Updated: Aug 29
Two-time NBA Champion J.R. Smith is finally headed to college – but as a golfer for the North Carolina A&T Aggies (Often referred to as A&T or NCAT). As reported by a Greensboro, NC CBS-affiliate, ESPN, and CBS Sports, the NBA vet and twitter meme sensation has confirmed he is enrolled at A&T for the fall semester and intends join the golf team.
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University is a Division-I, historically black university (HBCU) located in Greensboro, NC, and competes in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, although their programs are in the process of completing a move to the Big South Conference. NCAT athletics sport notable athletic alumni such as Chicago Bears running back, Tarik Cohen and NCAA-champion and Olympic medalist Randolph Ross, Jr.
Smith was drafted to the NBA straight out of high school in 2004, and is a 16-year NBA vet, with a short stint overseas playing basketball professionally in China. Smith first golfed competitively at a Moses Malone’s charity event in 2009 and reportedly plays at a handicap of 5, according to PGATour.com. A&T’s head men’s and women’s golf coach, Richard Watkins, says Smith stands to be a competitive contributor to the men’s team, pending the NCAA sorting out his eligibility.
With college athletics in a state of flux from changes to Name, Image, and Likeness deals, could Smith, like other college golfers, earn endorsements or sponsorships related to NIL? Golfing associations and governing bodies are still grappling with the chaos and fallout from the recent NIL bonanza, but in the midst of this game of hot potato, it appears as though collegiate golfers will get the all-clear, as many NCAA athletes have already. Unlike other sports such as basketball or football, the nature of college golfers’ competitions have caused collegiate golfers to question if NIL rules will allow them to compete in non-NCAA competitions while enrolled and competing on a college team. While it appears as though college golfers will be able to compete in non-NCAA competitions and sign endorsement deals, they will still be prohibited from providing one-on-one, in-person, live instruction in return for compensation.
With golfers standing to earn from NIL compensation, Smith seems like the prime candidate pending the certification of his amateur status as a golfer. NCAA’s amateurism standards hinge on key factors such as, if a player has been represented by a professional sports agent, if they have received money in return for participation with a sports club, or if they have received money to offset athletic training expenses. Obviously Smith has done all the above- however, NCAA rules allow for athletes to retain amateur status while being a “professional” in another sport. Additionally, NCAA rules do not explicitly ban former pro athletes from returning to college as amateurs in a sport they have not competed in professionally – that would imply that the former Cavs and Lakers star is in the clear. In the past, the NCAA has allowed athletes to turn pro in one sport, while remaining amateurs in others – recently of note, Kyler Murray, who was drafted and signed by the Oakland A’s while remaining a starting quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners. The best example of precedent for Smith may be Chris Weinke’s 6-year stint as a pro baseball player in the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system before enrolling in college and subsequently winning a national championship and Heisman trophy as a quarterback for the Florida State Seminoles. Weinke was 25 when he enrolled at Florida State and won the Heisman as a 28 year-old.
JR Smith’s enrollment into the largest public HBCU in the nation serves as a potential boon for historically black colleges, as well as the collegiate golfing world, though he certainly would not be the first collegiate golfer to ink a noteworthy deal. Golfers in several states have already signed NIL agreements including Bryant University-commit Cael Kohan, who has signed a deal with Barstool Sports, and All-ACC, Freshman All-American, golfer from Florida State, Brett Roberts, who has signed an ambassador deal with his hometown prep school, Xceed Preparatory Academy. With college NIL compensation in a state of flux, it remains to be seen what types of deals JR Smith could bring in.
That said, with JR's platform, popularity and unique story, it is hard to imagine that NIL endorsement offers are not far on the horizon.
O. Patrick Sutton is an NFL Agent. You can contact him on Twitter (@SuttonImpaQt), Instagram (@Agent00Sutton) or via email [email protected]