IN MOST sports leagues, incentives are given to a team that convincingly performed well in the previous round, fair enough to give it a well-deserved edge coming into the playoffs.

This applies to the UAAP Football rules wherein the team that topped the double-round robin (where each team gets to face their opponents twice) will be awarded a twice-to-beat advantage in the finals and in case of a tournament sweep, the team will be merited an automatic championship title.

This season, the UST Lady Booters and the Far Eastern University (FEU) finished the second round tied at 16 points as both teams had five wins, one draw, and two losses.

UST, having a better goal difference than FEU, was poised to head onto the finals with a twice-to-beat advantage.

But under the rules, if the top two squads have an equal number of points, they shall play a best-of-three finals series so FEU filed a protest to reverse the decision of the board and it succeeded.

What made it complicated was the rule on tie-breakers. Citing a verbatim excerpt from the rulebook, “In case a tie or a series of ties in the team standings, after the second round, the following order or quotient system shall be used in the resolution of ties: goal difference; highest number of goals scored, winner over the other…”

Goal difference: UST has 6, FEU has 4.

Numbers don’t lie. One need not be a math genius or a sports prodigy to interpret this. Since 6>4, how come the UAAP board approved FEU’s protest, making the football championship a best-of-three series instead of giving UST the advantage?

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UAAP board member Fr. Ermito de Sagon O.P. believed that the protest was “okay,” saying that the aforementioned rule is for ranking purposes only. Meaning, it is there to determine the rankings of the other teams who won’t play in the finals anymore.

The current FIFA rules will apply unless otherwise provided in the UAAP Football tournament ground rules so even though we are under FIFA, the UAAP has league rules of its own and as he said, there’s a special rule approved last summer that in case of a tie for the first place, a best of three finals will be played. This is a “reactionary” rule to the FEU-Ateneo Juniors controversial truce last season.

The ground rules certainly need some revisions for clarity and consistency’s sake. Just as water and oil cannot mix, those two provisions mentioned cannot coincide. If the top two teams are tied in points, should they automatically play best-of-three or will they have to break the tie? Or should they first resolve the deadlock via quotient system and if it still results in a tie, that’s the time for them to play best-of-three? The rules have to be more specific so as not to draw contradicting interpretations from the football officials and the teams as well.

It may seem as an alibi for some but this verdict is a huge factor why the UST Lady Booters lost the series. Seeing them play in Game 1 where both teams went scoreless at the end of regulation time and two extra periods, they were visibly not as ferocious as they were before.

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After Game 1, coach Estrabon mentioned that the team had quite lost its enthusiasm to play because they worked hard in the first two rounds but it seemed that it did not pay off as they were deprived of their well-deserved edge in the finals.

After succumbing in the winner-take-all Game 3, he said that maybe the championship was not really meant for them for the team’s mindset is to defeat FEU in just one game.

Most probably it has to something to do with mental conditioning, a crucial part of the athletes’ preparation before a tough battle. They might not be psychologically prepared for the decision as they already conditioned their minds that they need to win only once to get the title. Not their fault though, because the reversal was made with less than a week before the match. It’s like grasping this kind of certainty and in an instance, realizing that everything you believed in is fraud. There’s nothing more painful than that.

Obviously, they were victims of vague laws. It already happened a year ago with different teams involved and it should not happen again in the future. Twice is enough. We should have anticipated the forthcoming odds and learned our lessons by this time.

Good for us Thomasians, a 38th UAAP general championship is there to offset the mood. My sincerest congratulations to the Pontifical University and all the UST teams for sustaining the winning tradition and making it 13 straight! Viva Santo Tomas!

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