Break away from the PBA?
There were recent talks that Converge FiberX was supposedly forming a “breakaway league” which would consist of the “middle teams” from the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). These are the teams that wanted to compete against the SMC and MVP conglomerates, but found that competition in the PBA is no longer fair.
Perhaps it’s safe to say that the “speculation” on the farm teams is no longer just a theory. While the statement from Converge denied any of the accusations about the supposed formation of a breakaway league, they claim that “it’s about time we level the playing field.”
The PBA levels
It appears that the PBA has tiers of competition. We like to call teams that belong to the SMC and MVP groups the “empire teams.” All PBA championships from the 2016 Commissioner’s Cup onwards have gone to the empire teams, even as two of them, Meralco and NLEX, have yet to win a championship.
At the bottom part of the standings are the “farm teams.” These are the Blackwater Bossing, Terrafirma Dyip, and NorthPort Batang Pier. While the teams from the upper tier are collecting championships, these teams have collected draft picks. One would think that a string of top 3 picks would be enough to build a title-contending team, but not if they keep trading their assets to the empire teams.
The three teams in the middle – Converge, Rain or Shine, and Phoenix – are left to fend for themselves. They can compete. They can reach the playoffs. They are good enough but not good enough to topple the elite teams. This scenario makes it impossible for the league to foster fair play.
Side note: The PBA still treats NorthPort as a team separate from SMC even if corporate status says otherwise. Nonetheless, the Batang Pier are acting as a farm team, and they have already delivered Jamie Malonzo to Barangay Ginebra.
With six seats out of 12, the empires will always have their way, especially if the farm teams cooperate and vote in their favor. The PBA Board has already extended the contract of Willie Marcial as the league commissioner. Why wouldn’t they? Marcial has zero resistance with the whims of the board.
Marcial is definitely not a visionary commissioner like Jun Bernardino, and despite the heralded “innovations” in the PBA, he is unlikely to address the root problem of the league: the power imbalance.
This is likely the reason behind the collective frustration of the lower teams. While basketball is played on the court, the empire teams have been given too many advantages. Even the draft, which is designed to strengthen teams at the bottom, has been used as a mechanism to augment the upper teams.
The news about the possible formation of a breakaway league was not at all surprising. Fans have actually called for that, citing other teams who have the intention to compete and the resources to match the empire teams. One example is Chooks-to-Go.
The mounting frustration over the PBA’s imbalance may force this situation to become a reality. There are already more leagues that present themselves as possible alternatives, like the MPBL and the PSL.
For now, the PBA retains its top dog stature, even if they lost a lot of luster when top college players opted to play in greener pastures outside the country. There are also issues with the coverage, which the MVP group has been milking, at the expense of accessibility.
Side note: The MVP group is placing the PBA and also the UAAP hostage by locking them to their struggling cable service. Cable TV is a dying industry since streaming is the new norm, and they did not have the foresight to see that. Thus, PBA and UAAP fans will lose access unless they avail of cable TV. Corporate greed at its finest.
The only advantage that the PBA has is corporate money. But even that has failed to match the offers from Japan and Korea. A true visionary with power and money to match can, and should, form a true competitive league with inclusive coverage. One that is committed to basketball development and not just corporate profit.