AHSAA clarifies Amateur Rule, restores Tuscaloosa County win after food gift card controversy

Published 5:45 pm Wednesday, September 20, 2023

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

MONTGOMERY – The AHSAA Central Board of Control unanimously approved a clarification to its Amateur Rule relating to food gift cards given to student-athletes on Tuesday, Sept. 19 amid a whirlwind of controversy.

As a result, any affected schools who violated the previous rule during the 2023-24 school year had their penalties rescinded.

That includes Tuscaloosa County, which had a Week 2 win over Bessemer City stripped and multiple players lose their amateur status after two players who received Buffalo Wild Wings gift cards from the school to honor their performance in the Wildcats’ Week 1 win over Central-Tuscaloosa played in the Week 2 contest.

The gift cards were never used, however, the AHSAA initially ruled that the gift cards made both of the players professionals and stripped the players of their amateur status. That status was restored to those players earlier this week ahead of this ruling, and following the clarification to the rule, Tuscaloosa County’s win over Bessemer City was restored as well.

The original rule stated that “cash awards or gift cards for athletic performances or participation may not be given or received.” This ruling adjusts the Amateur Rule to exclude food-related gift cards and any returned and unused gift cards from violating the rule.

“I want to thank the Central Board for clarifying the AHSAA Amateur Rule concerning the receipt of food related gift cards by student-athletes,” AHSAA Executive Director Alvin Briggs said. “This clarification clears up any confusion our schools might have relating to gift cards and the Amateur Rule moving forward.”

The decision was made ahead of Tuscaloosa County’s road trip to Oak Mountain to face the Eagles at Heardmont Park on Friday, Sept. 22 in a regional battle. The Wildcats are now 3-1 following the restored win.

The clarification has now been added to the Amateur Rule By-Law, which can be found in the 2023-24 AHSAA Handbook online beginning on page 30. It is also shown below with the changes in bold:

SECTION 8. AMATEUR RULE. Only amateurs are eligible. An amateur is one who does not use his/her knowledge of athletics or athletic skill for gain. Amateur standing shall be further determined by the following standards:

(a) A student is ineligible if he/she has received money as a prize, or has sold a prize received in a contest, or has bet on a contest in which he/she is a participant.

(b) Professionalism is defined as accepting remuneration, directly or indirectly, for playing on athletic teams and in sports activities or for playing under an assumed name.

(c) A student who accepts material or financial inducement from any source is ineligible.

(d) No student shall receive more than actual expenses involved in travel to and from a contest or camp and necessary meals and lodging in the meantime. A student shall not at any time receive any portion of a livelihood for participation in athletics, other than actual expenses for any specific game or camp.

  1. A student cannot accept payment for loss of time or wages while participating in athletics as part of expenses.
  2. Reasonable meals, lodging and transportation may be accepted if such are accepted in service rather than money or some material form.
  3. Students playing on a non-home team which requires boarding away from home by the week, etc., will be looked upon as violating the professional rule if board is not paid by his family.
  4. A team which plans to divide among its members any surplus either during or at close of season shall be considered a professional team.

(e) No award of any kind having a monetary value of more than 250 dollars—other than medals, trophies, plaques or AHSAA championship rings—shall be made to students. Violation of this rule on the part of school officials shall subject the school to suspension for one year. Acceptance of awards exceeding these limitations shall disqualify a student. Cash awards or gift cards for athletic performances or participation may not be given or received.

Note:  Gift cards from food establishments are excluded from this rule.

Note: Gift cards from any entity other than a food establishment if returned unused are excluded from this rule.

(f) A student who has lost his/her amateur standing may be reinstated after the lapse of one high school season, or until reinstated by the Central Board of Control, for the sport in which he/she has become professional provided he/she has not persisted in breaking the amateur rule.