The University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers face an unprecedented controversy amid a global pandemic. It is by no means an ordinary quandary as it involves several issues on students' safety and health under the veil of a team's lofty ambition.
The Tigers have allegedly been training in a bubble in Sorsogon since June, forcing an investigation on possible violation of quarantine protocols. As of Friday, the school has wrapped up its internal investigation on the matter and will hand over its findings to the university's Rector. Another meeting is set to take place on September 1 wherein a joint body consisting of the Department of Health (DOH), Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), Games and Amusements Board (GAB), and the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) will handle the issue.
There is a whirlwind of reports on the conditions within the bubble, sparked by the abrupt departure of star CJ Cansino. From deleted screenshots, social media posts, and various statements, a moral ambiguity has clouded the issue. Concerns over the players' health -- both mental and physical -- have been put on the forefront. But whatever the findings uncover, the eventual verdict by the investigating parties and the subsequent repercussions will have an unparalleled impact.
It remains to be seen if the results of the investigation will come from different fronts or a united one. If there was indeed a violation of health guidelines, will a UAAP-mandated action such as a suspension be enough, or should there be separate sanctions from health officials, sports brass, and educators?
For its part, the UAAP has every right to give severe penalties, suspending the Tigers for an entire season or anything along those lines, whether affecting just the basketball team or all of its athletes across all sports. Such an action will be unique, given that a basketball team will face sanctions on the grounds of breaching government protocols and not solely on the basis of league rules. The UAAP has the responsibility and the privilege to look out for what's best for all the schools in any given situation. In essence, it represents the schools' ideals of fair competition -- a complete contrast to the Tigers' aim of gaining an advantage amid the current situation of the country.
IN THE EVENT that UST gets suspended beyond basketball, it will be monumental, no less. The Tigers, aside from their storied hoops history that included a four-peat in the 1990s, have been a dominant force across all sports. The school holds the most number of overall championships with 65, including the last six in the high school division and four straight in the seniors' ranks. Since the inception of the award in UAAP Season 10, UST has held multiple streaks, winning 14 straight overall titles at one point from the 1998-1999 season to 2011-2012. Its athletic program is a powerhouse that has built a culture of winning that no other school has even come close to replicating.
But as we've learned with the current bubble saga, the aspiration of winning could come at a steep price.
The joint body of the DOH, PSC, GAB, and CHEd will have the exhaustive task to come up with a fair decision if the Tigers are found guilty. Penalizing a school due to a violation in sports, all while the education sector grapples in the new normal of online and blended learning, is a slippery slope. Fortunately, all the investigating parties have said all the right things the past few days, stressing the importance of safety issues and adherence to protocols. However, if the Tigers are found guilty and both the UAAP and government officials do nothing more than a slap on the wrist, then that will say more about the prosecutors than the defendants.
On the other hand, if it is found that there were no concrete violations that are deemed punishable, then that is a separate matter to discuss altogether. Regardless of the results, the Tigers should still respond to the issue of pulling the players away from their families in the middle of a pandemic and train for a tournament that might not even happen in the foreseeable future.
The ripple effects of the bubble drama have already started taking place. Cansino's quick transfer to the University of the Philippines might open the floodgates for other UST players to jump ship. With a possible suspension in the air, other Tigers will understandably seek opportunities elsewhere. The aftermath also stretched to the abrupt resignation of athletic director Fr. Jannel Abogado, O.P. The future of UST's basketball and sports program as a whole will soon dramatically change.
In the end, whatever action or inaction that will take place after all the investigations, its impact will reverberate in the coming months, and when the UAAP eventually returns. The message will be heard loud and clear not just by the sporting community but even the entire education sector.