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UAAP vs NCAA: Is the gap getting wider?

by Bryan Gadingan

IN the ongoing FilOil EcoOil 17th ECJ Preseason Cup, universities and colleges from the two major Philippine collegiate leagues clashed during the cross-bracket playoffs on June 8 and 9, at the FilOil Arena in San Juan. 

The idea of the summer league is to bring out the best in the basketball players, while showing pride for their schools and proving who the kings of collegiate basketball are this season. 

Photo Courtesy: FilOil EcoOil Sports | Facebook

Not only that, the tournament’s overarching purpose is to impart each team with vital lessons that will be useful once their main league begins, as the two leagues with distinct playing styles face off.

The University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) has proven to be more powerful in comparison to teams from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) this season. 


During the preseason tournament’s quarterfinals, the top four teams from the UAAP and NCAA brackets progressed to a knockout game on Saturday. 

The top-seeded UP Fighting Maroons advanced from the UAAP bracket, alongside reigning UAAP champions DLSU Green Archers, FEU Tamaraws, and UE Red Warriors in representing their mother league. 

The top-seeded CSJL Knights, as well as the DLS-CSB Blazers, reigning NCAA champions SBU Red Lions, and NCAA runner-up Mapua Cardinals, dominated the NCAA bracket.

The eight teams that advanced to the knockout stage of the preseason event were not pushovers, as seen by their histories and standings following the elimination round. 

Despite this, the majority of UAAP teams dominated the NCAA teams, with the Allen Ricardo-led Letran being the only NCAA team to advance to the semifinals in their bracket after defeating the UE Red Warriors. 

In what appeared to be a fight with identical results from their respective conferences, UAAP runner-up UP upset NCAA runner-up Mapua 94-75. La Salle defeated San Beda 94-80 in their battle of the champions match.

The sole silver lining was that Letran advanced to the semifinals, where they faced UAAP champions La Salle but were defeated in a hard-fought 87-91 battle. 

The quarter finals battle between Saint Benilde and FEU was also a bright spot, as they had an action-packed game that ended with a Jorick Bautista buzzer-beating three to eliminate them, 73–74.

Given that scenario, basketball fans are starting to doubt the degree of competition when these two major leagues face off. The question is whether the NCAA is truly slipping behind, or if the UAAP is simply thriving.

Should the NCAA allow foreign student athletes again?

Seasoned NCAA tacticians feel that their league’s collegiate teams can still play at a high level against UAAP teams. However, there are significant reasons why the other league appears to be dominating theirs. 

Based on these coaches’ explanations, the basketball community should not ignore the apparent reasons why the UAAP is significantly favored to win this preseason tournament.

Yuri Escueta, San Beda’s head coach and a former Ateneo player, says that foreign student athletes (FSA) are still the primary reason why NCAA teams struggle to compete with other leagues.

“I think it helps in practices, you get used to that kind of competition, pero siyempre

‘di natin call ‘yun,” he said, referring to the benefits of competing with and against FSAs, as reported by Tiebreaker Times.

Photo Courtesy: FilOil EcoOil Sports | Facebook

Backing him was Saint Benilde head coach Charles Tiu, who shared this sentiment after his squad nearly pulled off a stunner against a UAAP team in FEU. 

“One of the advantages of the UAAP teams is their foreign student-athletes. Their size is a bit of a game-changer,” Tiu added, explaining how big of an impact the major height difference can be.

Letran’s head coach, Allen Ricardo, who led the only NCAA team to win the crossover quarterfinals, emphasized how the lack of foreign student-athletes made a huge difference in how the two leagues operate.

“If you’re going to look at NU, DLSU, UP, pagdating sa 3-4-5 position medyo mabigat na. Sa 1-2 position, pwede pa magsabay ‘yung NCAA. Pero sa 3-4-5 position, malayo na ang gap,” he said.

“Sort of concerning, kasi pagdating ng preseason, expect nila automatic UAAP na. Maybe in time, pwede ibalik ng NCAA ‘yung FSA. Mahirap to bridge that gap.”

“Para sa akin, nasa materyales pa rin at babagsak ka pa rin sa FSA, kahit anong gawin mong pagpapahinog sa locals sa NCAA, malaking bagay pa rin na may FSA,” explained Ricardo.

Why do blue-chip recruits choose to play in the UAAP?

Aside from the thought of having an FSA on a UAAP squad, these universities have the luxury of attracting top high-school talents from the country as well as other half-Filipino prospects around the world, to their rosters. 

This is due to the marketability of the institutions competing in the UAAP, which allows them to have a more strong roster of local players complemented by a solid FSA player. 

However, marketability in collegiate sports includes not just how television partners display the product, but also the academic rankings of schools and universities.

Photo Courtesy: @stevemarionfire | Instagram

These days, student-athletes emphasize not only the opportunity to play for prestigious schools, but also academics. Given that, the higher the ranking, the more prestigious the university becomes.

“They also get most of the blue-chip recruits as it’s the more ‘marketable’ league, but I do believe individually that there are a lot of good NCAA players,” Tiu explained.

“And you see it also in the pro ranks as there are probably close to the same number of PBA players coming from both leagues,” he added, while comparing the numbers of drafted players from both leagues.

Aside from counting PBA draftees from both leagues, the number of international players and national team selected players should also be examined, as this demonstrates the caliber of players they have. 

Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena, RJ Abarrientos, Carl Tamayo, Kai Sotto, and Rhenz Abando, who attended UST before moving to Letran, are among the players who moved overseas and performed well. 

Photo Courtesy: NCAA Philippines | Facebook

In contrast, Escueta believes that UAAP has greater financial backing. Despite the challenges that lie ahead, the Red Lions’ head coach is still grateful for the backing of his university.

“I’m thankful for San Beda, with what we have. I really don’t want to compare ourselves with other UAAP teams, but ‘yun ang malaking advantages nila,” the reigning NCAA Coach of the Year concluded.

Tiu also believes that NCAA institutions have a good budget, which helps them to recruit quality players. It’s evidenced by how various UAAP talents have moved to their league over the last two years. 

Putting aside comparisons, the NCAA has thrived in its own right since the pandemic, with no two teams repeating in the Finals.

Although there were differences between the two leagues, both thrived in their own unique ways. 

Ultimately, the purpose of these two prestigious collegiate competitions is to shape players and prepare them for the challenges of life. Preseason leagues like the present FilOil EcoOil will merely try to bridge the gap between them.



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