Editor's Note: I have written a lot of articles on the history and the current state of basketball in the Philippines. In fact, I have featured about hypothetical and realistic scenarios as to how sports officials, league administrators and even fans can change the basketball landscape in our country - from the way we play to the way we organize. In this article, I explore how Philippine basketball would be like if we adopt the football league structure.
Basketball in the Philippines has been a long love affair that began more than a century ago. We have saw the rise, fall and resurgence of our national team from its debut in the 1936 Summer Olympics to the podium finish of the 1954 World Championship, the last Olympic appearance in Munich in 1972 to the heartbreaking loss against the Koreans in the 2002 Asiad, the Cinderella finish in the 2014 FIBA World Cup and beyond.
The world is now globalized with the advent of the Internet and cheap air travel. As a result, basketball is growing and evolving like never before. Countries that are not traditionally basketball-playing societies now adopted this sport as their own. India has produced an NBA player before us. Some have adopted American ballers as their own by naturalizing them in order to transfer basketball knowledge and reinforce their lineups. New professional leagues have been established ever since the Philippine Basketball League opened its door in 1975 and now, other countries have followed suit like the 20-team Chinese Basketball Association with it's ex-NBA imports to the recently established ASEAN Basketball League.
The winds of change brought about by globalization is coming and if we don't make the necessary changes and adjustments, we will be left behind. Smaller countries in our region have already bridged the gap. Although most of us agree that basketball has been our birthright, we may be in the losing end in the long run if we remain insular and contented of where we are right now.
So with that in mind, I have explored the hypothetical scenario wherein our basketball federation (Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas) will overhaul the current system from the ground up in order to keep up with the changes implemented by FIBA in recent years. There seems to be a growing shift in the way basketball is organized in a country, regional and worldwide level. When they decided to reinvent, re-brand and re-invigorate the World Championship into the so-called World Cup of Basketball as a way to glamorize and give more prestige to the event (like what FIFA had done in association football) I do think it all make sense. The reason why this showpiece never really took off quite well in the first place is because of the NBA's "reluctance" to take a greater role in promoting it and the obvious dominance of the United States team. In fact, the USMNT don't seem to bother playing their senior team in the continental championship - the FIBA Americas. I do believe that FIBA is trying to gain more authority and clout in the world of basketball dominated by NBA and Euroleague, to a certain degree. Additionally, NBA champions are still called "World" champions if you just take note how they announced the Golden State Warriors' recent victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the recently concluded NBA Finals.
This is a sign that we have to take a pro-active approach as FIBA has put more emphasis on active participation of national teams. Sure, the schedule of the PBA and other professional leagues will be affected but I do think there is a work around on it. This is where the SBP, our basketball federation, has to take charge over the formation of the national team and not the other way around. Both basketball federation and national basketball leagues should be on the same page.
Consider the FIFA model, national leagues have tiered divisions that allow promotion and relegation in order to ensure quality of play. Each club has a youth system that ensure a continuous influx of young talent that grow and develop into world-class athletes. This is a clear-cut model that ensure a cycle of growth and development of the sport. Previously, I discussed the incorporation of American-style major league system wherein teams are organized according to locality. Although, it may be a logistical challenge in the start, it will also be a good avenue to develop talents outside of the Manila-centric PBA and it will eventually raise the quality of the game as games involving cities would grow into rivalries that will bring in more fans so in the end, it would be a win-win situation for the companies that run the team and fans that watch the game.
PBA League 1
Think about the football leagues in Europe like the English Premier League, Ligue 1, Primera Liga, Serie A or the Bundesliga, they have a tiered-division system. If we adopt it, it would probably look like this:
Manila Bgy, Ginebra Gin Kings, Meralco Makati Bolts, Rain or Shine Pampanga Painters, Blackwater Batangas Elites, Alaska QC Aces, NLEX Bulacan Warriors, GlobalPort Cavite Batang Pier
Bacolod Star Hotshots, San Miguel Cebu Beermen, Mahindra Gensan Enforcers, Talk n Text Davao Texters, Barako Bull CDO Energy, Hapee Zamboanga Fresh Fighters, Racal Motors Iloilo Alibaba.com
I envision this hypothetical PBA League 1 as the premier league wherein the best basketball players in the country play. There is no need for a three "conference" season since it will be a region-based tournament with home-away games and every team play against each other two times (home and away games). So it will be a 26-game season.
