2006: Miscommunication causes a stir

Daytona Beach, Fla.

Going into the 2006 Golf Coaches Association of America convention, a couple of “hot” issues were on the agenda. The one anticipated to stir up the most controversy centered around amateurism.

Effective Jan. 1, the U.S. Golf Association said it would allow golfers to accept reasonable and actual expenses from outside one’s immediate family or legal guardians in order to play in a golf competition, as long as those expenses were paid through players’ state or regional golf associations.

Red flags immediately went up throughout college golf. Many believed, or were told, that this was against NCAA rules, and if a student-athlete accepted such expenses, he or she would be in violation and his or her college golf eligibility would be in jeopardy.

Thus, GCAA executive director Gregg Grost set aside one full morning at the convention in hopes of clarifying things, bringing in Tony Zirpoli from the USGA and Jay and Maritza Jones from NCAA Membership Services.

Both organizations have the right to make their own rules, and each has its own set of challenges.

The USGA must look out for the best interest of all amateur golfers, not just those who play in college; the NCAA must make rules for student-athletes in all sports, with no concern about a mid-amateur or senior amateur golfer.

The common perception, however, is that the USGA and the NCAA are miles apart when it comes to rules regarding what an amateur golfer is allowed to do and what a student-athlete or prospective student-athlete is allowed to do.

That certainly seemed to be the case regarding the amateurism issue heading into the convention.

Zirpoli gave a presentation and explained the USGA rule. Jay Jones did the same for the NCAA. And guess what? The miles of separation were narrowed considerably.

The bottom line is that the NCAA rule, which Jones said has been on the books since the mid-1970s, does allow student-athletes, as well as prospective student-athletes (junior golfers between grades 9-12), to accept such expenses.

Like the USGA rule, the expenses must be reasonable, actual and necessary for travel, accommodations or food. Also, as the USGA rule states, payment of such expenses can’t come directly from an individual outside of a parent or legal guardian, but must come from a nonprofessional organization.

Where the NCAA and USGA differ on this issue is that the NCAA says donated money, in this case for the use of paying expenses, cannot be earmarked for a specific individual. A state or regional golf association can give money for expenses as long as that money was not given on the premise that it go to a specific person.

A small difference, but certainly not something that should cause a major uproar.

What did cause a bit of an uproar generated from what later was determined to be a misinterpretation of a question regarding junior golfers receiving free equipment directly from manufacturers. When the equipment question was posed, Jones, thinking it dealt with the involvement of a coach, told the gathering that this was in violation of NCAA rules.

Since this practice, which is within USGA rules, has been going on for a number of years, the answer caused quite a buzz – not only among coaches, but also among representatives of equipment manufacturers and the American Junior Golf Association who were present.

For a brief period, there was a bit of panic as to what the ramifications might mean to junior golfers and even those who are now enrolled in college. Following the session, Stephen Hamblin, executive director of the AJGA, got in touch with his office, which started the process of tracking down the NCAA rules and getting interpretations.

In the end, it turned out to be much ado about nothing. Within 24 hours, it was all put to rest.

In an e-mail sent to Grost, Jay Jones wrote, “I wanted to follow-up with a point of clarification from Tuesday’s meeting regarding the receipt of equipment by a prospect (ninth through 12th grade). When I was asked the question, I was concerned about part (c) of this legislation (which states a member institution’s coach cannot be involved in any manner in identifying or assisting an apparel or equipment manufacturer or distributor in determining whether a prospect is to receive any apparel or equipment items).

“I realize that my answer caused some confusion and the coaches were not asking about their own involvement in this scenario, and instead simply whether this could happen.”

Under NCAA regulation 12.1.1.4.10, junior golfers can receive free equipment directly from a manufacturer. (Once they become a student-athlete, all such equipment received must be funneled through the institution.)

It turned out to be a case of all’s well that ends well. Credit Jones for coming back in a timely manner to set the record straight.

The good news: An effort is being made for better communication between the NCAA, the USGA and college golf coaches. Each year for the past few years, representatives from the USGA, NCAA, GCAA and the NCAA Golf Committee have met to discuss various issues and find ways to work together to solve problems.

The USGA, the GCAA and the golf committee relate directly to one sport. NCAA rules, however, are not sport-specific. They encompass the overall scope of college athletics and often appear to be weighted toward major sports such as football and basketball.

Therefore, the relationship between these organizations is not perfect, and probably never will be.

But at least it appears they are working on it.

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