidder, the antithesis of the commercialization aspect mentioned in the law. Having a sponsor willing to spend on recruitment becomes a requirement for successful sports programs.
So, what’s a league to do in order to address these issues of commercialization?
The extreme end would be to do what the US-NCAA does and enforce a total ban on the commercialization of student-athletes. But this system has also gone under fire for being extremely exploitative toward the student-athletes.
All that can really be done is for collegiate leagues to decide where they draw the line on this matter. An all or nothing approach disregards the realities schools and student-athletes face, while not addressing the issue at all makes college sports a money game.
The first question league officials need to ask themselves is if there even is a problem with the state of recruitment today. But with coaches like Bo Perasol and more recently Franz Pumaren sounding off on how over the top it has gotten, it’s safe to say that some stakeholders think there’s a problem.
From here, leagues should be able to determine what reasonable benefits are in order to bring them to the front. Under-the-table transactions will be a problem for as long as there are limits to what are deemed allowable benefits, but being transparent about those limits allows all parties involved to deal with one another out in the open to raise concerns for their needs.