Let Me Play, Coach! Unwrapping the Student-Athletes Protection Act

By: Mickey Ingles

In August 2015, President Aquino signed into law Republic Act No. 10676, better known as the Student-Athletes Protection Act (SAPA). In fact, it might even be more popularly known as the Jerie Pingoy Law, as it was ushered through by Senator and triathlete Pia Cayetano amidst controversy surrounding a University Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP) rule that limited the former FEU-FERN standout from suiting up for the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles.

Can I Play, Coach?

Residency requirements are imposed by the different athletic associations to prevent schools from pirating student-athletes. For example, the UAAP or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) could require transfer student-athletes to sit out a year or two before they can start playing for their new school.

The SAPA now disposes of any residency requirements for high school graduates who enroll in a different college or university. In effect, a star football player from Ateneo High can now immediately don a De La Salle University jersey without having to sit out a year for residency.

For high school student-athletes, the law likewise disposes of the residency requirement. The sole exception is for student-athletes who transfer between member schools of an athletic association; in those cases, the athletic association may impose a one-year residency requirement. Hence, the UAAP may impose a one-year residency requirement for a FEU-FERN football player who moves to De La Salle Zobel. However, it may not impose the residency requirement for a UST Tiger Cub who transferred from San Beda High School (which is a NCAA member).

For college and university student-athletes, the athletic association may impose a one-year residency requirement, regardless if the student-athlete transfers from a member school or not.

To bolster the protection of the student-athlete, schools are not allowed to retaliate against the student-athlete if he or she transfers to another school. These prohibited acts include filing an administrative charge on the student for violation of school rules, requiring payment of a previously granted tuition scholarship, and refusing or delaying the issuance of grades and school clearance documents.

Show Me the Money?

Aside from limiting residency requirements, the law also enumerates the types of benefits and incentives that can be given to student-athletes by schools. These include the usual tuition scholarships, lodging expenses, medical services, athletic gear, and reasonable monthly allowances (which are to be determined by athletic associations). Aside from these benefits, schools are not allowed to even offer the student-athlete (and his immediate family) anything else.

While the law seeks to protect student-athletes from commercialization, it does include some vague language that may be used to circumvent its laudable goals. Among the allowable benefits are “other reasonable and similar benefits that would further enhance the student-athlete’s academic and athletic performance.”

What constitute “reasonable and similar benefits” will be interesting to see, especially as universities kick into high gear in recruiting the next big student-athlete. The Department of Education is responsible for the SAPA’s rules and regulations, but these either haven’t been released or unavailable online. (If anyone who can point us to it, we will be grateful!)

Does a new spanking new car constitute a reasonable and similar benefit? Arguably, it does if it helps the student-athlete get to and from training sessions. The counterargument, of course, will be the application of ejusdem generis, which constricts the interpretation of the provision to the preceding list of benefits.

(How about hiring hookers and strippers at a recruitment party? Well, that doesn’t seem like a good idea to begin with.)

End to Commercial Endorsements?

Unlike the US NCAA rules that prohibit student-athletes from signing with agents and procuring endorsement deals, the Student-Athletes Protection Act is silent on the matter. While some feel these add to the “commercialization” of these student-athletes, a law that would prohibit student-athletes will probably run afoul on their right to publicity (i.e. their right to commercially exploit their name, image, or likeness). Hence, we will continue to see our favorite collegiate basketball and volleyball players on billboards throughout EDSA and on TV.

Schools and Athletic Associations Beware

The law imposes sanctions for violations not only on the school, its athletic directors, and coaches, but also on alumni and representatives (presumably of the school). Imposing liability on overstepping alumni is an interesting effort that recognizes the vital and influential role school alumni play in recruiting and luring student-athletes. How this provision is actually implemented will be something to watch in the upcoming years. These sanctions come in the form of fines of up to P1,000,000.

The erring student-athlete doesn’t get off scot-free either. While the student-athlete is not subject to fines, athletic associations can suspend and even ban an erring student-athlete upon investigation.

For a former-student athlete who itched to play in every single game, that’s probably the worst punishment of all.

(You can find the full text of the SAPA here.)

Mickey Ingles (@MickeyInglesLaw) is the editor-in-chief of Batas Sportiva. 

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