Marcial tries to cure officiating ills–for good
If there’s one thing that Willie Marcial needs to get used to, it’s “having so many meetings in one day.”
“Sometimes I can have three or four meetings,” said the new Philippine Basketball Association commissioner, adding that he tries to cram as many meetings into his days to accelerate the learning he needs to run Asia’s first professional hoop league.
It’s a welcome inconvenience to his lifestyle. More importantly, it opens his office to ideas that may help steady the PBA amid a stream of controversies that welcomed this new season.
Already, these meetings have given birth to what could shape his legacy as the PBA’s 10th commissioner: A blue book for referees that will finally provide the league with consistent officiating no matter who sits where he is now.
“It’s going to be a bible for officiating,” Marcial told Sports IQ, the Inquirer’s sports talk show that’s aired live on multiple platforms, in Filipino Thursday. “Once it’s written, we don’t have to change officiating guidelines depending on who the commissioner is.”
Officiating has long been the league’s greatest thorn, with fans and coaches frustrated over a lack of understanding on how calls are made. An officiating bible allows teams to do away with changing their defensive philosophies every time a commissioner change results in a new set of rules.
“We will now have fixed general guidelines that will be open to minimal changes,” he added.
Marcial may be the perfect commissioner to come up with a definitive officiating style book. He has a unique feel of the game, having served the league in multiple capacities. He has seen the game from the floor, from the broadcast booth, from the media room and from commissioner’s row—every angle providing him with a different perspective on how the game is played and how fans react to every play and call.
But even then, he refuses to have his fingerprints all over the referees’ bible. Instead, he is taking the views of the people most affected by officiating confusion: Coaches and fans. Thus, the former media bureau chief formed a competition committee to pen the guidelines.
“This will be headed by coaches, especially those who have been around the league for a long time. Coaches like Tim Cone and Yeng Guiao,” Marcial said, adding that the league’s technical officials will also be a part of the committee.
The group, though, will take its cue from the fans.
“We will do surveys so we can get a pulse of what the fans like,” he explained.
Lately, the league has given a hint as to what the direction the competition committee is headed. The league has brought back physical play, doing away with touch fouls that have slowed the game to the point of frustration.
“We’re bringing back larong Pinoy (Filipino style of basketball). We gave room for a little physicality. Fans have responded positively to it,” Marcial said.
The physicality has added spice to the current Philippine Cup, but Marcial sternly warns players against taking advantage of the relaxed rules to play dirty. He has already issued fines and suspensions for plays that have gone out of hand.
Marcial has other notable goals for the league. For one, he intends to bring the PBA even closer to the fans by providing them cheaper access to live games through ticket promos and by shipping games to as many provinces as possible.
“It’s really time we give the league back to the fans,” he said.
But the idea of finally establishing a guide book for officiating excites Marcial the most. He will leave no stone unturned to make sure that this will be authored sooner than later. Just as he wants to make sure that the tenure he was given will also be institutionalized.
“The good thing about tenure is that it creates a stronger, more independent commissioner’s office,” said Marcial, who was given a three-season deal to lead the PBA. “You no longer have to worry about your position as long as you don’t do anything foolish.”
“I’m thankful for the trust that the board gave me but we are looking to make tenure something that every commissioner after me will have so fans will be assured that the commissioner won’t be looking after the interests of the board, but of the league.”
And Marcial hopes to use his tenure to leave the league with something lasting—a more consistent officiating of games played in front of bigger, louder crowds.