NCAA athletes, including golfers, allowed to profit from likeness after vote

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When California governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 206 into law last month, he called the decision the “beginning of a national movement.”

“I don’t want to say this is checkmate, but this is a major problem for the NCAA,” Newsom said. “It’s going to initiate dozens of other states to introduce similar legislation, and it’s going to change college sports for the better.”

On Tuesday, as more states continue to move forward with similar legislation, the NCAA finally got on board. In an unprecedented move, the NCAA’s top governing board voted unanimously to allow student-athletes to benefit from and be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness.

While details were unclear, the NCAA indicated that it would modernize its rules on amateurism by January 2021, and has asked each of its three divisions to immediately consider updates to its policies and bylaws.

“As a national governing body, the NCAA is uniquely positioned to modify its rules to ensure fairness and a level playing field for student-athletes,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement Tuesday. “The board’s action today creates a path to enhance opportunities for student-athletes while ensuring they compete against students and not professionals.”

Emmert was initially opposed to the idea of compensating players, even threatening to ban California schools from NCAA competition if the Fair Pay to Play Act passed. But the NCAA’s stance soon began to soften, and Newsom’s signing of the bill into law beginning in 2023 – along with advancements made by other states, including Illinois, New York and Florida – forced the NCAA’s hand.

Tuesday’s decision likely comes in an effort to avoid confusion and create a uniform policy across the country.

“We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes,” said board chairman Michael Drake, also the president of Ohio State. “Additional flexibility in this area can and must continue to support college sports as a part of higher education. This modernization for the future is a natural extension of the numerous steps NCAA members have taken in recent years to improve support for student-athletes, including full cost of attendance and guaranteed scholarships.”

In a press release, the governing body listed a few principles and guidelines that it wants to abide by as it continues to iron out details and gather feedback, a process that is expected to run through April:

• Assure student-athletes are treated similarly to non-athlete students unless a compelling reason exists to differentiate.

• Maintain the priorities of education and the collegiate experience to provide opportunities for student-athlete success.

• Reaffirm that student-athletes are students first and not employees of the university.

• Protect the recruiting environment and prohibit inducements to select, remain at, or transfer to a specific institution.

While player compensation is expected to greatly affect college football and basketball, golf will also be impacted. Assuming the NCAA’s new policy falls in line with SB 206, college golfers would be allowed to sign endorsement deals with equipment, apparel and other companies, as long as those agreements didn’t conflict with that of the university. They’d also be able to sign with agents, and be paid for any golf-related employment opportunities, including golf clinics and private instruction.

The only hurdle – and it’s a big one – involves the amateur rules of the USGA and R&A, which state that “an amateur golfer of golf skill or reputation must not use that skill or reputation to obtain payment, compensation, personal benefit or any financial gain, directly or indirectly, for (i) promoting, advertising or selling anything, or (ii) allowing his name or likeness to be used by a third party for the promotion, advertisement or sale of anything.”

GolfChannel.com reached out to the USGA for a request for comment, but has yet to hear back. The governing body commented on SB 206 last month, saying in a 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.”