MANILA, 24 January 2003 — The Philippine Basketball Association’s board of governors has approved an innovative format newly-named Commissioner Noli Eala presented before them to make the PBA a more dynamic league.
Re-establishing their support for the young innovator they appointed to chart the league’s future, the board gave their collective nods of approval to the new format which will have a two-conference, one-invitational tournament format beginning this season, replacing the traditional three-conference schedule of the oldest professional basketball institution in the country.
It includes a prolonged All-Filipino Cup, a battle between top PBA teams and Asian squads in an Asian Invitational tournament, and an import conference that could mark the return of the handicapping system for teams.
“I’m happy with the response of the board. Their support to what I hope will be a transition year for the PBA is so important and I’m really glad we agreed on a lot of things during the meeting,” said the league’s youngest commissioner at 39.
The new tournaments are a drastic departure from the PBA’s traditional practice since 1975 when it was inaugurated where two of the three conferences feature imports. The only exemption is the 1984 edition where two All-Filipino championships were staged.
According to Eala, who officially took over from Jun Bernardino as PBA boss early this year, the All-Filipino will be a five-month tournament with 18 elimination round games per team, down from the 22 earlier broached.
The All-Filipino, largely regarded as its most prestigious championship, will serve as a guage as to whether Eala’s dream of a single championship season will come to life in the long term.
“Everything depends on this transition year. This will be a test. Ultimately, my long-term goal is to have just one championship per season. But we have to study the marketability of that. It’s not just a matter of instituting the format because there are business implications to consider,” the lawyer-broadcaster said who worked in marketing and events management before assuming the commissionership of one of the most successful leagues in the country.
The 2003 PBA season will kick off on Feb. 16 featuring the prestigious All Filipino Cup, where the 10 teams are set to see action in 18 elimination games before the playoffs.
The 10 teams will be divided into two groups. A team will square off twice with members of their bracket and twice with teams from the other group for a total of 18 matches.
Only two teams will be bumped off heading into the quarterfinals, which will have the top four teams in each group squaring off in separate best-of-three duels.
The crossover semifinals will be best-of-five affairs to decide the protagonists in the best-of-seven finals.
The All Filipino Cup will run until the second week of July or roughly five months, giving the teams more leverage as far as television exposure is concerned.
In the past, four months were long enough to stage an entire conference.
Barely two weeks after the All Filipino Cup, the Asian Invitationals will be launched. The top five teams in the All Filipino will advance in the Invitationals while the rest will fight for the last remaining slot.
Eala said the PBA has already contacted the professional leagues in Japan and South Korea, the two nations invited to compete against the six PBA teams in a single-round robin format.
“We have already sent feelers to the leagues in Japan and South Korea about this. Right now, we’re communicating about their schedule,” said Eala.
Right after the Asian Invitationals, the import-laced conference will cap the season. The 10 squads participating in the conference may be subjected to handicapping with respect to the acquisition of imports.
The import-seasoned conference has no format yet.
“We’re studying the format of the import conference because right now we are seriously considering the handicapping system,” said Eala.
The idea is to grant lower-ranked teams after the All Filipino and Asian Invitationals the leeway to acquire an import more imposing and skillful than most of the teams in the upper bracket.
The proposed rule changes — actually a mix of the international (FIBA) and PBA guidelines — were also approved.
While the board decided to retain the zone defense and the FIBA 8-second mid-court rule in a move to make the game faster, teams revert to the old PBA rules with two welcome changes and the outdated illegal defense rule has been scrapped.
Games will again be played at 12 minutes per quarter, with players given a maximum six fouls each.
Technical fouls this season will be charged as personal fouls while a punching foul will mean two freethrows for the opposing team instead of one.
Eala is setting in motion a dynamic program that landed him one of the most prestigious jobs in Philippine sports and geared towards revitalizing the country’s premier basketball league.
“I’m upbeat about the whole thing. There are a lot of signs that point to what could perhaps be a good year for the league, as long as we can manage it properly,” he said.
Eala hopes his vast knowledge in different fields will carry him through his Herculean attempt to put life back into a gasping league that has been battered by the prevailing economic conditions.
“We’re all in this together,” he said. “The long-term goal is to bring back the glory days of the PBA.”
Aside from the prized rookies, Eala is also counting on the players who saw action for the national team in the Busan Asian Games last year to prove themselves anew and the younger players who have matured, the second stringers last year who are raring to show their true worth.
The PBA may be an old product, even stale to some observers, but Eala is convinced the “newness of the whole thing-from the coveror, chairman and the commissioner, gives the league a fresh look.
“It’s time to take advantage of that,” he said. “There is a pervading change everywhere, not only in the PBA, but also with the fans. They’ll see that we’re serious and the league is professionally run. If I don’t play politics too much, I will be fine.”
His solid credentials in concretizing those promising ideas will speak for itself.
The athletic and dusky Eala finished a degree in political science at the Ateneo De Manila University (1984) and earned his Bachelor of Laws degree at the same university four years later.
He hurdled the bar in 1989 and practiced his craft first as an associate and later as a partner in the Puno law office from 1993-2001.
Eala left the practice last year to tend the family business in San Pablo City, Laguna. His family owns the San Pablo College and San Pablo City Medical Center.
Eala, who established Arian Works, an events management group, started his career in broadcasting as part of the radio panel covering the PBA back in 1990 before bringing his expertise into television in 1993.
Eala is also mulling an ambitious plan to globalize the oldest play-for-pay organization in Asia.
His future plan includes the possibility of hiring foreign players as regular members of the team the way it is being done in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
The law graduate of Ateneo sees no legal problems with his proposal since the league “is a private organization that should be free from government intervention.”
“We will have to discuss this fully with the board in the coming days,” he said.
During the off-season, the league will reach out to the provinces with out-of-town trips featuring friendly matches.
“One of the things I hope achieve is to reconnect the player with the people,” he said.
Eala’s other major concern is the presence of some “fly-by-night” agents, who often misrepresent professional players in the PBA. Thus, he is proposing to the league board to put up an accreditation center for these agents.
“We just would like to make sure the players are protected. But again, we’re still studying the system on how the accreditation should work in order for us to weed out the illegitimate from the legitimate ones,” he added.
Eala mentioned that he is studying how the accreditation for agents in the NBA works.
He added that contract between an agent and a player is not the PBA’ s concern anymore, though what the pro league intends to look at is during the negotiation between the agent-player and the team itself. By this, the team will have to look first if the agent representing a certain player is accredited by the PBA.
The influx of Fil-foreign players has been attributed to the player agents, currently at work in the 27-year-old professional league.