THE new rule on free agency is now taking effect in the PBA and teams are starting to take advantage.

In December last year, the league announced the new rule on free agents who entered the PBA in 2014 or earlier. If they no longer have a contractual obligation from their mother teams, these free agents can choose to sign with any team because the "rights of first refusal" will no longer take effect.

It's no surprise that TNT was able to take advantage of this new rule, securing the services of swing man Gab Banal, who asked for his release from his previous team, Alaska, prior to the start of the Governors' Cup.

A few more other players were able to exercise their options on this new rule as Rodney Brondial also secured a release from the Aces in order to sign a three-year deal with San Miguel.

John Pinto also decided to transfer from Meralco to Ginebra, exercising his rights as a free agent.

But how can mid-level teams keep up with the competition of securing free agents?

The "rights of first refusal" rule had been with the PBA as early as the 1980s. It was heavily felt in the 1990s when player salaries skyrocketed.

It can be recalled that Al Solis and Jack Tanuan were released by Purefoods, which just won its first ever title in 1990 and prior to the start of the 1991 season, they transferred to their previous team's corporate rival, Swift.

Jeff Cariaso, now the current coach of Alaska, was also acquired via free agency by Mobiline in 1997. "The Jet" was one of the key figures of Alaska's grand slam team the season before.

With this new rule taking effect, mid-level teams are forced to compete in the tug-of-war to secure or keep these free agents.

The new rule will certainly benefit the players. But for teams that don't have the budget to compete against the bigger squads, how can they be able to keep up with the competition?

Expect the league to revisit this rule and look for alternatives that would be beneficial to every team, not just the perennial title contenders.

Maybe a new rule for the Class of 2015 may be created to allow every squad a chance to beef up its roster through the free agency beginning next season.

For the time being, teams will be preparing for the restart of the games once the current Covid-19 surge simmers down. In an import-laden conference, teams will likely depend on their imports and so far, several squads outside of the favorites were off to a good start.

Prior to losing their first game of the conference, the NLEX Road Warriors were previously leading the pack by winning their first four games. Their 102-93 loss at the hands of the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters on Christmas Day relegated coach Yeng Guiao and his troops in third place. They, however, have the most number of wins so far in the tournament.

Magnolia leads the tournament with a 3-0 record while Meralco won its first two games, including an 83-80 triumph over Philippine Cup champion TNT.

While teams are busy finding ways to win and put themselves in a much better position to contend for the crown, league officials headed by Commissioner Willie Marcial and the members of the PBA board will sit down once again and find the wisdom in crafting a rule when it comes to free agency.

The PBA fans could only hope for the best.

They've been critical, to the point that they bashed the league they grew up watching and embraced as their best source of entertainment. But these are true blue fans, who have deep passion and care for the league — and the PBA is listening.

We can only hope for the PBA's refreshing start in 2022.