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PBA announces new rules for free agents and rookies

Revisions to the PBA's free agency rules lead a plethora of amendments and new policies the league introduced in a press conference on Saturday.

Commissioner Willie Marcial, along with deputy commissioner Eric Castro and legal counsel Atty. Melvin Mendoza, bared the wave of changes to player contracts and rookie eligibility that are now in effect since Friday.

For free agents, a player whose contract has lapsed can now entertain offers from other teams if he refuses to sign the offer sent by his mother team within 30 days of the expiry of his original deal.

The said player's mother team can match the opposing team's offer within five days. If the player refuses to sign the matched offer, he will have to sit out for five years before he can play again in the PBA.

A player can be reinstated by the league within two years after the contract expires, but he will have to accept the mother team's offer. If he does not sign, he will have to finish the duration of the five-year "sit-out" period.

During that span, the mother team retains the player's rights. But after five years, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign with other teams.

There are no changes to policies covering unrestricted free agents, who can sign with other squads if the mother team does not give them a new offer to re-sign within 30 days of his contract's expiration.

Stricter provisions have been laid in place for live contracts, which cannot be terminated except for medical reasons. Pre-termination of the deal -- which includes retirement and leave of absence -- constitutes a breach and will subject both the player and the team to hefty fines; the former will be banned from the PBA, and the latter will be fined P20-million pesos. The league can also seek legal remedies.

If the league finds only the player to be guilty of the said offense, both the team and the PBA can seek legal arbitration and the said player will be banned.

"We reviewed all possible scenarios with respect to the migration of other players to other leagues. We had to affirm -- or rather reaffirm -- that the sanctity of the contract should be respected," said Mendoza.

A five-year sit-out period will also now be imposed on eligible rookies who decide to forego the PBA Draft.

According to the new rules, a player who opts not to throw his name into the draft will have to wait for five years before being able to join the league. He can jump into the draft within three years into the sit-out, but he will have to go through a "special lottery" to get selected.

"We're giving them a career path," Marcial explained in Filipino. "That five-year sit-out period gives a player time to deliberate if he wants to continue playing in Japan or wherever he wants to play, or if he wants to join the PBA."

"We're not banning anyone. We're not closing the doors on anyone. We're giving them a choice," the commissioner added.

There were also adjustments made to rookie eligibility rules, as a player is now considered fit for the PBA Draft if he is at least 22 years old. If a hopeful is under the age limit, he needs to have studied college for at least two years.

Previously, a player under the age limit of 21 must have completed four years of college eligibility.

"The reason why we lowered the age limit is to give opportunities for some collegiate players to turn pro. We have adopted the NBA's hardship rule, so they can still pursue education via online," Castro explained. "Aside from that, we have provided a players' trust fund to encourage them to continue their education later on."

For rookies who have been drafted, they may have to sit out for five years if he and his mother team fail to reach an agreement in contract discussions.

There is more leeway for the top three PBA draft picks in terms of financial negotiations, as the league also lifted the rookie salary cap. Still, the said freshman's contract cannot not exceed the PBA's maximum limit of P420,000 a month.

For Fil-Foreigners hoping to join the PBA, they can only do so before turning 30. This means that players like Maurice Shaw, the 2019 second overall pick who got drafted when he was 35, will not be able to do so moving forward.

Fil-Foreign players will also still have to submit documents from the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Immigration proving their Filipino citizenship.

"We believe by that time in their age, they've reached their prime already. As early as before 30, you should be applying for the PBA already," said Castro.

The amendments were part of the findings collected by the league's study group and approved by the Board of Governors.

Included in the study group are Castro and Mendoza, PBA vice chairman Bobby Rosales, former commissioner Chito Salud, former PBL commissioner and PBA legal counsel Odjie Narvasa, law professor and sports advocate atty. Alberto Agra, coach Joe Lipa, D-League technical head Jun Bengua,.and executive assistant and secretary to the commissioner Mich Flores.

"The landscape is evolving, so we have to adjust," Marcial said. "I'm sure the rules will adjust again after my term as commissioner. That's just the way it is. We're just adapting to the times."