The Philippine collegiate rivalry: NCAA vs UAAP

Jonathan Perez

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Rappler investigates the rivalry between the NCAA and the UAAP, the factors that come into play, and what sets the two apart.

MANILA, Philippines – Sports rivalries bring out the best in a player or a team, with each competitor going all out to destroy their opponents. Rivalries are also effective marketing tools that can easily attract standing room only crowds.

This is the case between the two collegiate leagues in the Philippines – the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the oldest league in the country, and the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), the country’s premier and more popular league.

UAAP dominance

Some say that the UAAP has overshadowed the NCAA in terms of popularity, glamour and level of competition among their member schools.

The UAAP is widely known as today’s “it league” largely due to the television coverage started by then production outfit Silverstar Sports and now ABS-CBN. Exciting basketball games and the good marketing strategy of the Lopez-owned network had hyped the Ateneo-La Salle hard court rivalry – which helped turn the UAAP into an advertising magnet.

“That rivalry fueled UAAP’s status as the premier collegiate league today,” said Benjie Paras, who is one of the Philippine Basketball Association’s (PBA) 25 Greatest Players. “But if you want to watch exciting games, then the NCAA is the right place.”

Paras is an original product of the San Beda College High School basketball program where he teamed up with now Red Lions coach Ronnie Magsanoc under multi-tilted mentor Ato Badolato to win a number of NCAA juniors’ basketball titles before playing for the Joe Lipa-coached University of the Philippines in the UAAP.

Recent NCAA games show Paras could be right.

The opening week of the 88th NCAA season saw a down-the-wire finish in the Jose Rizal University-Mapua Institute of Technology match where John Lopez’s split free throws carried the Heavy Bombers to a thrilling 65-64 win over the Cardinals.

The University of Perpetual Help System DALTA Altas hogged the headlines as the Altas, a perennial league doormat, had a 2-0 start – including a 69-66 upset of Colegio de San Juan de Letran – before losing to San Sebastian College-Recoletosm, 80-65.

And who could forget San Beda College’s “Super 6” where in the Red Lions, outnumbered by Arellano University after nine of their players got suspended, stunned the Chiefs’ full roster to the tune of an 81-71 win?

“The game is definitely the same, then and now. The main difference is the players now are bigger and that recruitment from other schools take primary consideration over home-grown talents,” said Magsanoc.

The newly appointed coach also agreed that ABS-CBN’s tremendous production coverage caused the UAAP to skyrocket to fame.

From one league to two

Ironically, the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry originally started in the NCAA hard court as both schools were former members of the league before transferring to the UAAP in the late 1980s. The Blue Eagles even had a rivalry with the Red Lions, while the Green Archers had the Knights as their chief foe back then.

CHEER DANCE CHAMPIONS. University of Perpetual Help took home the title in the 87th NCAA Cheer Dance Competition. Josh Albelda.

“When I was playing, La Salle and Ateneo were still with the NCAA. During my time the NCAA was the ‘it league.’ But at the turn of the century it became the UAAP when the trend of the games improved,” said Barako Bull coach and National University athletic director Junel Baculi, who was a member of Mapua’s 1981 champion squad together with Bong Ramos and Leo Isaac.

Long-time public relations practitioner Tessa Jazmines, the Larc and Asset PR Consultants (LAPR) President and former University of the Philippines Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, supported Baculi’s statement.

She said the NCAA was the top league, even without enough media coverage, from the 1950s to early 1980s — while the UAAP was the “other league.”

Jazmines said the NCAA back then was made up by Ateneo, La Salle, Mapua, Letran and Jose Rizal College with most of the member schools exclusive for boys.

While then little known Silverstar Productions is credited to introduce the UAAP to televiewers, Jazmines believes the league format — recruitment that improved the team’s rosters — and side show events like the Cheerdance competition, are the factors responsible for putting the UAAP on top.

Additionally, as media attention slowly shifted to the UAAP, the NCAA encountered problems with recruitment as some of its top high school players opted to join the UAAP for their college education.

