We have around two months left until the UAAP Season 79 comes to an end. The sporting community has another season to celebrate victories, achievements and friendships gained from the past year. One of the milestones in the history of school-based tournaments was the passage of Republic Act No. 10676, commonly known as the Student-Athlete Protection Act (SAPA).
The SAPA was signed into law on August 2015 and as its title entails, it aims to protect the amateur nature of student-athletes by: (1) regulating the residency requirement, and (2) prohibiting their commercialization. The law is a response to the pressing issue concerning the residency rules required for student-athletes under the UAAP. Some of the most popular cases that served as catalysts for lawmakers to pass the law were those of Ateneo’s prized basketball recuit, Jerie Pingoy and UP tanker, Mikee Bartolome.
As the first mission of the law regarding the regulation of the residency requirement sounds firm, let’s turn our attention to its second objective of prohibiting the commercialization of the student-athletes. This is where the law gets a little bit tricky. Section 5 provides a list of benefits and incentives that schools may grant the athletes with: tuition and miscellaneous school fees, full board and lodging, athletic uniforms and supplies, reasonable monthly living allowance (amount to be determined by the athletic associations), and medical expenses. The last item in the list is ambiguous to the extent that it might be a way to nullify the mission of the law altogether. It provides that a school may also give the student-athlete, “Other reasonable and similar benefits that would further enhance the student-athlete’s academic and athletic performance.” The law also states that the DepEd, in consultation with the PSC is the one tasked to set the standard for what reasonable benefits would entail.
Now that we are still waiting for these authorities to implement the standards, there are already questions on how colleges and universities heavily recruit high school standouts and what comprises their offers. In the past we have heard of proposals providing student-athletes with a prime condo unit, a car and an insane amount of monthly allowance. Would these fit the reasonable test for this law? One can argue that a student-athlete might need a condo since he/she lives at the outskirts of the metro, thus he/she might also need a car to drive to and from the condo and the house. And it can be pointed out that having these necessities would definitely further enhance the student-athletes academic and athletic performance as it provides care and comfort to them. Sometimes, one way of sealing the deal with student-athletes is providing their parents jobs or assistances of any kind. The SAPA explicitly enjoins this act as Section 6 provides that, “Commercialization of Student-Athletes – Schools shall not offer a student-athlete or the immediate family members benefits or incentives beyond those enumerated under Section 5 of this Act which are contrary to the nature of amateur sports and which may result in the commercialization of a student-athlete.”
No doubt that today, especially with the help of the media, student-athletes come close to the same status as celebrities in showbiz. With packaging and the right amount of skills, a student-athlete can easily score endorsement deals. One can simply check out social media and see how much of these athletes, especially in basketball and volleyball, are in collaboration with several commercial brands and sometimes these commitments entail fees to be paid to the student-athletes. It seems that this is another way of commercializing a student-athlete but the law doesn’t seem to touch on it.
The SAPA could also make an effect on existing rules with regard to allowing players to play in commercial leagues. As of date, there is an issue in volleyball involving two leagues on whether or not they are considered professional leagues. If it will be established that these leagues are indeed professional, what will then happen to the collegiate players who will be allowed to play? Will they have to choose between forfeiting their amateur status and stop playing college ball in exchange for playing pro?
We can only hope that this ambiguity in the law would be addressed soon enough ideally before the recruiters scramble for the next big shot.