When ESPN became available in our sleepy town back in the mid-’90s, I got to see my first March Madness. It was the era of the O’Bannon brothers and I watched the UCLA Bruins win the title over Arkansas.
It was also that time that I began to read the sports pages of the national papers regularly and I remember thinking, “Is our NCAA the same as the NCAA of the US?”
Of course, I would later learn that it wasn’t and the “national” in the National Collegiate Athletic Association was a misnomer just as, I would later learn that the Universities Athletic Association of the Philippines was not an athletic association of universities in the Philippines but of universities in Manila.
Hey, what’s in a name, right?
Yeah, I know, the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation Inc. isn’t also an association of Cebu schools but only of a few.
And that reminds me of a question often raised whenever the US collegiate basketball’s March Madness hits town. Why can’t we have our own national champion?
The answer is simple. We don’t have a single national organization for collegiate sports. We have one for the state schools—the State Colleges and Universities Athletic Association and one for the private schools—the Private Schools Athletic Association and they both have their own national championships.
In basketball, the closest thing we have to the US March Madness was the national inter-collegiate championship, but that went south when some of the Manila schools started sending their B teams. It was inevitable, I guess. The national inter-collegiate event had to be staged in the second semester, since the lucrative NCAA and UAAP events were held in the first semester. But in the second sem, there was also the D-League, or was it the PBL?
So, Pinoy fans continue to ask, “Can we have a March Madness given the current set-up of Philippine collegiate basketball?”
I still think we can, if only the various bodies can agree to a format. The national invitationals, our best bet, goes on for so long that it turns off the big Manila schools since they all have other events in mind.
So why not a simple Sweet 16? Gather the 16 champions from various collegiate leagues all over the country for a one-week, single elimination tournament until we have one winner who can truly claim to be the national champion.
I wish. That would require cooperation and the recognition that one league is the equal of others. Oh, yeah, I remember one of the drawbacks of the national inter-collegiate events. The champions outside of Manila had to go through qualifying, while the Manila leagues got slots to the national championships.
Will that ever happen? The short answer is no.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t keep on dreaming madly every time March Madness hits us.