The year that passed was unlike any other for Philippine sports
The thriving professional volleyball league Philippine Superliga (PSL) was only in the elimination round of its import-laced Grand Prix when the season was scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
All nine imports, paid in US dollars by teams wanting media mileage more than the trophy, packed their bags while the rest of their respective teams’ activities ground to a halt.
In the meantime, the teams continued to pay their players’ salaries as stipulated in their contracts.
Sure enough, as the coronavirus left a trail of widespread disruption in sports all over the globe, the Philippines’ sporting leagues weren’t spared.
And they felt the brunt of it.
“Like most serious leagues, regardless of status as defined by authorities, the PSL lost resources needed to maintain its viability because of the pandemic,” admitted Superliga Chair Philip Ella Juico.
He would not say how much league revenue was lost, but the league’s resources—as monetized by its partnership with TV network TV5/Cignal—were almost entirely wiped out.
The PBA didn’t make it a secret that it was losing tens of millions a month before it came up with its Angeles bubble and eventually crowned a PH Cup champion in Barangay Ginebra.
Taking care of its own
It also took care of its players and Office of the Commissioner employees by paying their salaries even with no games being held.
“It was the least we could do for them,” said PBA commissioner Willie Marcial. “No one wants to be in this situation to begin with, so it’s not in us to make our employees and players suffer.
“Our teams were very much willing to bear the burden for them,” he said.
“All the corporations behind the teams in the PSL are solid (entities), and putting up a team is part of what is called necessary cost of doing business and creating and maintaining brand awareness,” he added. “They have factored in their own risk assessment strategies.”
Take for example the University of the Philippines (UP) men’s basketball team. In the UAAP pre-Season 83, it was touted to be the “only team” with enough capability to square off with four-peat-seeking Ateneo.
Retooled with nowhere to go
It has under its shed the sharpest tools around with the presence of former University of Santo Tomas (UST) team captain CJ Cansino, Kobe Paras, Maodo Malick Diouf and two of the heralded Gomez de Liano brothers—Joe and Jordi.
“When one is trying to build a basketball program, one’s most important ally is timing. My regret is that we were not able to follow through with our momentum,” said UP coach Bo Perasol, who was actually looking forward to the season to bring the crown back to Diliman.
“We have laid down our plans for the off season already; personnel, training (out of the country/out of town), tournaments, etc. The motivation to go back and be better was very palpable,” he added.
Things were looking up for UP, which last tasted the championship in 1986.
“The most that it’s going to affect would be player pipeline. There are supposed to be players who will be graduating, who will be replaced with those who are next in line,” said Perasol.
He added: “It may look like a better problem than lacking the necessary players, but, you have to consider the aspirations of these young guys. They have been rearing to play ever since they had been part of our program.”
Bounce back will have to wait
The pandemic also obliterated the best laid plans of the UST Tigresses, who were supposed to go out riding the crest of a second-place finish to the Lady Eagles in the UAAP volleyball tournament. It was a loss so poignant that Santo Tomas had all the motivation it needed to win the fan-favorite tournament.
“We were caught by surprise,” said UST coach Kungfu Reyes, whose charges eliminated traditional powerhouse La Salle in the Final Four of Season 82 even without injured top gunner Milena Alessandrini. Reyes would have had a rock-solid roster for the season that never was, and was confident that his Tigresses would have given the Lady Eagles the fight of their lives—if that wasn’t already the case last season.
The season cancellation, though, need not be bad news in the literal sense for everyone.
More time to regroup
Reyes’ counterpart in basketball, Jinino Manansala, is in the thick of picking up the pieces from the “Sorsogon Bubble” controversy that cost Aldin Ayo his job, and not having to play because of that has given him the chance to have a longer look at the Tigers’ future.
Manansala said he is “reconstructing” the Tigers, who have been decimated by player exodus following a breach of health protocol that gained national attention because of how brazen it was pulled off.
“The system is already in place, and I take the player recruitment as my personal challenge to myself,” said the former coach of St. Clare College in the National Athletic Association of Schools Colleges and Universities.
Things aren’t as dim either at the country’s first collegiate athletic league, the NCAA.
League officials, encouraged by the support of TV network giant GMA-7, have decided to push their luck and apply for Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases clearance to be able to hold tournaments for at least four sports this year even with the COVID-19 vaccine still uncertain.
The NCAA plan is to hold online games before staging a PBA-inspired bubble season for its basketball and volleyball games.
It also plans to hold swimming and track and field events.
The bubble concept is also what the PSL is hinging on to jumpstart its 2021 season and try to recoup everything that was lost because of the virus. Juico said that by February, they expect to hold a beach volleyball event.
“We already have a calendar for the indoor season and negotiations are underway with several organizations for the quartering of athletes and staging of games in a cost-effective way,” said Juico.
Indeed, everybody has best-laid plans for the coming months, even as the leagues struggle to salvage something from a sporting season that became a pandemic wasteland.