PBA set for Malacañang meeting to get green light for new season

An all-important meeting with top government officials on Wednesday will determine the PBA's immediate future.

Commissioner Willie Marcial said that he and Ginebra governor Alfrancis Chua are set for a sit-down with executive secretary Salvador Medialdea and Sen. Bong Go in Malacañang to discuss their plans for starting the 2021 season amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"Maybe after one or two days after the meeting, we'll have a better idea on the direction we'll be heading," Marcial told reporters in Filipino Tuesday during the online Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum.

Marcial said the league will use the successful staging of the 2020 bubble in Clark, Pampanga as a focal point in the talks to sway the Philippine government in their favor.

"We're going to show them how successful last season's bubble was since we didn't really have any slip-ups there. That's why FIBA decided to hold its 'bubble' for the 2021 Asia Cup qualifiers in Clark even though there are still a lot of COVID-19 cases here," remarked the PBA commissioner.

"We're presenting all scenarios, all possible timelines, and we're also going to show them the protocols from last year and the adjustments we've made for this year due to new COVID-19 variants. As the first pro league in Asia and the second pro league in the world behind the NBA, we're hoping we can convince them," he continued.

Since Clark will not be available in time for its planned opening in May or June, Ilocos Norte and Antipolo are now the locations being considered by the league and discussions with Ilocos Norte governor Matthew Manotoc and Antipolo mayor Junjun Ynares remain ongoing.

"A 'bubble' is still on the table. But again, we're thinking about the costs and the mental health of all players," emphasized Marcial.

"Deputy commissioner Eric Castro will take a look at the location in Ilocos Norte to see if holding a bubble similar to Clark is possible. In Antipolo, we're looking to work out a closed-circuit format because I'm not sure if we can hold a bubble from a logistical standpoint there," he furthered.

The PBA head said they may also have a little more flexibility by mounting a split setup in two planned conferences - meaning the first conference can be held in a bubble and then the 2021 season can shift back to Metro Manila once the situation stabilizes.

"That's what I told governor Manotoc. If we do a bubble, maybe we're only going to play there for a month, then we could head back south if the vaccines are OK and the situation in NCR has improved," he explained, talking about the Ilocos Norte governor.

Marcial, however, reiterated that the vaccination is still the first step for the entire league.

"We'll vaccinate as many in the PBA family as we can. They say the doses will arrive by May or June. Let's see. I hope it does. If they arrive, 50 percent of my problems will be solved," he expressed, while also making clear that the right to refuse inoculation remains.

Once the government gives the go signal and vaccination gets underway, Marcial said the league is heavily pushing to hold a Philippine Cup and an import-laden conference starting May or June.

"We're still really targeting two conferences starting May or mid-June. If we start by July, the season will stretch to March or April (next year). That will affect a lot of other technicalities, including player contracts," he said.

The schedule will also depend on the participation of Gilas Pilipinas. Although competing for a title is completely off the table due to scheduling constraints, Marcial said the national team can play a few games in the 2021 season to warm up for future tournaments.

"We'll find out if Gilas will be able to play with us even for a couple of games. They'll be playing eight to 10 games, maybe even less. They won't be able to play for a title, though," shared Marcial.

"It also still depends on their practices and preparations, if they're going abroad or not. But we want them to join us," he expounded.

As the league continues to prepare for its new season, so can the teams raring to get back into action - as long as they do so in areas not under Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ).

"If teams want to practice, I told them they can practice in areas not under MECQ. We'll need a letter of approval from the IATF; a Joint Administrative Order from the Department of Health, the Games and Amusements Board, and the Philippine Sports Commission; and an approval from the local government unit as well," detailed Marcial.

"We'll also need a list of protocols from the LGU and the teams themselves and then we'll study them and see if we can approve their practice requests," he furthered.