Survival Kit: How can ‘struggling’ student-athletes pass Ateneo’s QPI

The opening ceremony for Season 79 of the UAAP Men’s basketball tournament is still a few weeks away but the Ateneo Blue Eagles have already encountered tough “losses” this early.

Well, they did not literally lose games but they lost multiple players that were projected to be integral pieces of their team for the future. Although the Blue Eagles and Coach Tab Baldwin have yet to release an official statement (Coach Tab is very busy with his Gilas Pilipinas duties), there are already reports that several of their players and prized recruits will not play this upcoming season due to academic problems. Their difficulties in school have led the players to withdraw and leave Ateneo, so they looked for other opportunities elsewhere. Hence, student-athletes like CJ Perez (Lycuem), Arvin Tolentino (FEU), Hubert Cani (FEU) and Jerie Pingoy (Adamson) have apparently joined other schools.

Now, their departures have left the current edition of the Blue Eagles weakened. Sure, they still have Thirdy Ravena, Aaron Black, Adrian Wong, the Nieto twins and Cheese Ikeh plus those who will be elevated from Team B and a bunch of rookies (Gian Mamuyac, Jolo Mendoza, Tyler Tio), but it would have been a much different scenario if Perez and company were still based in Katipunan.

A quick look at the recent basketball history of ADMU reveals that the Ateneo Blue Eagles have not been to the UAAP Finals since Season 75 (2012), that was the year when they won the last of their five straight titles. This early, it appears that ADMU won’t make it that far.

Remember that two of their best players from last season are already gone: Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal, and now, the team will enter this season supporting a handicap that will be difficult to overcome. It will be a tall order for them to reach at least the Final Four. Not impossible but highly unlikely since other UAAP teams benefited from Ateneo’s loss and others are constantly reloading. Such terrible news for Ateneo and their fans!

Well, as a high school teacher/educator, I admire the sturdy and strict stance of Coach Tab Baldwin, together with the Ateneo de Manila, in upholding the academic requirements and policies of the university. For them, a student-athlete needs to satisfy the minimum grade requirement (QPI) of the school before being allowed to actively compete in the UAAP bearing the name of the school. I also understand the rationale that the players are students first before athletes. Therefore, they are expected to attend classes and pass their assessments. Since Ateneo is considered a topnotch school, it is not surprising that they require their students to do better academically than students from other schools.

It is in my understanding that the UAAP as a whole, uses a lower scale/rating in assessing when a student-athlete can play in the UAAP. Apparently, the aforementioned student-athletes did enough to meet the academic requirements of the UAAP but not the standards set by Ateneo which Coach Tab Baldwin firmly enforces. Thus, these student-athletes are left to ponder between leaving the team or choosing to stay by applying for academic probation. The latter will result to sitting out for another year with the intentions of passing the required grades, a process recently done by Thirdy Ravena.

As a basketball fan, I am saddened by this situation because I expected the Blue Eagles to be very competitive this season. While the team can still be decent this season, I am no longer expecting that. I also felt awful for the students especially for those who had to sit out at least 1 year of residency. They sacrificed a lot to join the Blue Eagles and play here. Maybe they wanted an Ateneo education as well. Now, all of that will be taken away from them.

I also wonder about the chances of Ateneo when recruiting players. With the knowledge that Coach Tab is very strict on academics, will ADMU still be attractive for others? Will the recent withdrawals scare away other prospects? Will they still choose to play for Ateneo, knowing that academic standards are tougher there than others?

So, who is/are to blame for this unfortunate matter?

The biggest culprit is the UAAP Men’s schedule for basketball. The games are played on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Sometimes, teams play twice a week and for the rest of the week, the players rest or practice and train. The training time could be very early in the morning (just before morning classes start) or it could be late in the afternoon or night (after classes or before night classes begin). A typical schedule might be to practice one day and then, rest and recover the next day. However, since these are players who take good care of their bodies, you can expect them to go to the gym and/or court to continuously improve their physique and basketball skills. So, one is left to wonder, when do these guys find the time to study and write papers? When are they able to attend group works and meetings?

Admittedly, there are student-athletes who are able to balance academics and sports. That’s great but the focus should be on those who don’t make it because they need more help, support and guidance. Just like in any class, you assist the one who is failing or struggling and not the one who is already performing adequately.

Of course, the students also deserve part of the blame. They cannot be blameless in this matter. Still, they are not alone because their parents/guardians should also be accountable. The adults should try to be involved in their kids’ lives. They cannot let their sons perform poorly in school while still playing basketball. Parents need to be good examples and they ought to check in with their sons more often.

Furthermore, student-athletes must understand that academics must come first. Study now, play later. Those entering Ateneo should also understand that academic requirements are higher compared to UAAP standards. Student-athletes need to manage their time better, balance duties and set priorities because these are of the utmost importance. These qualities are needed by all types of students in all levels.

So, what can be done to avoid situations like this in the future? Are there any solutions?

One idea is for Ateneo to recruit players starting in the secondary level. Heck, if they can acquire players as early as elementary/grade school, then that would be much better. The reason behind this strategy can be traced on the training and disciplining of potential student-athletes in the methods and ways of Jesuit/Ateneo education.

Now, if students are transferring, it would also be best for everybody involved (school and student) to come from a Jesuit-led institution like Xavier or other Ateneo schools in the country. Why? Most (if not all) the students facing academic problems came from a non-Jesuit school. That means that they are not accustomed to how things are done in the Ateneo and they are not used to the academic standards. Earlier immersion and involvement with Ateneo could mean a big difference when it comes to college.

Moving on, other possible solutions involve the school because they need to do a much better job in helping their student-athletes survive college. What can Ateneo (and other schools) do more for their players? Maybe get them personal tutors and someone to constantly watch over their grades. Since the players also miss classes, make-up classes should be given to them because they missed class representing the school and not for a personal matter. Thus, the school should do their best in providing their athletes additional resources to do better in school.

Lastly, this idea requires the help and cooperation of the UAAP, plus maybe ABS-CBN because they are the ones who promote and broadcast the games. So, my idea revolves around modifying and tweaking the UAAP schedule for basketball games. Maybe explore having their games during long breaks like the Christmas season or better yet, during the summer. Such a move might also generate more revenue because students will have more chances to watch games on weekdays and weekends because they don’t have classes.

At the end of the day, we simply want what is best for the students, right? – By Rolly Mendoza

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