THE UNIVERSITY Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Board recently approved a new rule which requires a two-year residency for an incoming collegiate athlete who is a high school graduate from another UAAP member university.
This new rule amends the current residency requirement of only one year under similar circumstances.
The vote was 5-2, with Ateneo and University of the Philippines voting against the amendment. Consequently, starting next season, a student-athlete would have to sit out two years if he or she transfers from a UAAP high school team to a different UAAP school for college.
UAAP followers dub the new rule as “the Pingoy Rule” as it directly affects two-time high school MVP Jerie Pingoy of the FEU Baby Tamaraws, who is reportedly transferring to Ateneo this coming school year.
If Pingoy transfers to Ateneo, he would be eligible to play for the Blue Eagles only in 2015. But if he chooses to remain and suit up for the Tamaraws, he need not wait as he can play in the next season.
Quite a number raised objections against the new rule. No less than Senator Pia Cayetano, chair of the committee on youth, women and family relations and an athlete by heart, wrote the UAAP Board complaining about the matter. Senator Cayetano is also calling for a legislative inquiry to tackle the rule and its effects on the youth.
Senator Cayetano cites paragraph 1 of section 19, Article 14, of the 1987 Constitution, which provides that “[t]he State shall promote physical education and encourage sports programs, league competitions, and amateur sports, including training for international competitions, to foster self-discipline, teamwork, and excellence for the development of a healthy and alert citizenry.”
The good senator then argues that the new rule constitutes an unreasonable limit on an athlete’s constitutional freedom of choice as well as his or her academic freedom to choose which college to enter.
On the surface, there appears to be cogent argument to invalidate the rule, but as a student of law, several questions cross my mind.
First, section 19, Article 14 of the 1987 Constitution appears to be directed to the government. Such being the case, can it be used to deter private entities, such as the UAAP, in promulgating rules which, in their best judgment, are necessary to foster league competition?
Second, does the new rule actually prevent students from transferring to another school? Or does it merely require them to acclimatize themselves to their new environment so that, by the time they play in the big league, they are already fully adjusted to tackle both the academic and athletic requirements of their new school?
Third, does the new rule really shorten the student-athlete’s playing years in the UAAP to the real detriment of the student? Or will the student’s playing years remain the same, although the student will have to wait two years before it commences?
Fourth, when the UAAP schools joined the UAAP organization, did they not bind themselves to comply with the resolution of the majority of their representatives in the board?
Finally, will our courts of law interfere with the judgment of the UAAP board, which may have decided to adopt the rule in order to level the playing field among the UAAP member schools, whether rich or poor? Under the best business judgment rule in corporate law, our courts usually leave to the “experts” the determination of policies within the spheres of their expertise.
In any event, and putting legalities aside, the Pingoy Rule betrays the alarming mentality that students-athletes are mere “investments” or “commodities” who can, and should be, profited from. This rule highlights how far the recruitment wars have gone—from the perceived “poaching” or “pirating” of talent to what an institution will do to deter free choice. While there is no prohibition, the penalty is clearly meant to send a strong statement to future collegiate players, all eager to strut their wares, to suffer the harshest punishment for a young athlete—to wait and watch on the sidelines.
And there seems to be no fair and rational basis for the punishment. By the normal progression of a student, he will graduate and have choices ahead of him. This progression is not unique to athletes. Students want the freedom to choose which college to attend and which college course to take: The only limitations they have are those they make themselves. Perhaps, it is in foregoing context that Senator Cayetano described the rule as “unjust and cruel punishment” because the student’s choice is curtailed not by his own limitations, but because of a group’s effort to cash in on their investment.
All told, the Pingoy rule penalizes not only the stars, but even high school “role players” as they will be relegated to training teams instead of fully developing their potential in the big league during their “prime” years.
Indeed, beyond the development of their athletic abilities, the rule is totally oblivious of the fact that students-athletes may genuinely want to transfer to a better school not because they were “pirated,” but simply because they want a brighter future for themselves and their families.
Looking at the brighter side of things, the controversial rule has given our lawmakers a platform to look at the issue on a broader scale. It gives them the opportunity to enact a law or a magna carta that would implement and live out the principles behind Section 19, Article 14 of the Constitution.
But to those who, like me, witnessed congressional investigations time and again, the question is: Will something concrete and good really come out of the legislative inquiry? Or will it be one of those inquiries that lead to nowhere?
This is the challenge to my friend Pia who, as an athlete by heart, knows all too well what should be put in place to bring back our country’s sports program to its old glory days.
(The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)