It's been a late fall tradition that 30 of the nation's top male college golfers have looked forward to for 33 years, but a rule change by the NCAA may make the most recent showcase in November the last.
The NCAA eliminated the board responsible for deciding what college sporting events would be exempt from a rule that limits the number of playing days for student athletes. The El Paso tournament had previously been an exempt event for golfers.
For the golfers, the change means that they may have to choose between the El Paso tournament, a sort of all-star event, and regular-season team events that help their teams earn a shot at the national championship.
'One of my fondest memories as a college player was to be able to play in that tournament,' said Buddy Alexander, the men's golf coach at Florida. 'It's a travesty.'
Alexander was invited to the tournament's inaugural event and has consistently sent players to El Paso to represent the Gators as All-Americans.
To be invited to the Western Refining All-America Golf Classic players must be an All-American or Division II or III national champion. Organizers say that qualification ensures that the tournament is among the premier college golf events.
'Most of the golfers who end up here are going to end up on some kind of tour,' said Bernie Olivas, executive director of the Sun Bowl Association, which runs the tournament. 'They go up against the best.'
The NCAA e-mailed The Associated Press the rationale for the rule change. That document said the change would reduce students' travel and fatigue and lost class time. NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn declined further comment.
Past champions include Tiger Woods, David Duval, and Davis Love III. Tournament alumni have collected nearly $1 billion in winnings on professional tours.
Alexander, despite his fond memories of the tournament, said he would be hard pressed to let one his Gator golfers leave the team behind for the sake of the All-America Classic if the tournament isn't exempt.
'I am not going to give that (playing date) up for my best player,' Alexander said. 'I need to make the NCAA championship. That would be pretty tough for me.'
The tournament could be played during the summer, though Olivas said it may be difficult to attract the same level of talent because of completing Walker Cup events.
Arizona coach Rick LaRose said he hopes NCAA rules officials will see fit to grant the tournament a permanent exemption.
'It's the only individual event there is and it's a chance for these kids to have a reward for being an All-American,' LaRose said.
It's unclear exactly what prompted the rule change.
Olivas said he believes it was an effort to eliminate advantages for schools invited to high-profile events where a competitive advantage can be had. But the in the case of the El Paso tournament, he said, there is no such advantage, because invitations are based on All-American or champion status. And each school that sends a player is given a $1,000 scholarship.
Greg Grost, executive director the Golf Coaches Association of America, said the tournament is a victim of poor decision making.
'It's typical NCAA politics,' Grost said. 'We got thrown under the bus, in my opinion, because of apathy. We hope the Sun Bowl will be given its exemption back. There is no logical reason it shouldn't.'
A final decision is expected to be made sometime next year.
In the mean time, Olivas said he and the Sun Bowl Association will continue lobbying the NCAA for a permanent exemption.
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