How The SBA Will Redefine Local Billiards

A League of Their Own: The SBA Will Redefine Local Billiards

Aspiring Filipino billiards players will now have a local league to play in thanks to the Sharks Billiards Association, the first of its kind in the world.

The Philippine billiards scene, in the doldrums for the past several years, is poised to receive a major boost with the launching of the Sharks Billiards Association (SBA), a team competition that will begin its first season in the next month.

This unique, innovative concept will surely be a much-needed shot in the arm for local billiards, which has experienced a decline over the past 10 years or so, and a boon for local players, many of whom are world-class but lack the financial backing to compete abroad.

Here’s a breakdown of the league and what to expect.

What is the SBA?

Dubbed the first-ever professional billiards league in the world, the SBA is the brainchild of chief executive officer and billiards enthusiast Hadley Mariano. The innovative league was formally launched Monday night at the Sharks Great White Hall in Quezon City and will initially feature four teams of five players each, with the players chosen through a draft.

Mariano, though, declined to disclose the format of the tournament until after the draft scheduled for next month.

Ang format natin, hindi pa natin puedeng ilabas. Iyan ang pinaka importante sa lahat. Binuo namin ito na mayroong Filipino culture.”

The only nugget of information that Mariano is willing to share at this point is that the chosen discipline will be 9-ball. More information will be revealed after the draft.

“The draft will be one month from now. Unang una ia-announce muna natin sa next press conference natin is the four teams, sino iyong team owners, at anong pangalan ng teams at anong lugar sila nakadikit.

“Next announcement is the draft picks. Each team will have five players. After the announcement nof draft picks, doon ia-announce kung kalian mag-uumpisa ang league.”

The SBA will also a commissioner, sports personality Chino Trinidad, who says he is taking on the challenge of not just running this pioneering league, but also trying to erase the stigma that is attached to billiards.

Pag sinabi mong billiards player, ano agad ang nasa isip? Sugal. Inom. Tambay. Itong mga players na ito, magkakaroon ng pagkakataon na ipakita nila na ang bansa ng Pilipinas has actually produced six world champions.

Where will the games be played and how can fans watch?

At least for the first season, all games will be played at the Sharks Great White Hall with possibly a home-and-away setup for the finals. Eventually, though, Mariano envisions a home-and-away format among all the teams for succeeding seasons.

“Similar siya with the NBA and the MPBL na mayroong mga hometown. May regional flavor. Actually we’re requiring the teams to have at least one grassroots player na tiga-roon. Sa season two namin ia-apply ang ganoong format. Pero sa season one, we just want to start and to share the format of Sharks.”

Mariano said they are in talks with a media outlet for broadcast rights, although he declined to identify the media outlet since negotiations are ongoing.

Who can join?

Anyone with a Games and Amusements Board (GAB) license and who thinks he can be the next Efren Reyes or Django Bustamante or Carlo Biado can join the draft, which is expected to draw over 100 aspirants. But Mariano says for their first season, which will last for only three months, they will train the spotlight on local talents who don’t get to play in big tournaments abroad.

“For the first season, we are starting with local players,” he said. “Fino-focus namin iyong mga players na hindi makalabas ng bansa, mga hindi nagkakaroon ng pagkakataon na maka-compete sa mga international tournaments.”

There is also no age limit set, although if a player is below 18 years of age, the GAB will require parental consent. So theoretically, a 14-year-old billiards prodigy can already turn pro thanks to the SBA. And while some may raise their eyebrows at the prospect of teenagers turning pro, it’s actually the absence of a national billiards program that makes it possible for youngsters to join.

“Before we put a cut-off (for age), kailangan mayroon tayong existing system in place. Eh wala naman tayong grassroots program. Hindi katulad ng basketball. May collegiate, may high school. Ang bilyar, wala eh. So I think we need to build that system first before we can put a cut-off. For now, kunin muna natin kung sinong available.

Huwag muna tayong maging mahigpit because the sport has been struggling for a long time.”

National team players are also welcome to join, according to Mariano. “If they want to join, they can join. Actually, open siya kahit kanino, even international players.”

How is this different from your traditional billiards tournaments?

Aside from the team concept, another unique aspect of the SBA is the pay structure. Unlike the usual billiards tournaments both here and abroad which award prize money depending on a player’s performance, SBA teams will pay their players a fixed salary apart from the usual prize money.

“Win or lose, they will have their salaries,” Mariano said. “Similar with basketball players.”

The league, Trinidad adds, is the perfect solution to the prohibitive costs of playing abroad.

Iyan ang magandang opportunity kasi para sa kanila (the players). Pag wala kang pambayad ng entry fee mo, paano ka lalabas? Tapos lalabas, magkano matitira sa iyo? Kung papasok ka sa placing na mayroon nang guaranteed money.

Halimbawa, pupunta ka ng America. Kukuha ka ng visa, kung bibigyan ka ng visa. Tapos may entry fee pa. Ang laki ng gagastosin mo. Magkano matitira doon, kung panalo ka? Eh papaano kung bokya ka? Uuwi ka ng luhaan.”

The SBA can also be seen as a way to discourage local players from engaging in the so-called “money” games.

Ano ang pagpupwersa sa mga players natin na maglaro at isugal iyong pera nila, is walang opportunity. Itong SBA ang opportunity para sa kanila. Ito ang pagkakataon sa kanila ng regular (income). Sustainable ito, eh.

“This was built for the players, and this was meant to be played ng best players in the world, na nagkataon nandito sa Pilipinas. There is no way that this will not take off.”

What can we expect down the road?

After their inaugural season, the SBA will be aiming high right away. “We will start with four teams,” Mariano explained. “But eventually, we might for 20, 30 teams. So it depends.”

That’s a lot of potential jobs for Filipino players, but ultimately, the success of the league will depend on their buy-in.

Magkakaroon ka ng something that’s regular,” Trinidad said. “Iyong burden nasa players. Responsibility nila iyan na palaguin ito. Nandito tayo to create a portal. Na-create na iyong portal. Now it’s for them to take advantage of the portal that will give them something na regular. Makakapaglaro sila na regular na hindi nila iniisip na, ‘Pag natalo ako, wala akong mapapakain, wala akong mauuwi.’ Regular eh. Uuwi pa rin siya na alam niya sa ATM niya may papasok ng kinsenas at a-trenta.

“At the end of the day, this is for Philippine billiards. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Banner image from Sid Ventura.

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