The Loop

The Loop

Golf's new amateur rules conflict with NCAA

October 25, 2011

After reading Bylaw 12.3 in the 2011-12 NCAA Division I Manual a couple of times in the last 24 hours, it's seems clear there is no gray area regarding student-athletes and agents, no logical (or even illogical) way to find a loophole that would allow an amateur golfer enrolled at a U.S. college to take advantage of the change in the Rules of Amateur Status (RAS) that the USGA and R&A jointly announced yesterday and not be in violation of NCAA rules.

In a move that surprised some purists but appeared to be a nod to the current realities facing elite amateur golfers, the game's two governing bodies changed Rule 2-2 of the RAS, effective Jan. 1, 2012, to allow amateurs to enter into a contract and/or an agreement with a third party—which can include a professional agent or sponsor—solely in relation to the golfer's future as a professional, provided the golfer does not obtain any financial gain, directly or indirectly, while still an amateur. This was accompanied by a similar allowance to amateurs to sign contracts with national golf unions and associations.

However, NCAA Bylaw 12.3, titled "Use of Agents," states the following:

12.3.1  General Rule. An individual shall be ineligible for participation in an intercollegiate sport if he or she ever has agreed (orally or in writing) to be represented by an agent for the purpose of marketing his or her athletics ability or reputation in that sport. Further, an agency contract not specifically limited in writing to a sport or particular sports shall be deemed applicable to all sports, and the individual shall be ineligible to participate in any sport. * Representation for Future Negotiations. An individual shall be ineligible per Bylaw 12.3.1 if he or she enters into a verbal or written agreement with an agent for representation in future professional sports negotiations that are to take place after the individual has completed his or her eligibility in that sport.*

Seems pretty clear, doesn't it?

Just to be certain, though, I contacted Stephen Clar, an associate director of academic and membership affairs with the NCAA, and asked him about the matter. In an email responce, Clar acknowledged that follow the new USGA/R&A rule would jeopardize a student-athlete's eligibility.

This isn't the first time that the Rules of Golf have conflicted with NCAA bylaws. When the USGA/R&A relaxed the restriction on amateurs competing at professional tour qualifying school a few years ago, it created an initial schism with the NCAA and its definition of intent to professionalize.

In the wake of the USGA/R&A latest announcement, several college golf coaches have noted that the GCAA and NGCA national conventions that will coincide in December in Las Vegas suddenly became more interesting as the thorny situation of working within the confines of the conflicting rules begins to be discussed in earnest. Typically during the conventions, an NCAA representative (Clar taking on the task the past few years) has been a speaker to discuss pending NCAA legislation as well as try to answers questions about current rules. Clar is on the agenda to speak at both conventions this year and will no doubt be asked very specifically about how coaches can and should proceed given the USGA/R&A rule change.

The interesting thing here is that while coaches are likely going to be aggressive in their questioning of Clar, the NCAA would seem to be on rock-solid footing here. All you hear about these days is how college athletics is rotting at its core, in large part because of the influences of boosters and ... wait for it ... agents. How then in good conscience could the NCAA give any ground in the slightest on this front?

Golf coaches have a right to be upset that they now will likely need to use even more caution during the recruiting process to be sure they understand a prospective student-athletes' future intentions. Coaches alrady have enough variables they need to be aware of before without adding the confusing alternative of a 18-year-old saying he/she will remain an amateur but sign with a agent rather than attend college.

But this is not the NCAA's doing here. It's the USGA/R&A's for relaxing their own ruling.

I say this while not trying to be overly critical of the USGA/R&A. It's not the job of officials at these two associations to have their rules be in lock-step with NCAA protocol. It's there job to oversee the well being of golf. Perhaps you can make the argument that they're failing in that regard by allowing amateurs to get so intimately involved with professional agents. The reality of the situation, however, was that many elite golfers were already having discussions with agents, outside the view of the public and sans the signed contract. The new RAS rule at least tries to keep such practices from becoming too shady by keeping them in the open to help attempt to control them.

According to officials I've spoken to, the RAS rule change was something proposed and pursued by the R&A in an attempt to offer young amateurs golfers outside the United States (and thus less likely to enroll in American colleges and use the college golf to developing their games while remaining amateurs) some incentive to keep from turning professional too soon in their careers and without the right guidance that could help them make the transition more successfully. It might not have been what USGA officials desired, but to be a good partner they went along with it.

And now, college coaches must deal with the consequences.