SINCE it started in 1997, the Aboitiz Cup has not only become the biggest football tournament in Cebu, I think it has become Cebu football as well.

Without it, Cebu football is dead.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

The Aboitiz Cup has done more for Cebu football in the last 13 years than the PFF have in the last 100. You can take that to the bank.

Sadly, this year, there are two developments in the Aboitiz Football Cup that are as opposite as night and day—one is promising and the other, is quite worrying.

First, the good news.

This year, aside from increasing their sponsorship from P600,000 to over P1 million, the Aboitiz Foundation is willing to give scholarships to deserving students who excel off and on the field.

It’s a laudale move that should be emulated by other sports.

It’s one of the accepted “truths” in sports—those who excel on the field sometimes fail in the classroom.

I remember one high school student was being chased by big universities in Manila for his prodigious skills but alas, he didn’t have the grades needed.

This move—to award those who are good in the classroom with a scholarship—is very much welcome, especially those whose only chance of a college degree is through a scholarship.

It’s also one of the things I regularly push. God knows I’ve annoyed many tournament managers by telling them to stop recognizing the mythical five, or MVP, but instead honor those athletes who get really good grades.

So to the football moms and dads out there.

Remember, don’t forget to help push your sons, daughters, off the field.

Now to the bad news.

This year, the Cebu Football Association (CFA) will import referees from San Carlos City because the Cebu referees want out of CFA and will form their own group.

Now this is not only troubling, it’s puzzling.

In the past, there were the Cebu Football Referees Association and the breakaway Cebu Football Association of Referees. But despite the existence of a referees’ groups not afilliated with the CFA, the members officiated in the Aboitiz Cup.

The CFA is trying to adopt Fifa guidelines by only allowing its referees to officiate in events it sanctions. That rule was in place before but it was always ignored.

Now, it seems, the imposition of that “ignored” rule is causing a conflict.

I have no idea what the new group is called and who is behind it but I want to know why they decided to bolt.

Is the divide between the CFA and the referees that wide already?

Could this have been avoided with a simple dialogue?

I don’t know any details of the move, so, I’ll leave it at that.

For now.

I just hope this will turn up to be nothing at all.

And we’d see Cebuano referees in the Aboitiz Cup.

After all, that’s why the Aboitiz Cup is here—to help Cebu football—players and officials alike.

It kind of defeats that purpose if the CFA has to import officials don’t you think?

Anyway, I hope to talk to the referees in the next few days to know why it has come to this.

BIRTHDAYS. I think I’ve only written two greetings since I started this column, so I’ll catch up today with four. First, of course, (I know my priorities) is to my commander-in-chief, Rora, who’s celebrating her birthday today together with her kuya, Chief Inspector Randi M. Patiño of the Police Regional Office 7.

Also to the original Limpag, Maximo, who turned 60 last Tuesday, and the latest member of the clan, Mico, who’s turning one this Sunday.

(www.football.cebunetwork.com)