Will off-season aid give big schools an edge?
With the amateur season approaching, a new wrinkle in the NCAA Amateur Code that now permits universities to reimburse players who participate in their national championships could become a hot topic in coming months. Under this rule, the NCAA will allow a university to cover such expenses as hotel, airfare, meals and mileage for golfers who are playing their national championship -- for instance, in the U.S., a university could pay “reasonable expenses” for a player to compete in the men’s and women’s U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur Public Links and U.S. Amateur, according to a memo released by the National Golf Coaches Association, which represents women’s coaches.
For years, many international golf federations paid for student-athletes to compete in their national championships abroad, while American students paid their own way. Now, a school simply must send an email to Bernie Loehr, the USGA’s director of amateur status and Rules of Golf, with the following information: the player’s name; name of the USGA competition; list of anticipated expenses to be reimbursed. (The school then must contact the compliance department.)
“We’re trying to create a more level playing field,” said Kelley Hester, the head women’s coach at Georgia. “It’s just a way for the schools to help out the kids.”
Not every college coach views the rule so idealistically, however. One coach said this is yet another way for the top-25 programs to create an unfair advantage in terms of exposure and recruiting.
“For the top-25 teams, this is great. But for the teams that are top 225, either you don’t have the means to pay for it or the players can’t qualify for the competitions,” said Katie Brophy, head women’s coach at Georgetown, which is No. 140 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
Brophy, however, was quick to caution that, “this is all from where I’m standing in my career, at a mid-major university. If we were a top-25 program, I would definitely look at this differently. You want to help the student-athletes any way you can. I oppose it because we don’t have the means.”
Added South Florida men’s coach Chris Malloy: “Assuming everything is equal and one school can afford it and one school can’t, that’s not really fair, is it?”
Chattanooga coach Mark Guhne estimated that it cost about $2,000 to fly and stay a week in Wisconsin last year as he caddied for one of his players at the U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills. Aside from budgeting at the beginning of the year -- a tricky proposition, Hester said, because a coach cannot predict how many players will qualify -- there are other ways for a coach to benefit from this new rule. Guhne said he likely would use any extra money (miscellaneous) in the budget, start a fundraiser or ask a donor.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” Guhne said of the new rule. “I’ve got a couple of kids on my team who are a little bit hesitant to qualify for the U.S. Amateur because of the burden it would place on his family to go to the tournament. It helps those families a lot. If we can help out that little bit, I don’t have a problem with it -- and that’s coming from a mid-major coach who doesn’t have the budget.
“We’ll always be at a disadvantage because of money, but I don’t have a problem with it because if one of my kids qualifies for the U.S. Amateur or U.S. Open, it gives our school so much exposure that it helps recruiting-wise and with our donors. It does more good for me.”
Ultimately, Guhne said, “It’s not going to be a deal-breaker when it comes down to the kid picking which school (to attend).”