Roster shuffles are a common reality for sports teams; in both local and foreign professional leagues, new players are usually acquired through transfers from another team. In the UAAP, however, transferring to a different university is a route seldomly chosen by student-athletes—in part due to the challenges in switching to a new academic environment, as well as the mixed reactions from fans who preach loyalty and question deeper motives. But more often than not, the residency requirement set by UAAP regulations is a factor that greatly influences an athlete’s potential transfer.
This policy is nothing new; however, it doesn’t negate the fact that student-athletes who wish to enhance and develop their skills further on a different team are discouraged from doing so by the regulation.
One could argue that the rule technically does not directly stop them from transferring, but it is these athletes who must suffer the consequences. Forced to abide by the one-year residency period, the players are prevented from competing in their respective sporting events for transferring to a school that they believe would be more beneficial for their athletic career, their education, or any other reason. Further, serving a year on the bench deducts from their eligible playing years; athletes have a maximum of five years to compete in the UAAP, but transferring would automatically mean one less season, even if they spend it on the sidelines rather than actually playing the game they love.
The UAAP board introduced this rule when then high school star basketball player Jerie Pingoy, who at the time played for the FEU, was set to transfer to ADMU upon entering college. Thus, the residency requirement was established—not just for Basketball, but across all UAAP sports—supposedly to ensure that athletes would stay committed to their respective teams.
Granted, the policy was perhaps meant to dissuade university teams from hoarding the best players and creating an uneven playing field. However, I see the residency period as less consequential for the universities, yet much more punishing for the student-athletes themselves. Boxing these athletes in an institution they don’t want to be in anymore implies that they are perceived as products and investments—this mentality should be put to an end as it becomes a hindrance to player development.
Take the case of Mikee Bartolome of the UP Lady Maroons, who used to be a star player for the high school team of the UST Golden Tigresses, winning the Rookie of the Year award during the 72nd edition of the UAAP. However, when she was UP-bound for college, Bartolome was barred by UST from playing and was told to sit out two UAAP seasons as she had not been released yet by her alma mater. A Temporary Restraining Order was given just in time to let her play. However, not all athletes are as fortunate as Bartolome, with many more student-athletes negatively affected by the residency requirement.
The policy arguably does the players more harm than good. Training remains far different from participating in actual tournaments, the latter being a significant aspect of honing an athlete’s abilities and mindset, especially as the UAAP is considered the country’s premier collegiate league.
Their quality of play and competitiveness would decrease drastically as a result of serving the residency period. The momentum from the previous season would be cut short, and it would likely prove more difficult for the players to perform at their best or reach their full potential in the following seasons.
Instead of granting them greater leeway and opportunity to decide on what they consider is best for their future, the rule limits the players’ options and discourages them from treading new paths. It is not uncommon to see athletes perform poorly on one team then shine exceptionally on another; but those dissuaded by the prospect of the residency period might never get the chance to try and see if they are better suited elsewhere.
Student-athletes ought to be free to choose where they study, who they train under and with, and what colors they banner, without any reservations. If they wish to do so, they should be allowed to take the risks of transferring, and be granted every opportunity to play and decide whether the move was worthwhile. Think about it this way: how could one possibly evaluate personal growth if they are forced to skip at least an entire season’s worth of competitive matches?
The residency rule should be reviewed and scrutinized, so as to realize how limiting it continues to be for student-athletes. Keeping this regulation would only further hinder the main goal of the UAAP—to hone and develop athletes for the future of Philippine sports.