Selective Application: Is The PBA Weaponizing Rules?

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Laws are in place mostly to simplify everything. It is no wonder that the easiest of the rules to apply and implement are those that could easily be categorized as black or white: those that have no room for interpretation. In any sport, those that could be categorized as such could easily be applied. Thus, rules about technicalities are the simplest ones to apply and observe. The more a rule involves judgement and interpretation, the more difficulties most parties have in observing it.

That is why controversy always arises when rules that must apply to everybody, only apply to a select few. Much worse, however, if there are rules which specifically target certain people or groups, either to pressure them or make them tow the line. I think such is the case in the spate of controversies surrounding the PBA the past couple of months.

Selective Application: Is The PBA Weaponizing Rules? - Game High PH

If we offer you the moon, you must sign

Misunderstanding is always possible between a player and his team regarding a contract. It does not mean that one must have a grudge against the other. One party may not like the terms, which may lead to him not signing, or at least signing grudgingly. The other party will offer what they think is reasonable. Whatever the case maybe, a party may decide not to renew a player, a player may decide not to sign a contract.

In this case, a player may be put into a freezer, once in perpetuity, at least for now, only for a certain period. In some cases, a player is eventually released, either to other teams, or just allowed to walk out of the league in search of other playing opportunities. There are deadlocks in the past, and not a few hard feelings. Overall, however, no one has been banned for refusing to sign a contract, at least not in recent history.

That is why the controversy surrounding RayRay Parks surprises not a few people. Not that the TnT Tropang Giga should not feel bad about it. They should, especially after Parks turned down a handsome offer. More reason to feel bad, if it is true, that the son of the legendary PBA import has been acting in bad faith all along.

But the move by his mother team after the falling out was nothing short of capricious. After lambasting Parks in public, they upped the ante, with no less than the good PBA commissioner publicly acknowledging the “gentleman’s agreement” among teams not to hire the services of the superstar.


Clearance, clearance, clearance

As far as the moves were concerned, everyone was within their rights: the teams, the mother team, Parks, and even Commissioner Willie Marcial. A matter of curiosity, however, emerged in the aftermath of the Parks saga. When asked about the possibility of Parks playing abroad, PBA chairman Ricky Vargas stated that it might be difficult, for he will need to get clearance from FIBA, SBP, PBA, and TNT.

It would have been best if the reporter who interviewed Chairman Vargas asked the most obvious follow up: Why would the SBP, PBA, and TNT deny clearance to Ray-Ray?

The Article 3, Chapter 2 FIBA rules govern the international transfer of players, of which the most relevant are the numbers 44, 46 and 76. They are worth quoting in full:

Article 3-44 states that

“The letter of clearance may not be limiting or conditional. If applicable, the letter of clearance must mention any sanctions applied under the auspices of the national member federation that may be in force against the player. Such mention shall include the unexpired period of suspension from playing, the unpaid amount of a monetary fine which is part of the sanction applied by the national member federation, or the unexpired portion of any other sanction. FIBA must be informed when a letter of clearance is issued where there is an outstanding sanction.”


Meanwhile, Article 3-46 specifically states

The only reason for which a national member federation may refuse to grant the request for a letter of clearance is if the player is under contract to play for his club beyond the scheduled transfer date. See article 3-76:


Article 3-76 says

“If the national member federation refuses the request for the letter of clearance in terms of article 3-46 above, this national member federation shall notify the party requesting clearance and FIBA immediately. The refusal shall be accompanied by a copy of the valid contract in question duly dated and signed by the parties involved. A certified English or French translation of this contract shall be attached.”


The bone of contention, simply put, is whether Parks has an existing contract or not. The issuance of clearance should be predicated on this. FIBA specifically states it in Article 3-46. Looking at the facts, there is simply no reason why they could not issue a certificate of clearance for Ray-Ray.

The idea behind FIBA clearance is to prevent erring and misbehaving players from reneging on their contracts and seek employment elsewhere. Parks may have earned the enmity of the many because of his behavior, but his behavior is not something that should merit a sanction, much less a denial of clearance to seek basketball opportunities elsewhere.
The PBA chairman is an intelligent, sensible man, and he might have some good arguments up his sleeve. But aside from formal grounds, we can also assess the situation from a moral, humanitarian standpoint, which happened when an erring PBA staff member with a far graver offence was forgiven. In both cases, which criteria is more fundamental?


