Steve Berkowitz and Dan Wolken report on the NCAA caving in rather spectacular fashion to California’s fair pay act, voting “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.”
But this was eye-opening given that California’s bill zeroed in on 2023 as the likely start date for such a move.
The statement about the board action did not provide specifics, but said changes to NCAA rules in each of the three divisions could occur immediately, as long as they occur within principles and guidelines that include:
• Assuring student-athletes are treated similarly to non-athlete students unless a compelling reason exists to differentiate.
• Maintaining the priorities of education and the collegiate experience to provide opportunities for student-athlete success.
• Ensuring rules are transparent, focused and enforceable and facilitate fair and balanced competition.
• Making clear the distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities.
• Making clear that compensation for athletics performance or participation is impermissible.
• Reaffirming that student-athletes are students first and not employees of the university.
This would naturally open the door to golf manufacturers to sign players to deals that they already have informal arrangements with to provide equipment. Which, in theory, would be the end of the elite amateur game including top college golfers.
The USGA is monitoring the situation. A statement from Thomas Pagel, Sr. Managing Director, Governance:
“We have been reviewing these same issues for some time, 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.”
Given the erosion there of amateurism since players could start receiving free equipment and dress like corporate billboards, there may be sympathy for those receiving endorsement income. Ruling them ineligible for prominent amateur events may get chippy!
However, given that golfers like Tony Romo and Lucy Li retained their status even after clearly endorsing products on the back of their golf ability, perhaps some clever lawyer will find a way to maintain the distinction between pro and amateur golfers. But right now, I’m struggling to see how that will work.