I don't think it is being used the same.
I thinks ads are ads, and affiliate links are different.
But I know many who see zero difference, and they even call them publishers / advertisers (versus affiliates / merchants).
I think if you find and link to comm based relevant products, that's one thing.
And if you are paid to show an ad, or for ad clicks, that's another.
Your question though, best fit for college sports forum, isn't going to have a single answer, it depends on the precise nature of your site and its traffic.
So test, test, test.
On the affiliate side...
Try GoldenCan [goldencan.com
Check out Fanatics affiliate program [fanatics.com
...] (I prefer SAS, but Avantlink is also outstanding).
Specific sports (biking, camping, etc) will have an array of good ad bad merchants, head to Affiliate Summit conference and start making connections. [affiliatesummit.com
Disclosure: I'm on Summit advisory board, so I'm super dooper double-dog biased in favor of their outstanding conference!