Benchwarmers and 12th man are not in danger of being banned

Sometime in 2018, the PBA instituted a rule that instructed promising rookies or college players that will be eligible, to inform the league of their decision of whether they will apply for draft or not. Failure to do so puts the eligible players at the risk of being banned.

If every college prospect here and abroad will take the rule seriously, the PBA might be in an absurd situation of having to process tons of applications from eligible players. Never mind the likes of you and me, as well as others who are hugging the limelight because of social media exposure.

Of course, we all know that the rule is not for everybody. It is not altogether clear whether the rule indicates “eligible players”, “top prospects”, “best from collegiate ranks”, or whatever superlatives that may apply. But it is crucial to note that since it was instituted a few years back, out of so many eligible ones, only Thirdy Ravena was so lucky to be notified by the PBA.

Selective Application: Is The PBA Weaponizing Rules? - Game High PH

So much criticism has been hurled against the rule that it is so probable it will be repealed sooner or later. Suffice it to say, however, that the league, run and headed by the best and the brightest in the business and corporate world, would come up with a rule so unnecessary and oppressive to put pressure on some of our younger basketball players, some of whom were touted to be the future of Philippine basketball. Laughable and comical as the rule may be, its implications are serious and enormous as far as our young guns are concerned: at an earlier age, they are being forced to choose between PBA and others.

Lest I be misconstrued, it is not suggested here that the PBA sent letters of notification to all those qualified and eligible for draft and asked them to explain themselves. I will join the chorus: that rule should be repealed, not democratized.


The league must be protected from Kiefer Ravena

Despite strict prohibitions against playing in ligang labas, some players indeed ply their wares outside of the league, to their rivals even. All of this is well as long as they will gain the approval of their mother team and the league itself. Kiefer Ravena probably thought that with so much at stake, as well as with the possible windfall for the league that could be generated by him playing in Japan, he would get the approval of the league. He was wrong.

The league threw the book at him, stating in no uncertain terms that under no condition they will allow him to join Thirdy in Japan. The PBA could have said: ‘Over my dead body.” But it was worth the try. NLEX Road Warriors, his mother team, should really be commended for giving him the necessary guidance as well as support, and Kiefer is a true professional. The issue gained the attention it deserved and the basketball public was enthralled by the prospect of another Filipino making it in the international basketball scene.

Only the league was not amused, with the rules on their side. As of this writing, Kiefer and the Shiga Lakestars had to cancel their union. There was no way he could play in the Japan B League. The incident, however, brought to light some underlying issues which have been troubling the PBA for quite some time.

The two parties cannot dissolve their partnership without the approval of the PBA. The player cannot ask for a release from his contract, unless the PBA, through its Board of Governors, agreed. But what if the team wants to part with a player? Can the team do that? Of course! The team can buy out the player, or trade the player. That is allowed under the rules.

The idea that the player and a team cannot dissolve their contract or part ways amicably, without the approval of the league, is certainly true. But “league approval” could be used liberally or not, and at best, is an ambiguous concept. It could mean convening the PBA Board, the Commissioner deciding on a particular case, or everyone just looking the other way. More clearly however, as Rene Pardo stated in an interview, only the team has that option. The player does not.

And where does the league draw the line? If Beau Belga was allowed to join a non-PBA team abroad, and others were allowed to play in rival commercial leagues even as they have an existing contract, why does the PBA not extend the privilege to Kiefer Ravena? Because they don’t want to.

The idea that it might set a bad precedent and that there is the need to protect the league from such incidence, is an obvious exaggeration. Anyone who asks to be released must ask both his team and the league. That mechanism is airtight and waterproof. A team can easily refuse to release their player, and as the Kiefer’s case has shown, the league itself can do so.

Nothing will happen without the approval of the league, and, as the previous two cases mentioned indicates, they even have a mechanism to force others to toe the line, even if those players are not under the aegis of the league.


Selective application

It is unlikely that the PBA does it on purpose, but the way they enforce the rules makes it appear so. It seems that there are times when the league is acting whimsically with regards to certain rules and certain players. If most college-eligible players were not notified by the PBA, why will they notify Thirdy? If Greg Slaughter was allowed to take a sabbatical despite raising eyebrows, why not Ray-Ray? If Beau were allowed to play in the tournament abroad, and Chris Ellis was eventually released by Blackwater to play in Thailand Basketball super League, maybe Kiefer can do the same.

And why not?

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