The PBA has placed all of its bets on the timely arrival of COVID-19 vaccines and laid out mandates that signaled the league's steadfast intention to maintain its original timeline for the 2021 season while keeping other options open in case plans fall through.
In a special meeting held by commissioner Willie Marcial and the league's Board of Governors on Monday, the league decided to tighten the purse strings while biding its time until being able to procure vaccines, whose arrival will determine how the rest of the 46th Season calendar will turn out.
Here's what we know after that all-important meeting. (This article originally appeared on Apr. 17 and has since been updated.)
Vaccines will decide the way
The inoculation of all the PBA's constituents is the top priority, Marcial insisted, and plans for the delayed 2020 season will certainly depend on the league's ability to procure vaccines on time.
As previously reported, the PBA has already ordered 2,000 to 3,000 doses of the Moderna jab from Red Cross. Another 1,500 will come from sports patron Manny V. Pangilinan, while the San Miguel Corporation has also committed a certain amount of an undisclosed vaccine brand to the league.
On Tuesday it was reported that "close to 200,00" Moderna shots will arrive in June 15, according to Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez. This will be the first batch of vaccines from the pharmaceutical company, who signed a tripartite agreement with the Philippine government and the private sector to secure 20 million doses.
Marcial will also meet with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to seek a way for the league to expedite the import of vaccines, though vice chairman Bobby Rosales clarified that the league has "no intention of jumping the line" ahead of other groups on the government's inoculation priority list.
There are three groups approved to receive vaccines: A1, or the health workers; A2, or the senior citizens; and A3, or persons with comorbidities.
"We know the priorities are established by the government. But what we are trying to ask the government is how we can expedite the vaccination of the whole PBA family," he said. "Now if the IATF or the government can give a suggestion, then we'll be more than happy to follow that. Or if they can assist to bring in the arrival of the vaccines committed to the PBA, then that will be a big help."
The league can salvage plans for a two-conference season if it is able to get the necessary people vaccinated by June. A 2021 season start by July onwards would make planning for an import conference impossible from a logistical standpoint.
"The 2021 season might extend until March or April 2022 if we try to hold two conferences when we start past June," Marcial said on Tuesday. "If we start in May or June, we can hold the season until February. That will be fine."
As a cost-cutting measure that would buy some much-needed time, the league's top officials have decided to impose a 20 percent salary cut covering all players, coaches, team managers, as well as personnel from the league and from each squad. Only utility workers are not covered by the pay cut.
The directive takes effect on April 25 for the league's employees and on May 1 for all teams.
This was a measure not implemented by the league last season, even as the PBA lost around P30 million pesos a month during the seven-month suspension of the 2020 season, Marcial said last year.
"Other companies laid off workers, but the PBA didn't do that last year. We paid everyone even though there were no games. We're showing the team governors and team owners that we can help a little," the commissioner said in a press conference Tuesday.
Bubble, closed-circuit formats are still on the table
The PBA has not ruled out another bubble season, though the league remains firm in its stand that this option -- which will most likely carry the P65-million peso price tag that last year's bubble possessed -- remains a last-resort choice.
"It's not only costly financially, you also have to address the mental health of the players and everyone inside the bubble," said Rosales.
The preferred setup is still a closed-circuit format, a protocol where teams and league personnel involved are subjected to a strict home-venue-home travel routine. The Ynares Center in Antipolo was supposed to host the league's games this year under that format starting April 18, but that plan was scrapped when the NCR Plus bubble of Metro Manila, Rizal, Bulacan, Laguna and Cavite was placed under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) last March 29.
Marcial said Tuesday that Antipolo is still a prime option for either a bubble or a closed-circuit format, as former mayor and former Rizal governor Junjun Ynares remained open to hosting the PBA in its province.
But another capable candidate emerged after Ilocos Norte governor Matthew Manotoc -- co-owner of the Espiritu-Manotoc Basketball Management Philippines, which handles over 80 PBA players -- expressed willingness to welcome the league's bubble way up north.
"(Ilocos Norte) governor Matthew Manotoc offered to host the bubble. I'm thankful, and I told him about our conditions," Marcial shared.
Not included in the league's choices: Clark, Pampanga. The site of the 2020 PBA season bubble will not be available in June since it will be hosting the third and final window of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers in the same month.
There's also willingness on the PBA's part to stage the inaugural season of the 3x3 league a little bit earlier than the five-on-five games.
"Right now, we're really pushing for the 3x3 to happen sooner than the regular five-on-five because we believe that it would be easier to launch the 3x3 because there are fewer personnel," said Rosales.
All PBA teams except Blackwater and Alaska will participate. Six non-PBA teams are prospective additions: Zamboanga Valientes, Big Boss Cement, Master Sardines, Geanaux Systems Corp., Pioneer Epoxy, and Phenom BRT-Sumisip.