Offline: Good times, bad times for PHL sports

The last few years have been good ones for Philippine sports with the likes of pole vaulter EJ Obiena and tennis ace Alex Eala proving themselves world class, and the Philippine national basketball team AKA Gilas surprisingly reclaiming the title of the best in Asia.

Even in women’s football, the Philippines had its brightest moment last year, when it showed grit and heart in facing the world’s top teams.

It’s safe to say that Filipinos are generally sports lovers, and they enjoy nothing more than watching competition sports at the highest level.

There is, however, a dark side, especially in amateur sports as best exemplified by the two collegiate leagues, the NCAA and the UAAP.

In the past many months, there has been a development that I find exceptionally disturbing, and that is the not-so-silent bidding war to recruit the best possible players by not only the top powerhouse teams, but also the “lesser” teams.

A few outstanding high school players have been the object of that bidding war, and the reported amounts involved are absolutely breathtaking.

I know I risk being misunderstood, but two of the schools involved are the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the UP Fighting Maroons.

The first impulse of followers of those two fine schools will immediately accuse my favorite La Salle Green Archers of being part and parcel of the worsening bidding war, but I will have to strongly disagree.

Please hear me out first before passing judgment.

Two outstanding point guards were confirmed to have opted to transfer to the Green Archers, and have in fact played in provincial games even if they cannot join the team this year due to residency requirements.

Jacob Cortez and Kean Baclaan are not transferring so much as they are returning to the green and white. Both played high school ball for the junior La Salle team before heading for NU in the case of Baclaan and San Beda in the case of Cortez.

The latter is a special case as he is the son of legendary Archer Mike ‘Cool Cat’ Cortez, who won two championships with La Salle before having a fruitful career in the PBA.

The case of Jared Bahay is a bit different, although he did play for one of the Ateneo schools in the provinces where he made a name for himself as possibly the top high school prospect to enter the seniors this year.

He had already committed to UP until the team announced that “outside forces” caused him to have a change of heart. A few months ago, Bahay said he was joining the Blue Eagles instead.

One could feel the anger and pain of the UP community at the unexpected move. Many accused the kid of being a gun for hire.

Then there is the case of the University of the East’s Noy Remogat, who came close to being last year’s Most Valuable Player were it not for one Kevin Quiambao.

Remogat has transferred to the Fighting Maroons and everyone and his neighbor knows why.

As has been reported in various online sports sites, both Bahay and Remogat have millions of reasons for choosing to transfer. Specifically, both had five million reasons each.

That is supposed to be the amount that they or their families will be receiving from the very generous alumni of Ateneo and UP.

In the case of Remogat, he reportedly wanted to stay in UE because it was the only school that gambled on him, and won. He was a total unknown two years ago, tried out – he was not invited – for the Red Warriors, and made the team.

Supposedly, he comes from a humble family, so the princely sum offered is a big help. UE could only offer 20 percent of what UP was dangling before him to stay, or a “paltry” one million bucks.       

Besides the transfer fee, the prized players will also be given monthly allowances equal to the pay of a senior manager in a Top 1,000 corporation.

It’s as if they’re already playing in the PBA with the nice perks, huh? This also includes a housing allowance, by the way.

To be fair, what’s happening now is not a new development. Perks have been offered for years for top prospects, but mostly the top schools would only offer full scholarships, housing, and a generous but not excessive allowance.

But going back further, at least in my time, even the top players would be lucky to receive brand new shoes to use during the games.

A couple of my friends/classmates who played for my favorite school’s champion teams of the early and mid-70s can bear me out.

One big guy whom I see semi-regularly said he receive absolutely nothing in his playing years. One of the stars of that team was even asking for bandages that he had to use for his knees, but never got any.

And that team’s supreme star said that he had been offered the huge sum of P30,000 in ’71 to throw a game. He said no, knowing that it was enough to buy or build a house back then.

The stars in that era knew that going to the MICAA and later the PBA was the best path to take to earn large sums of money. But while in college, they played for love of their school, no more no less.

In the years that passed, the gifts given to potential superstars to join a team were usually cars or SUVs. The likes of Alvin Patrimonio receiving a Pajero to stay in one particular PBA team seemed awesome back then.

What’s distressing about today’s bidding for players is that there is no end in sight.

As a last word, I am not against giving players big rewards for winning championships. The late Danding Cojuango showered the Green Archers with gifts when they won championships, and now it is billionaire Ricky Razon who is the team’s padrino.

Manny V. Pangilinan is doing the same thing for the Blue Eagles, and more recently Robina Gokongwei has become the Fighting Maroons’ godmother.

UE has Lucio Tan and NU has the Sy family to take care of their teams, but they have yet to show they are willing to engage in bidding wars.

I say all of the billionaires who support teams should come to an agreement to stop the vile practice, and standardize what is offered to star players and role players.  

Incidentally, the malpractice mentioned here are not the only cases, as there has been noticeable player movement in the NCAA as well. Almost always, rising stars transfer to championship caliber teams but they do not always deliver the goods. But that’s another story best told some other day.