By Tito S. Talao
Former PBA chairman and current NCRAA general manager Buddy Encarnado believes the league he guided before and the one he is steering now are both wading in upstream waters.
“We’re basically in the same boat although with different degree of difficulty,” Encarnado says by phone from his Acropolis home in Quezon City.
Encarnado, who took over from Barangay Ginebra San Miguel’s Jun Cabalan as chairman of the PBA board in 2004 while serving as representative of the Sta. Lucia Realtors, is referring to the plight of the 45-year-old pro league and the country’s third longest-running collegiate athletic association — both stalled by the coronavirus outbreak practically at the start of their 2020 seasons.
The PBA folded tent and pulled up stakes barely one Philippine Cup game into an ambitious 45th season, where the San Miguel Beermen were looking for their sixth straight title and high-tier opponents vying to upend the defending champions, then without top center June Mar Fajardo, who was still on the mend after having his fractured right leg surgically repaired.
Encarnado, meanwhile, never got the National Capital Region Athletic Association off the ground for its 27th season, where boxing icon Manny Pacquiao and America’s Got Talent tenor-soprano sensation Marcelito Pomoy were to be the special guests during the opening ceremony at the Mall of Asia Arena last March.
“Tuwang-tuwa nga ako dahil nabuhay namin ang NCRAA,” he says. “We were about to open, having held several talks with Pasay City and MOA officials. It was going to be a grand inaugural with TV coverage.
“Then COVID-19 happened, and everything became moot and academic. Nakaka-depress talaga.”
The PBA, says Encarnado, has a better chance of resuming its season and paddling out of turbulent waters than the NCRAA now that Metro Manila has been placed under a less restrictive general community quarantine.
“I’m not too familiar with the PBA because of my concerns with the NCRAA and the MPBL,” he says. “Pero I think mas madali sa pros. Financially well-off ang mga companies dyan and they can sustain housing the teams for a couple of months to finish a conference.
“All they have to do perhaps is get the decision of member corporations and talk to the players, who for their part have to earn a living.”
Such isn’t the case with the NCRAA, apparently.
“We can’t afford to quarantine a big number of people, feed them day and night. We’re talking of players and coaches, referees, operations group; malaking financial obligation.”
And there’s the more vital issue of health.
“As a collegiate league, we’re beholden to the families, schools, even the Department of Education; school-based kami, kung walang pasok, patay ang liga mo,” Encarnado says.
“Our hands are tied. So ngayon, puro wishful thinking lang kami. We need to wait for guidelines from the government and the schools.”
Notwithstanding, the NCRAA will chart its own course, sooner or later, he believes.
“At one point in time, we have to find a new system if only to get back to normalcy. Pero right now, the responsibility is too great, masyadong mabigat.”