THE National Collegiate Athletic Association opens its 88th season on Saturday with innovations and radical changes aimed at making it more competitive against a rival league.
The NCAA is the country's oldest sports league but has stayed in the shadows of the UAAP ever since popular member schools made an exodus to its rival organization in the eighties.
But with a new television partner in sports channel AKTV, a revised schedule and plans for its first out-of-town game, the league is confident of closing the gap -- if not moving ahead.
“The games will be given primetime exposure by AKTV,” NCAA president Fr. Tamerlane Lana said during the season's media launch at Gateway Suites on Wednesday.
From its usual Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, the league will now be holding games on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Timeslots have also been moved from 2 and 3:30 p.m. to 4 and 5:30 p.m.
The changes have put the NCAA's Thursday and Saturday playdates in direct competition with games on the same day of the UAAP, whose matches will be shown on Studio 23. The UAAP opens on July 14.
“I don’t think there will be a head-on collision,” Lana said, playing down the competition for viewers.
He later added: "We can’t avoid comparisons, but we’ll be more competitive."
But unless the UAAP changes its traditional Thursday-Saturday-Sunday format, its second games on Thursdays and Saturdays will be played simultaneously with the NCAA's opening match for those playdates.
“But with our new media partner, we can show our true worth,” Lana said.
Three Final Four teams from last season will see action on opening day at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum with San Sebastian taking on Letran at 4 p.m. and Jose Rizal University squaring off with Mapua at 6 p.m.
Except for the opening games at the Big Dome and a planned out-of-town game in Subic, all matches will be played at the San Juan Arena.
Basketball will headline the new NCAA season with the other sports opening in the following months.
Three competitions — badminton, soft tennis, and cheerleading — will now be recognized as official sports, with points being credited to the general championship race.