In March of 2020, meticulously crafted training plans and long-awaited competitions were temporarily halted due to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, even tournaments under the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) were canceled due to unpredictable circumstances. Eventually, as the pandemic continued to drag on, the idea of resuming Season 82 and launching Season 83 had to be shelved.
De La Salle, in particular, was in a predicament as the host of the next season, which seemed to be up in the air as long as COVID-19 cases continued to rise. However, the long wait for schools, athletes, coaches, and even fans is over. As of writing, arrangements are underway in preparation for the opener of UAAP Season 84 on March 26, according to DLSU Office of Sports Development Executive Director Emmanuel M. Calanog.
Opening with a new broadcast partner in Cignal TV, the UAAP will be reintroduced to the collegiate sports scene with changes in media coverage protocols, viewership, and post-game interviews and press conferences to maintain safety within the bubble setup.
When 2022 began, the UAAP initially planned for the competition to begin in mid-February, fitting the first quarter target set by the organizers in October 2021. However, with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) only giving protocols for bubble training in December and after the surge of COVID-19 cases in late 2021 and January 2022, the UAAP had to adjust. Calanog reveals, however, that they have since been working with CHED “to come up with protocols” that will ease the transition back to in-person training.
Calanog also points out how OSD modified their initial plans from the canceled season, “Whatever plans we initially placed for Season 83, we more or less just tweaked to be able to apply it to Season 84.” These preparations included setting calendars for the start of teams’ respective training schedules and overall planning for “something that is not yet sure.”
“We had to create budgets for different scenarios and we had to decide on certain things like which sports would be possible to start because we would have to include that in the budget,” the OSD executive director comments. He furthers that circumstances now—which are “not as normal as before”—necessitated taking into consideration additional budget for having teams operate inside a bubble, for COVID-19 testing, among others. “[These] impact the feasibility of being able to bring back teams and having tournaments actually run for them,” he adds.
Baring upcoming changes
With a new season comes changes in the ways athletes and teams prepare for and perform in the tournaments.
Among these changes concerns the eligibility of players who are turning 26 years old; they will be allowed to play and to don their jerseys for their universities once again. This was a major decision and adjustment made for the 2022 UAAP season, whose tournaments usually only cater to those aged 25 and under. “Those who were not able to play in season 83 [will be] given the chance to play out either their last playing year or…play one more season [if they’re overage] because technically it was not their fault,” Calanog clarifies. However, he notes that such a setup will only be implemented during Season 84 to accommodate these unique circumstances.
This season, only three events have been given the green light: Men’s Basketball, Women’s Volleyball, and Cheerdance. According to Calanog, this is due to the fact that these are the sports that are mainly covered by Cignal TV and draw viewership toward the UAAP.
Other sports that may be included in Season 84, however, are Men’s Beach Volleyball, Three-on-three Basketball, Taekwondo, and Chess in a hybrid setup. Other events and their athletes may have to wait, the OSD executive director cites, as the cost of holding bubbles for the actual tournaments and for training is a major financial challenge. In addition to this, he comments that having to be in a bubble for a prolonged period is also “mentally taxing” for the athletes and team staff.
As of press time, Calanog states that there will still be a general champion despite the limited number of sporting events for Season 84.
Leaping into action
Calanog shares that the timetable of the UAAP’s return was designed with the inputs of coaches from the different universities. He discloses, “Based on our interviews with the coaches, they need at least three months to safely bring players back to competition shape.” As of press time, OSD has confirmed that most of the teams are already in their training bubbles.
Initially, the UAAP board eyed a March 19 opener for Men’s Basketball. However, due to the surge of Omicron variant cases, this date was slightly pushed back in order “to give teams another full week of training.”
Despite getting a head start on these plans, the OSD ensures adherence to precautions, anticipating that the pandemic and possible future virus mutations may affect already set goals. Currently, DLSU’s teams get tested once every week, alternating between antigen and RT-PCR tests, while remaining in their bubble.
Following the protocols brought down by CHED—which includes weekly testing of both the antigen and RT-PCR—“the budget just for testing runs in the millions kasi. Imagine you’re testing each and every player every game three times a week and one RT-PCR, so you can imagine how much that will cost,” Calanog expresses. He continues, “It’s really put there for us to safely navigate the situation–to make sure that everybody’s safe.”
OSD’s executive director explains that once the games begin, around 300 players, coaches, and officials from all teams across all UAAP-participating schools will need to be antigen tested every game day—which will be three times a week—and will undergo an RT-PCR test at the end of each week.
However, the looming threat of a player catching the virus remains. Calanog emphasizes that there will be no forfeiture for games should a player test positive for SARS-CoV-2. In this case, a player will instead go into quarantine while the rest of the team continues to play the game along with their regular testing. Once the player tests negative, they may return to the competition.
Athletes who will not see competition in UAAP 84 may not have to wait as long with a possibility that Season 85 being held in November later this year, Calanog discloses.
Despite the ongoing plans, however, the upcoming season will only commence if the country is ready for college athletes to compete. The most important factor of conducting the season is the guaranteed safety of all student athletes after all.
Considering that the next UAAP season will share no in-person moments with cheering crowds, the organizers for Season 84 humbly ask that schools and their supporters have patience and understanding as the current times are challenging for all parties involved.
While the upcoming UAAP season will be missing some staple events and decorated athletes, this hopefully starts a steady return to the collegiate sports scene that Filipinos have come to know and love.
With reports from Lauren Sason