THE 99TH SEASON of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), hosted by Jose Rizal University (JRU), kicked off last September 24 at the SM Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena, with an opening day that saw the reigning champion and runner-up from Season 98 facing unexpected setbacks in their inaugural matches of the season.
This year’s opening day marked the return of the NCAA to the MOA Arena after almost four years, with the last time being Game 3 of the Season 95 finals between the San Beda Red Lions and the Colegio de San Juan de Letran (CSJL) Knights last November 2019.
With the theme “New Heroes of the Game,” JRU President Dr. Vincent Fabella delivered his opening remarks by alluding to the athletes, coaches, and the students as these “new heroes.” Leading the oath of sportsmanship for the season is the team captain of the JRU Heavy Bombers, Ry Dela Rosa, with Dr. Fabella officially opening the season shortly thereafter.
First game: JRU vs Letran
The first game of the season kicked off with the host JRU Heavy Bombers facing off against the defending champions, the Letran Knights. The Letran Knights started strong, connecting with their field goal attempts and leading by as much as 11 points in the second quarter, 24-35, against JRU.
But a three from Marwin Dionisio by the half of the second quarter shifted the momentum towards the Heavy Bomber, starting a 15-4 run, with the Knights only leading by a point, 39-40, by halftime.
By the second half, the Heavy Bombers were on the Knights’ trail, preventing them from piling up a substantial lead again. By the latter part of the fourth quarter, the Heavy Bombers caught up by tying the game, 68-68, and went on a 5-2 run, almost securing the win. However, Knights’ captain Kurt Reyson found Deo Cuajao open for a three, again tying the game, 73-73, and sending the game into overtime.
But the Heavy Bombers finished what they started as they secured the win in overtime, 85-79, with Agem Miranda leading the charge, outscoring the Knights 7-6 in the extra frame.
Second game: LPU vs DLS-CSB
The second bout of the season featured the Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU) Pirates taking on the other finalist of Season 98, the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (DLS-CSB) Blazers. Reigning MVP Will Gozum sat out this game as part of a suspension he incurred during the third game of the previous season’s finals.
Even without Gozum, the Blazers started out strong, leading by as much as 13 points nearing the half, 22-35. However, at the half, the Pirates managed to cut the lead down to 8, 38-45.
At the start of the third quarter, LPU started to gain momentum, with Enoch Valdez leading the Pirates to an 11-4 run to cut the Blazers’ lead down to a single digit, 48-49, eventually outscoring them 25-12 at the end of the third frame, 62-57.
From then on, the Pirates did not look back, leading by as much as 10 points in the fourth quarter, 72-62. Despite this, the Blazers were tenacious until the end, as a steal from Robi Nayve closed the gap between the Blazers and the Pirates, 83-81. Ultimately, two free throws from Shawn Umali sealed the game in the Pirates’ favor.
During the halftime of the JRU-Letran bout, GMA debuted its artificial intelligence (AI)-generated sportscasters, named Marco and Maia, which will be a fixture of NCAA’s Sunday broadcasts. Their debut has since ignited controversy on social media, with public sentiment quickly turning negative.
Netizens expressed “alarm and sadness” over the use of artificial intelligence in sports broadcasting, with critics arguing that AI may “lack the ability” to convey the “passion and emotional” drama inherent in sports reporting, potentially reducing viewer engagement and sidelining skilled human sportscasters.
The move also raised concerns about its impact on employment in the industry, with even professional athletes, such as former Red Lion Jayvee Mocon joking with fellow NCAA alum Rey Nambatac about losing their jobs to AI.
GMA has since defended the initiative as “groundbreaking” and “aligned” with their “mission to serve the nation.”
Photo by Francesca Zia Robles