Whatever happens with Kiefer Ravena's plan to play in the Japanese B.League will not only impact the course of Ravena and NLEX, but also the PBA's future, said former commissioner Noli Eala.
"This is a precedent-setting case. How the PBA decides on this will determine the stability of this league," Eala told ESPN5.com in a phone interview. "The way I see it, if the case is decided one way or the other, players now will have these options, teams will now have these options, and the stability, the whole foundation will be rocked."
"The PBA must decide on this very carefully with both the interest of the league and the players primordial to them," he continued.
Eala explained that PBA teams pay players the whole year round through the Uniform Player's Contract (UPC), unlike other leagues that compensate their wards for just the duration of the tournament.
In essence, the UPC is a bill of rights and privileges as well as obligations and responsibilities between player and team. At its core, it enshrines the professional aspect of basketball players in a legal sense.
Under the UPC's current guidelines, Ravena categorically cannot play in other leagues besides the PBA. This is the reason why players are severely punished by playing in unauthorized leagues, colloquially called "ligang labas" (outside league).
This is where current commissioner Willie Marcial is coming from when he emphatically said the NLEX guard cannot be cleared due to his existing commitment to the Road Warriors.
"Short and simple: he can't play (in Japan) because that's not allowed under the league's UPC," exclaimed Marcial in an interview with ESPN5's Eros Villanueva.
If NLEX does not give clearance to Ravena and he still decides to play for the Shiga Lakestars, then the team could possibly charge the former Ateneo star with a breach of contract, according to Eala.
Ravena and the Road Warriors released seemingly contradicting statements last Wednesday, with the 27-year-old implying that his mother team had given its blessing on his move.
However, just three minutes before "The Phenom" posted his message of thanks on Facebook, NLEX released its own statement, vowing to adhere to the PBA's bylaws, and with it, the rules that govern the UPC.
Eala interpreted the two statements to mean that the Road Warriors have given Ravena conditional approval.
"If the condition that they set is not met, then the approval is not given. That means what [NLEX] says is subject to the UPC, subject to the PBA decision, that is the condition," he explained. "If the PBA says it can't be done, the approval is withdrawn since the condition is not met. Therefore, if Kiefer signs with another league, then he is in breach of contract and he can be prevented from doing that."
While the matter has become complicated, Eala believes that any contract can be terminated, but must follow proper procedure. In his view, abrogation must be discussed vis-a-vis PBA bylaws regarding outside leagues.
"If a team says, 'Let's set it aside, let's suspend the contract and you come back after,' that might be a problem because it will violate the policy that you cannot play in any other league," he pointed out.
"(Then) the team will now be answerable to the PBA. Why did you do that? That sets a very dangerous precedent. That's my only concern. But from a legal standpoint, yes, the parties of the contract may agree. But again, that might result in an action coming from the PBA which is the entity that sanctions the UPC," continued Eala.
In the future, Eala said that a buyout or exit clause in contracts can be the solution.
"If the [PBA's] mindset is they do not want to allow players (to do what Kiefer is trying to do), then they will put very difficult provisions there. But if their mindset is 'let's help the players, let's be inclusive, let's compete, and let's also try to protect our teams', then the exit clauses, the buyout provisions will be reasonable so that this allows an exchange of talent without hurting the stability of the league," explained Eala.
If ever, the PBA will need to ensure that a buyout compensates not just the mother team, but the league itself as well.
"What is the effect on the player, what is the effect on the teams? So that the pros and cons will become very clear whether you will do it or not. It becomes now a strategy for teams rather than it becoming a problem for them," added Eala.
Whatever the case, the ex-PBA chief suggested that this is a situation that Marcial has to decide upon by himself.
"I don't see why the Board [of Governors] will get into this. Frankly, this is a Commissioner's Office decision. Because if you bring it up to the board, the governors are conflicted, the team owners are conflicted. One may want to have Kiefer Ravena suspended, but on the other hand, one wouldn't want a similar situation in one's hands," said Eala.