The 2021 PBA season opener has now been pushed back to April 18 as the league pivots to Antipolo City, where the Ynares Center looms as a prospective venue for a closed-circuit setup.
Commissioner Willie Marcial said Tuesday that the league has already reached out to officials of Antipolo after deeming Metro Manila an unsuitable place to hold the season.
Aside from getting the approval of Antipolo City's officials, the PBA will also need to seek a go-signal in the form of a Joint Administrative Order (JAO) from the Department of Health, the Games and Amusements Board and the Philippine Sports Commission.
"The IATF told us to ask LGUs to see where we can hold the games. We've already talked to ex-governor and ex-mayor Junjun Ynares and asked if we can play in Antipolo," Marcial said in Filipino. "I'll wait for their call to approve it, and we'll also see if the JAO allows it."
On Tuesday, the Department of Health (DOH) has reported an additional 4,437 COVID-19 for a total of 631,320. That number even spiked to 5,404 on Monday, the highest daily mark in the past seven months.
"We can't hold the season in NCR because the cases continue to rise," said Marcial. "I was talking to (MMDA general manager) undersecretary Jojo Garcia and he said if we wanted to do it in NCR, it has to be a bubble.
"But there are concerns if we hold another bubble. There's the cost. But more importantly, it's the mental health of the players. This isn't just going to run for two months; this will be for 10 months," Marcial continued.
The season was originally slated to start on April 11, but Marcial said the PBA moved back the date a little bit in order to give teams more time to scrimmage. The request to allow teams to work out 5-on-5 is still pending with the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
"My request was to start the season in April. If they give us clearance after the Holy Week on April 5, I'll need to give teams time to practice and scrimmage. That needs about 10 to 12 days. So if we're lucky enough and our conversations with the government go well, we'll probably start the season on April 18," he said.
Once the league gets clearance, more stringent protocols will be put in place. Testing will happen every 10 days instead of the usual 14, and a monitoring app and a log-sheet to track visitors and travels will be set up.
"It has to be very strict," said Marcial. "I'll meet with the coaches and players to tell them about the do's and don'ts. Once they break rules, an appropriate fine and a suspension will be slapped on violators."
The league has a lot of requirements to hurdle, but Marcial said planning for the 2020 bubble in Clark, Pampanga was still more challenging compared to laying the groundwork for this year.
"That bubble was the first time for everything -- first to set it up, first time for the players. It was new territory. At least now we're not coming in without any idea what to do," he said. "The only difference is that it's not going to be a bubble, but we all know now what to do in terms of disinfection, health protocols and the like."