Letran coach Louie Alas, the longest-serving bench tactician in the NCAA, even cited the case of former Letran high school standouts Jarelan Tampus and Glenn Khobuntin, who transferred to UAAP teams La Salle and NU.

“It is just the same. Marketing. We could have been a stronger team with them around. But we managed to remain competitive,” he said.

Baculi too supported Alas.

“Recruiting the best high school players prepares your team’s future. Sa recruitment ng players andun ang competition ngayon ng mga teams,” he said.

“But I think naiiwan ang ibang teams, look at what happened in the San Beda-Lyceum juniors’ game. The result is not good for the league,” added Baculi referring to the Red Cubs’ 171-14 demolition of the Junior Pirates.

Saving grace?

But everything may change yet again.

The NCAA, with new TV partner AKTV of sports patron Manny V. Pangilinan, plans to bring back its former glory.

“AKTV’s entry in the NCAA will surely build a stronger fan base and will bridge the gap between the two biggest collegiate leagues,” said San Beda’s Magsanoc.

Alas added that with AKTV being known as an all-sports channel, he is hopeful that it can attract the collegiate basketball fans who also watch UAAP games.

Jose Mari Lacson, San Beda’s NCAA Management Committee representative, refused to say that the UAAP has overshadowed them.

“The NCAA has a longer season because we have more competing teams. And now we are being covered by two channels. So, I think the NCAA will be back to its old times,” he said.

He added that what the NCAA is currently working on is to put the league closer to the people.

“We want to make the games more exciting, to lift the level of play and see all teams to be competitive,” he said.


At the core however, perhaps the two leagues are more similar than they are different — at least these are what some think.

NCAA Season 88 Management Committee chairman Fr. Vic Calvo, O.P., of host Letran said that while rivalries attract crowds the NCAA and UAAP are still the same.

“All graduates and alumni of NCAA member schools cheer for their alma mater just like in the UAAP. Both leagues have different sets of fans,” said Calvo, who mentioned the Letran-San Beda and San Sebastian-JRU rivalries as sure crowd drawers in the NCAA.

CHEERING CROWD. UAAP fans cheer for their DLSU volleyball superstar Cha Cruz. Josh Albelda.

Calvo added that when the NCAA was still with ABS-CBN Sports, they had days wherein the oldest collegiate league beat the UAAP in terms of viewership and audience share, based on information given by Studio 23.

All three coaches – Alas, Magsanoc and Paras – together with Calvo, also believe the NCAA’s level of play can easily match the best of what the UAAP can offer.

“The reigning PCCL champion is from the NCAA where San Sebastian defeated Ateneo. And a number of NCAA teams also defeated their UAAP counterparts in preseason tournaments,” Alas said.

Supreme league?

Those embedded in the leagues themselves however, are aware of stark differences between the NCAA and the UAAP that dictate league preferences among not just sports fans, but athletes as well.

“There is a certain prestige when you play in the UAAP, while games in the NCAA are more physical where the ‘no harm, no foul’ rule is in effect. The UAAP has stricter rules when it comes to defense,” said Paras.

But Calvo believes an NCAA starting unit composed of San Sebastian’s big men Calvin Abueva and Ian Sangalang, Letran’s back court duo of Kevin Alas and Mark Cruz, and San Beda’s Rome Dela Rosa can match-up pretty well against their UAAP counterparts.

He pointed out that the NCAA enjoys an 8-7 record against the UAAP in the UAAP-NCAA All-Star Games.

Yet despite the comparisons between the two, the leagues, for the most part, are content doing their own thing with or without the other — there is little concern about their coexistence.

According to PR guru Jazmines, the same setup has been in place for decades since several Metro Manila-based schools who helped form the NCAA bolted the league and started the UAAP in 1938.

“Since 1938, there have been two collegiate leagues entertaining collegiate (basketball) fans side by side. There have been no major threats to their existence,” said Jazmines.

“In fact, if there were only one league, there would be a big void for collegiate sports aficionados. The two leagues have their respective following and if you’ll notice they all come together during the offseason the FilOil, Fr, Martin Cup and the Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL),” she added. “The collegiate crowd is huge and has guaranteed attendance made up of students, parents, school officials and alumni.” –

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