An about face from the NCAA might keep the association from a protracted legal fight with the California state legislature—and potentially change the economics of college sports, golf included, in the process. It could also create new wrinkles with other golf rules around amateur status.
On Tuesday, the NCAA Board of Governors announced it had voted unanimously to allow student-athletes to benefit from the use of their names, images and likeness “consistent with the collegiate model.” How it goes about threading that needle is unclear—and will no doubt be a messy endeavor in the coming months—but for the first time the NCAA is acknowledging the potential for student-athletes to receive money while maintaining their college eligibility.
“We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes,” said Michael V. Drake, chairman of the NCAA Board of Governors and president of Ohio State. “Additional flexibility in this area can and must continue to support college sports as a part of higher education.”
The action was prompted by California’s passage of the Fair Pay to Play Act (SB-206), set to go into effect in 2023, that permitted state colleges and universities to allow student-athletes to profit from the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL), despite NCAA prohibitions of such action. Other state legislatures announced they, too, were considering similar legislation, and members of Congress hinted potential action on a national basis.
In the wake of SB-206’s passage, officials familiar with the world of college golf said they did not think the legislation would lead to a bevy of college golfers receiving five- or six-figure endorsements from national brands. Where college golfers might likely be able to profit, though, would be from compensation for participating in summer golf clinics or small deals with golf equipment and apparel manufacturers.
The bigger issue for college golfers that could arise from the NCAA’s new mandate is whether taking advantage of the forthcoming opportunities might run afoul with the USGA and R&A's rules of amateurism.
Both governing bodies prohibit amateur golfers from receiving payment or compensation directly or indirectly, for promoting or selling anything based off their golf skill or reputation. The rules also keep amateur golfers from using their name or likeness for promotion, advertising or sale of anything, even if no payment or compensation is provided. Violation of these rules are grounds for golfers to lose their amateur status.
USGA officials were cautious when asked to interpret the potential impact of the new bill when it was passed earlier this month, issuing the following statement:
“While we’re watching what is happening in California and various states, it’s simply too premature to contemplate all the ways this might affect the golf community in the future. We’re thankful for the working relationship we share with the NCAA and the ability to continue an open dialogue through this process.”