To ensure parity of team, strict salary cap should be enforced. Since the league setup is now tied to a promotion and relegation system, teams that are struggling will be hard-pressed to compete in order to avoid being relegated in the lower league. In this way, it will prevent intentional tanking by Blackwater and KIA (now Mahindra) in the real league.
There will be no more meaningless games as every game will count. I just hope that the regional basketball federation will reorganize the FIBA Asia Cup to resemble like the Euroleague so that the best club teams in the Philippines will play hard every season in order to qualify and play against the CBA champion Beijing Ducks, the KBL champion Ulsan Mobis Phoebus, the Iranian Super League champion Mahram Tehran or the LBL champion Sporting Al Riyadi Beirut.
Player Transfers and Acquisitions
Although I'm all for a youth system like what the European teams are doing, I do think that some better-funded teams will abuse this. The PBA Draft will have to be modified since it doesn't really help the bottom-tier teams in the real PBA. Strict rules and penalties will have to be implemented to prevent the forming of so-called "farm teams." Players not drafted in the PBA League 1 draft can join the Smart Pilipinas League 2 draft. PBA League 1 teams are not allowed to trade players from lower divisions so that relegated teams will have the chance to be promoted and not get stucked in the lower division. The lower division teams will have a chance to go up as well.
The newly-promoted teams from the PBA League 1 and the other lower ranked teams will be entered into draft lottery to determine who will get the number one pick of the draft. This will help the newly promoted teams to compete. The trade of draft picks among PBA League 1 team will be tightly-regulated.
Trading of players will have to be regulated to prevent one-sided transfers. There should be scheduled transfer windows to prevent surprise trades at any time during the tournament's progress. The idea of loaning players from the lower tier to a higher tier team can be subject to abuse so it would have to be addressed as well. But the thing is, it would also be helpful for the teams not performing well since they can get a talented player from another team to boost their performance for a certain period of time (let's just say, a loaned player can only play with another team for a maximum of five games and he will return to his mother team). This is one way to give a struggling team a sudden boost. However, they can only avail it if they are on the bottom half of the standings and have a depleted lineup due player injuries.
As far as imports are concerned, the bottom half teams can have one import while the newly promoted teams can get two imports with no height limit.
PBA League 1 Cup
In this league, the team with the most number of wins regardless of conference will win the league title and will be called PBA League 1 Champions. To make it interesting, local derbies will have their own minor trophies as well but the games are just part of the regular league season.
There will be a knockout tournament after the regular league season and it will be called the PBA Cup. The top two teams of each conference will have a bye in the next round. Although, most of us would love a longer playoff series like the NBA but in a football league setup, knockout tournaments are just one game affairs but as a compromise. I do think a shorter series brings out the best in teams and it will even the odds as the lower seeds can upset higher seeded teams. So a two-game home-away series with cumulative margin should be taken into consideration. With this in mind, teams can't relax and will play hard because margins will give them the win.
Seeds four to six will play in a home-away series and winners will face the top two seeds. The conference semifinals will be a best-of-three affair with higher seed enjoying homecourt advantage. Conference finals will be a best-of-five series. The PBA Cup will be disputed in a seven-game series.
Relegation / Promotion
The bottom teams of each conference will play in a relegation playoff with the top two Smart Pilipinas League 2 in a home-away series so that the scenario will look like this:
PBA League 1 team 7 (example: Mahindra Gensan Enforcers) vs Smart Pilipinas League 2 team 2
PBA League 1 team 8 (example: Blackwater Bulacan Elites) vs Smart Pilipinas League 2 team 1
The PBA League 1 teams will have homecourt advantage. If the lower division teams beats the higher division team then they will be promoted into the PBA League 1 while the losing higher division teams will be relegated to the Smart Pilipinas League 2.
