Two years into its existence, I was amused by a statement of Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) commissioner Kenneth Duremdes, a statement that reminded me of a peculiar practice in Philippine basketball. We all know that in the MPBL, players are paid to play, making them basketball professionals.
But Duremdes said on Sept. 15, 2020, “We will remain as an amateur league because our purpose is to give more exposure to our amateur players.”
That reminded me of the time I first became aware of the Philippine Basketball League (PBL) over two decades ago and was surprised people consider it an amateur league. Those guys weren’t playing for free; why call it a league for amateurs? I realized, they had to, lest they run foul of some regulations. (Student athletes as professionals? Hmmm, we can’t have that but we did in the entire PBL’s existence).
They got away with it simply because, though we all have an idea what an amateur player is, the PBL can redefine it. Instead of salaries, payments are called allowances. It’s like, because they had to, they all had to call a duck a goose while everyone else knows it walks and quacks like a duck.
Then there’s another animal called the semi-professional league, mostly local commercial leagues that run for a few weeks or so. This strange redefinition of amateur leagues and players hasn’t really stirred things until the pandemic, when the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases assigned the Games and Amusements Board (GAB) to regulate professionals sports and the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) to oversee amateur sports.
And under such a setup, where does the MPBL fall? Or the so-called semi-professional leagues?
Well, for the GAB and the PSC, if it walks and talks like a duck, then by all means let’s get rid of the pretenses and call it a duck. The GAB and the PSC issued a joint order defining “professional sports or competitions where the participating players are paid sums of money or other forms of compensation as salary or prizes.”
What if they don’t get salaries but only allowances? Well, like I said, based on the order, if it’s a duck, then it’s a duck no matter if you call its quacking a quack or an animal call. For now, that simplifies things, like putting the MPBL under the umbrella of GAB and not the PSC’s.
In the future, it may mean guys who play in the D-League, including those who are active student athletes, have to be called professional athletes. That’s going to put a monkey wrench in their operations, unless of course, they go back to redefining ducks.