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Time the UAAP and the NCAA came together as One League

I was able to enjoy a rare Monday afternoon siesta – it is a holiday in these shores – and woke up in time to catch a live televised encounter between Letran and Arellano University in the NCAA. Never mind the basketball; the bleachers were empty.

Now – of course – in NCAA terms, Arellano would be not unlike Chelsea in the Premiership – i.e. the sort of outfit that suffers from being branded as having no history. Still, they were playing the Letran Knights! You would have thought at least half of the arena would be occupied by navy blue and red clad spectators simultaneously crying “Arriba!”

Whatever happened to this arriba spirit, by the way? Time was when that spirit spilled over to excess, as attested to by the countless rumbles and street chases outside the Rizal Memorial when I was still in college. I think the Knights still turn out for their encounters with their friends from Mendiola; but even that rivalry has become almost cordial.

The first time I was introduced to the affections – or, rather, the lack of – between the Knights and the Red Lions was when I first attended an NCAA basketball opening day at the Araneta Coliseum in the seventies. I was, naturally, seated at the section reserved for the Archers. Our attention was diverted away from the game when the unmistakable sound of pak-pak-pak made by fists connecting with faces suddenly started to reverberate around the closed environment of the coliseum.

Opposite to where we sat, two groups of men were having a go at each other. We could tell from the shirts they had on that they were from Letran and San Beda. And the two schools were not even playing each other…

I do not think the rivalry still boils over like it used to. The NC has changed. For one thing, there are no more all-male schools in it like in the old days. Consequently, many more women attend games than they used to. I have watched NC games on TV when the sound emanating from the arena was more of screams than cheers and drum beats. With many more females watching, even the goons think twice about starting a rumble.

Then, of course, I think the league never really recovered from the departure of two of its glamour schools: DLSU and Ateneo. For a while, even San Beda left the league. When the school returned, it was not as if the Red Lions simply picked up where they left off. They were the poor relations for a longish period and were not worth the attention of the Knights, who were perennially strong.

Back to the game this afternoon, a quick check of the standings shows that the Knights are in the unfamiliar position of propping up most of the other schools. The Red Lions and the Stags of Bastê are top of the heap. Even hopia factory JRU – that was how everyone referred to the school in the NC when I was in college – are better-placed than the Knights. I was still shocked to see the arena practically empty!

When I was in college, empty arenas were the domain of the UAAP. I ought to know! I used to pass by the Rizal Memorial on my way to HP all the time when there were UAAP games being played. The games attracted more flies than the smell of freshly fried hawot.

On the streets, the only sounds you could hear from inside the arena were the shouts of the players themselves and the electronic buzzer. Funnily enough, the schools sent brass bands to the arena on the pretense that there would be people cheering. The brass bands played fiesta tunes. It was such a farce!

Then, the NC was the unmistakable glamour league. It was eagerly anticipated. Although the games – like today – were televised, people still flocked to the arenas for the simple reason that the television screen could just never quite replicate the atmosphere inside the venue. Apart from the sporadic sideshows – i.e. sapakan at habulan – you could shout just about anything you wanted to shout and nobody minded that you did. The alaska aimed at the other school was always spontaneous and humorous!

There are still those who follow the NC, but the UAAP has grown to the point where it even attracts more people to watch it than the PBA, a professional league. Marketing, to a certain degree, has been responsible for the league’s success. The reunion of the NCAA’s previously greatest rivals – the Archers and the Eagles – in the UAAP was the initial spark. Eventually, I think the other universities simply caught on and adopted the traditions that DLSU and Ateneo brought with them from the NC – traditions like pep squads, drum beaters and standard cheers.

Personally – although I am not really a basketball fan – I have had my own days of fun in basketball arenas and would like nothing more than for the two leagues to unite into one big national collegiate league. UAAP teams get to play against NC teams in other tournaments, but these are frequently pre-season leagues that do not carry the same significance.

Imagine the Archers and the Blue Eagles lining up against their former rivals from Letran, Mapua and San Beda again in the first major basketball tournament of the school year? Mouthwatering, eh…???

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