NCAA's surprising decision leaves many questions about what it means for amateur golf

NCAA

NCAA's surprising decision leaves many questions about what it means for amateur golf

College

NCAA's surprising decision leaves many questions about what it means for amateur golf

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Back in September, news out of California stirred up a college athletics debate across the country.

When California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that will make it easier for college athletes in the Golden State to profit from their name, image and likeness, it wasn’t simply a matter of opening the door for students to make some extra cash. The problem with the new law is that the concept has always been a big no-no for student-athletes under the NCAA umbrella.

Surely the NCAA and its army of legal representatives would never agree to this, right?

Wrong. The NCAA’s policy makers voted “unanimously to permit students participating in athletics the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.” 

We all should be careful here because the NCAA release did not provide much detail. The NCAA used the word “benefit,” but what does that actually mean? It’s doubtful college athletes will be allowed to wear school uniforms or be linked to their school in any way when benefiting or profiting from their name, image or likeness.

The NCAA also announced these rule changes would be put in place no later than January 2021. That means we have a full year to learn more about how lenient the NCAA will be with this concept. There are other things to consider when talking about how a college golfer could benefit, too.

“It all hinges on how the USGA and R&A respond,” Oklahoma State coach Alan Bratton said. “This name, image and likeness, I would expect, will jeopardize a collegiate golfer’s amateur status in their eyes. If they don’t change their definition of an amateur, then this is a moot point for college golf.”


Forward Press podcast: Host David Dusek and college golf insider Lance Ringler take a deep dive into the NCAA’s decision and what it could mean for the future of college golf.


The USGA and R&A have guidelines in place that go against what will soon be permissible by the NCAA. In other words, golf’s governing bodies likely would deem any player who benefits from the sport to no longer be an amateur. Those governing bodies do allow golfers to receive free equipment and such, but they certainly can’t be paid for endorsing those products – or anything else, for that matter – because of their relationship with the sport.

Will those rules apply to NCAA golf? Could a player be ineligible to compete in the Masters yet still be eligible to compete in the Western Intercollegiate?

“I guess you could see golfers choose to earn money on their name, image and likeness, while choosing to play collegiately from the months of September to June, then choose to not play the summer amateur circuit,” said Virginia coach Bowen Sargent. “But I think that would be for a select few athletes who stand to earn a substantial, life-changing amount of money.

 “The other more likely or probable scenario would be a senior who might take advantage of the rule knowing he’s turning pro after NCAAs.”

At this point, we know little about how the USGA will react. A statement released Oct. 29 after the NCAA’s vote did little to clarify the matter. 

NCAA golf

“We have been reviewing these same issues for some time,” Thomas Pagel, the USGA senior managing director of governance, said in a statement. “It’s clear that this topic has the potential to impact many amateur sports, including golf. It will continue to be a primary area of discussion as we review the Rules to reflect the modern game, while still staying true to the spirit behind what it means to be an amateur golfer.”

It’s doubtful the USGA would change its view of an amateur golfer. But then again, I don’t think many people expected the NCAA to do what it did.

The question remains: What do student-athlete benefits look like in college golf? 

Critics don’t see how this will dip down into a non-revenue sport like golf. Oh, but it could – maybe not to the tune of life-changing money, but certainly enough to pad a college kid’s bank account.

In fact, golf may be the one non-revenue sport in which this change could go a little deeper than most think. A lot of decision-makers play golf. A lot of boosters play golf. A lot of boosters who are prominent business owners play golf.

“I have known a lot of people or boosters who are not always looking for something in return, they are just looking to help our program provide for the student-athletes,” said New Mexico coach Glen Millican.

He’s not wrong. Every staff member in a college athletic department probably knows a booster who fits that description, and now those types of supporters can directly help student-athletes.

That person, for example, may own a local car dealership and want to have a Saturday afternoon fun day on the car lot. To drum up business, he or she pays a local college golfer to hit some chip shots on a green set up in the showroom. Or how about this: That dealer decides to give the player a car to drive around town for the year.

How about a player who is planning to play professionally holding a golf outing to raise money during his or her final year of college golf?

What about a local course paying female college golfers to attend the weekly Thursday night ladies’ clinic to give swing tips to boost attendance?

Today that’s a violation, but it probably wouldn’t be when the NCAA’s new rules kick in.

Think back to Matt Kuchar’s career at Georgia Tech or Ryan Moore’s time at UNLV. More recently, Oklahoma State’s Matthew Wolff is a great example. Each could have benefited nicely in his final year of college golf.

Where could this new rule have the most traction? For incoming athletes who have a significant following on social media accounts such as Instagram and Tik Tok, and thus a valuable reach. Just last year USC’s Muni He had north of 100,000 followers on Instagram and likely could demand a decent amount of money from a company wanting to reach that audience. 

The single biggest concern with the NCAA’s new rules could be in relation to recruiting.

“That’s going to be one of the biggest challenges in coming up with real bylaws,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement.

At the end of the day, California’s new law and the NCAA’s subsequent discussions to explore compensation options for student-athletes certainly have created buzz. They also leave many unanswered questions and a year to get it figured out.

This story originally appeared in the October issue of Golfweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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