The SAPA and the Recruitment Period Gap

by: Queeny Lim

The lack of sports laws, jurisprudences and precedent in Philippine sports makes it extremely difficult to regulate the already challenging realm of sports. It makes it problematic to provide for clear rules and guidelines to help monitor the industry. The student-athletes playing for the athletic teams of their schools are examples of industry players who are not thoroughly protected. Greater safeguards must be afforded to these athletes because playing for their school involves both their education and their athletic lives as players.

The various athletic associations in the Philippines could either be public or private organizations, and the student-athletes playing for these organizations and their schools are usually bound by the own rules of their school and the decisions of the Board of Directors of the athletic organization. Unfortunately, the board is composed of the different representatives of the participating schools, oftentimes resulting to biased rules and decisions. After the University Athletic Association of the Philippines’ (“UAAP”) passing of the very controversial Jerie Pingoy Rule, which sparked great controversy and debate among the public, legislators decided to intervene. This resulted to the creation of Republic Act No. 10676, the Student Athletes Protection Act (“SAPA”), a law which helps protect the rights of Philippine student-athletes.[1]

The SAPA aims to protect the residency requirements needed and it also seeks to lessen the commercialization of student-athletes. However, even though the SAPA was created, it is still not enough to protect the student-athletes because of its vagueness and because it does not tackle the important aspects of the industry that greatly harm the student-athletes. The definitions provided in the law are not enough to cover the actual situations that are often abused by the schools and the athletic organizations, like the scouting period and the negotiations that happen during that process. The broad provisions often result to manipulations by these institutions without the student-athletes even knowing that these acts are already used as means to commercialize them.

The goal of every team is to win the championship; hence, choosing the right players are vital to ensure the team’s success. The scouting or recruitment period is the time when the schools look for student-athletes who could potentially study in their school and play for their team. This is also the time when these student athletes explore other possible opportunities that await them. This often occurs and is done and finalized after the high school term of the student-athlete, when he is about to enter a collegiate institution. Teams are expected to entice players with attractive offers in order to get them to join their team. Some examples of these lucrative offers, aside from school scholarships, include giving the athlete a car, a trip abroad (often given to let the athlete “think about the offer”), a house and lot, and many other tempting deals which are hard to pass up on.

However, if one were to look at the provisions of the SAPA, one would see that this particular and highly contested period is unprotected by the SAPA because it is not clearly defined. The commercialization of these student-athletes also becomes hard to prove because of the vague provisions provided by law. Hence, the very inciting offers that universities propose to the student-athletes they want to acquire often go unchecked.

Seeing how the student-athletes are persuaded by the benefits and incentives that the universities offer, better safeguards or a working law must be set forth to ensure that the student-athletes are indeed protected. The SAPA seems to just be a law on paper which is not being followed because of the lack of strict implementation and because the industry players are merely tolerating the circumvention of the law. Student-athletes are exposed to loopholes because of vague definitions that can be modified unfairly. Due to these inconsistencies, institutions can easily claim that student-athletes who are yet to be recruited do not fall under the SAPA; therefore, excluding them from the coverage of the law. Additionally, because these institutions can find a way around the SAPA, it creates an uneven playing field.

One cannot deny how tempting the offers are and how these play a huge part in a student-athletes decision. This makes it unfair as some schools view it as a bidding war rather than enticing them through the good quality of education and course offerings that the university presents. Better protection could be afforded by enacting the law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations (“IRR”). The law currently does not have an IRR; thus, in its IRR, the definitions could be established better. The definition of a student-athlete must be fixed to include students who are not currently enrolled to ensure that the gap in the law will not be used as a means to circumvent the rule. By doing this, all aspects of the student-athlete’s career is protected, even during the off-season recruitment period when most offers are presented by the recruitment team of the different universities. Another important addition could be the threshold or limit of the benefits and incentives. One clear example legislators could follow is similar to the threshold amount that the Competition Law provides as a guideline in reviewing a merger and acquisition or a joint venture. If a university or team exceeds the threshold amount in its offer to its prospective student-athlete, then it must be reviewed by the association or reduced by the team. To better define the law, instead of just putting “board and lodging”, it could be further explained and specified as the school’s dormitories. To improve the commercialization aspect of the law, various additions could be made to clearly enumerate the allowable incentives and benefits that could be given to the student-athletes. The implementation of the law may be difficult due to the nature of the activity, but it is possible with the help and close monitoring of the UAAP board, the cooperation of the member schools, and the active participation of the student-athletes and their guardians. These institutions must remember that these student-athletes are students first before athletes, making education and the development of these student-athletes a priority above everything else.

Queeny Lim dreams of traveling the world and trying all the best places to eat. Trying the latest workouts, watching live Ateneo basketball games, and hearing about the latest NBA news through Twitter, her family, and her friends is what Queeny’s definition of sports is. She is constantly torn between wanting to eat to her heart’s content and staying fit.

[1]An Act Protecting the Amateur Nature of Student-Athletes in the Philippines by Regulating the Residency Requirement and Prohibiting the Commercialization of Student-Athletes [Student-Athletes Protection Act], Republic Act No. 10676.

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