J.R. Smith never played college basketball. He jumped straight from high school to the NBA. Now that his NBA career is over, he’s making an effort to get a college degree. Smith will be attending North Carolina A&T — the largest HBCU in the nation, with just over 12,700 students — which consistently ranks as one of the top HBCUs in the nation. While studying there, Smith hopes to join the university’s golf team.
However some questions still remain for Smith. The biggest being, “Does Smith, 36 in September, still have any eligibility for college athletics?” The answer is yes. Being drafted out of high school, Smith still has all his eligibility time available. But there is a question centered around the principle of amateurism.
In order for any athlete competing at a DI or DII level to be eligible to compete, he or she must acquire a final amateurism certification. While the recent NIL changes to college sports mitigate some of the requirements for the amateurism certification, such as promotion of products, Smith has still broken several other rules defined by the NCAA that determine an athlete’s amateur status.
For one, Smith has been represented by a professional agent in the past. He has also received compensation based on performance during his time in the NBA. Additionally, he’s received funds to offset training regimen expenses. And yes, none of these have anything to do with J.R. Smith’s golfing career, but they are all against the NCAA’s amateurism requirements, regardless of what sport they were used for. That being said, per ESPN, the NCAA does not prohibit former professional athletes from competing in a sport separate from the one they competed professionally in.
That’s why this Smith case is such an interesting one for the NCAA to ponder. With the new NIL laws in place, Smith’s presence on the North Carolina A&T golf team would undoubtedly do wonders for the program and perhaps even give some of Smith’s teammates a chance to earn endorsements they otherwise would have never been considered for. Also, it would give the NCAA a fantastic opportunity to give an HBCU a chance to really market themselves with an already proven, world class-level athlete.
Smith has competed in charity golf events in the past. His earliest recorded event came at Moses Malone’s charity event in 2009. He’s become an avid golfer since and currently holds a handicap of just five. Five! In his time playing golf, Smith has become close with such golfers as Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, and Keegan Bradley. None of this helps his case for being labeled as an amateur, but since Smith has never earned compensation for playing golf, there isn’t much the NCAA could hold against him. Based on the guidelines set by the NCAA, it seems impossible that they’d be able to prevent Smith from being a part of the Aggies’ golf team, but until the NCAA’s decision is made official, we won’t know for sure.
While Smith’s journey for amateurism may be uncertain, his decision to choose North Carolina A&T will still provide significant benefits. Many HBCU grads can testify that being a part of HBCU culture is like joining another family, and these schools are the top producers of Black talent. It’ll be fun to see Smith embracing that Aggie Pride for years to come.