Is a varsity basketball game worth dying for?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2008-07-31
In the days of my youth, college basketball was played with the idealism associated with amateur sports. Varsity players gave their 110% for the alma mater. A scholarship plus allowance were the simple rewards then for those who were invited to join a college team.

The amateur playing days of our great Olympians Caloy Loyzaga and Ed Ocampo marked the finest years of the NCAA. In the 1950s, college basketball was more popular than the MICAA (progenitor of the pro league but in those days categorized as amateur).

But those days are gone. Now, a UAAP team is known to offer allowances that approximate middle management level monthly salaries plus a car, if the player is truly exceptional. The lure of the filthy lucre has entered the realm of college basketball. Like a cancer, greed and corruption tied up to game fixing have succeeded in prostituting a once upon a time virgin.

The July 24 frustrated murder of star player Manuel Baracael of the FEU Tamaraws marks the first known incident of game fixing in college basketball that went beyond bribery and corruption and entered the realm of a life and death situation.

Before Baracael was transported to the hospital, he admitted to an ABS-CBN reporter that the game fixing syndicate that preys on the UAAP games could be behind his attempted murder. Baracael claimed that he did not have any adversaries who would go to that extent.

In a July 26 Inquirer story, reliable sources (one of them an FEU official) were said to corroborate the same thing — that the UAAP game fixers were likely behind the Baracael shooting. The story attributed the motive as “supposedly to punish him for disclosing the activities of a mysterious cabal of cheats in the FEU basketball squad.”

There is no denying that game fixing goes on in basketball games. It was mostly confined to the pros but somehow seeped into college basketball when the UAAP became very popular in the 1990s.

In the 70s, the two pro basketball titans, Crispa and Toyota, had their share of game fixing scandals. In fact, I am told that bettors shifted to the UAAP (and subsequently to the NCAA) because game fixing discouraged betting on pro basketball. Bettors felt that college basketball players played for school and honor and were less inclined to sell their games.

They were wrong. Where there is big money to be made, the game fixers thrive. Per my sources, betting in the UAAP and NCAA actually became the more popular venues for game betting. One gets a glimpse of the betting volume in the case of a De La Salle star player who admitted being approached with an offer of P2 million to throw a game.

This was confirmed by a La Salle alumnus who is active in the La Salle basketball team management. This alumnus also said that the star player denied accepting the offer although he did play his worst game ever. What the player also said was that his family was threatened physically if he did not throw the game.

By no means is game fixing relegated to corrupt cagers only. A former Toyota team manager told me that it is so lucrative that referees and coaches are also enlisted by the betting syndicate. Thus, it comes as no surprise that major game upsets are also marked by bad calls of the refs especially during crucial portions of the game where a bad call can swing or stop momentum.

In college basketball, refs can easily determine the outcome of close games with bad calls. College players do not have the poise of the pros. Pros can just charge a bad call to experience and concentrate on winning the game.

Amateur college players are emotionally affected when they feel that they have been victimized by a bad call, especially a deliberate bad call. Many times, they even end up compounding the damage to their team by incurring a technical foul for bad mouthing the corrupt refs (who really deserve to be bad mouthed).

A corrupt coach can easily alter his game plan to enhance the strength of the opponent. The coach can bench his key players during crucial portions of the game (under the guise of resting them) to allow the opponent to gain momentum and breakaway. By the time he fields his star players, the game is irretrievably lost already.

He can assign his weaker defender to guard the opponent’s best shooter. He can overextend the playing time of his star players and tire them so that they will falter during the crucial end stage of the game and tend to commit unnecessary fouls. An exhausted player is inclined to commit unnecessary fouls in order to compensate for lack of stamina to play good defense.

We should not be shocked if there is scandalous corruption now happening in college basketball. After all, our leaders — who are supposed to be role models — are displaying worse expressions of greed and corruption.

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