PBA League 1 Super Cup
The PBA League 1 Cup champion will play against the PBA Cup champion in a winner-take-all game. If one team is the winner in both PBA League 1 Cup and PBA Cup, the runner-up in the latter will assume the other slot.
Smart Pilipinas League 2
This is the second-tier division that will replace the current PBA D-League and other second-tier commercial league setup. Other commercial leagues such as the Pilipinas Commercial Basketball Leauge around the country can be absorbed to create more competitive teams than can compete in the PBA League 1 since some of these teams may be promoted while the league may absorb the relegated PBA League 1 teams.
It will also be a region-based tournament with home-away games and every team play against each other twice (home and away games). The teams will be based in other cities not based by a current PBA League 1 team. Here's how I envision this league:
Cafe France Pasig Bakers, Cagayan Gerry's Rising Suns, Jumbo Plastic Laguna Giants, Keramix Baguio Mixers, Livermarin Naga
Cebuana Lhuillier Mandaue Gems, AMA Mactan Titans, Tacloban Tanduay Rhum Masters, Butuan MP Hotel Warriors, Gaisano Pagadian Explorers
Player Transfers and Acquisitions
A supplementary draft will be held for this league so that players not drafted in the PBA League 1 will get the chance to play in this league. In this case, there will be no player that will never ever get the chance to show their talents. So the bottom two teams will automatically be entered into the draft lottery to get the chance to pick first in the supplementary draft.
Trading of players will strictly be with teams on the Smart Pilipinas League 2 so that the PBA League 1 can't pirate the best talents outright. Since this is the developmental league, there will be no imports here.
Smart Pilipinas League 2 Cup
In this league, the team with the most number of wins regardless of conference will win the league title and will be called Smart Pilipinas League 2 Champions. To make it interesting, local derbies will have their own minor trophies as well but the games are just part of the regular league season.
Smart Pilipinas Cup
This is the knockout tournament that will commence after the regular league season so in this case, the top four teams of each conference advance while bottom teams are eliminated. The playoff pairing will be number one vs number four and number two vs number three in a two-game home-away series wherein the accumulated margin will determine the winner. The conference finals will be a best-of-three series. The Smart Pilipinas Cup finals will be a five-game affair.
Smart Pilipinas League 2 Super Cup
The Smart Pilipinas League 2 Cup champion will play for pride against the Smart Pilipinas Cup champion. If one team won both cups, the runner-up of the latter will take the other slot. It will be a winner-take-all game.
As mentioned above, the top two teams will get the chance to play against the bottom two teams of the PBA League 1. The losing teams will be relegated to the Smart Pilipinas League 2.
SBP Philippine Cup
This is a special tournament that will determine the best basketball team in the country. It will be patterned after the English Premier League's FA Cup so that teams will play in a strictly one-game knockout format. Teams from the PBA League 1, Smart Pilipinas League 2 and other wildcard and unseeded teams will participate.
SBP Super Cup
Another special cup will be awarded to the winner of the game between the PBA League 1 Super Cup champion and the Smart Pilipinas League 2 Super Cup champion.
The collegiate league is considered as the third division because this is where all the talents come from. There should be a more unified collegiate league like that of the NCAA in the United States. There should be a shift in approach by giving the national title more prestige than the UAAP title.
New and raw talents will have to play in the youth system of each school. Each youth system will also be affiliated with the local college teams but I also think that the national college league will also be reorganized into a more national in scope because the northern-based teams may get the bulk of the best fresh talents. But there is also a danger that the well-funded teams will just hoard the best talents.
National Team Call Up
With the new FIBA format for 2017 onwards, there is an increase demand of having the best national team than ever before. The league schedule will have to be spaced to accommodate national team games for home and away. The national team pool has to be maintained in order to compete in both regional, continental and world-level competition whenever necessary. Teams will be penalized if they won't release players for the national team. At the same time, the national federation should pay for the cost of having the player on the team.