California Bill Lands Golfers in Trouble

Bill Allowing Pay to Amateurs Passes California Senate

I have always felt a little stuck in the middle when it comes to the amateur collegiate athlete. Contrary to some pockets of popular opinion, they don’t all come from families that are wealthy. In many cases, they attend expensive institutions that are not well-covered by athletic scholarships. A lot of them are living on the edge, and I’m  sorry that they do.  On the other hand, I have never wanted to see the big business of college sports mirror professional sports. However,  California has blurred the line with upcoming legislation that allows players to profit from their likeness and other liberties to help defray expenses.

I am from the “Remember when you used your uncle’s clubs in that tournament?” generation. I know that such a  quaint time is long gone. Young athletes are smarter about the big picture, because it is so much bigger than it used to be. Now, collegiate golfers are getting caught between two forces. The first is the NCAA, the ironclad ruler of all things ethical in college sports, including California. The opposite force is whatever any legislative body decides to set as policy for its state. Does the NCAA win by fining violators, or are they subject to state law wherever they go? The NCAA is a national body, but not a true federal one. It isn’t just the case of a Supreme Court imposing a federal law over state law.

At stake is amateur status, the loss of which knocks a player out of intercollegiate and national tournaments. The university system of California alone stands to be fined somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 million if the Senate goes ahead with it. The bill goes before an Assembly Meeting this week. Of course, the problem extends to every athletic pursuit, and involves beaucoup bucks, For our purposes, the entire collegiate golf structure is coming to a fork in the road, and no one knows how it will go.

In general, amateur sports fans don’t want to see student players under a full salary negotiated by contract. Of course, college sports are much more steeped in big business than most would want to admit. To the old school type, that invites corruption we have seen in the pros, but that’s not to say corruption doesn’t happen already.

However, even for this traditionalist, it must be deflating to see administrators, universities, and corporations financially benefit from a player’s photograph or video. At the same time, he or she remains the only person who cannot. It holds true through the Olympics.  I have to wonder how many minutes it took for Mary Lou Retton to turn pro in order to land her on a Wheaties Box. Stanford and the University of Southern California are against the bill, while various player representation groups favor it. However, enough of California must see the difficulties of surviving as a non-wealthy athlete, often risking injury to hunt for a pro career.

The ban against profiting from one’s own likeness is troubling on another level for me. I don’t have to be a corporation to steal your thunder, and a few bucks while riding on your back. All I need is a comfortable spot behind the 16th tee and an excellent camera, plus a great zoom lens.  As a golf course paparazzi, I can take your image and sell it to anyone in the world who will pay for it, but you certainly cannot, being required to keep yourself athletically pure. Considering this, I think California might have a good point. Still, I can’t imagine that the old scaly dragons of the NCAA will bend an inch for it. The way of the amateur, to them, means much the same as it did in the days of Bobby Jones, when amateurism really existed.

A lot of the rules put forward by the NCAA over the years have served to level the playing field in recruiting, practice, and performance. Safety rules protect the players’ health. The only thing they cannot protect is a player keeping his or her head above water while in school. That is a new modern reality that requires some alteration in policy.  So come on, put Aron Wise or Alexa Pano on the Wheaties box, and let’s all relax. As for California versus the NCAA, it could be the best showdown of the year.

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