The History Behind the Debate Over Paying NCAA Athletes


The Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program held a conversation May 1 in Washington, DC titled “Future of College Sports: Reimagining Athlete Pay.” The discussion was livestreamed at The Aspen Institute discussion explored the implications if NCAA athletes could be paid by outside entities for use of their names, images, and likenesses, like any college student.

While speaking at the Aspen Institute in 2016, NCAA president Mark Emmert raised concerns that University of Texas swimmer Joseph Schooling had recently received a $740,000 bonus from Singapore for winning a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics. Schooling didn’t just win gold; he was Singapore’s first Olympic gold medalist and beat the great Michael Phelps.

This payment was perfectly permissible under NCAA rules, which since 2001 have allowed US Olympians to compete in college while pocketing tens of thousands of dollars (and sometimes six figures) from the United States Olympic Committee for winning gold, silver, or bronze. The NCAA added an exception in 2015 to also allow international athletes to receive bonuses.

Still, a college swimmer making nearly three-quarters of a million dollars concerned some NCAA members because, Emmert said, “that’s a little different than 15 grand for the silver medal for the US of A. … The members at that time hadn’t anticipated this phenomenon of like the Singaporean kid getting paid a very large amount.”

Never mind that NCAA rules allow two-sport athletes to be paid professionals in one sport while competing in a different college sport, such as Kyle Parker’s $1.4 million baseball signing bonus while serving as Clemson’s quarterback in 2010. Or that tennis players can receive up to $10,000 per year in prize money (and additional cash on a per-event basis) before or during college. Or that college football players can receive bowl gifts up to $550 in value, which can involve players selecting high-tech electronics from a gift suite or receiving a Visa gift card. Or that schools have student-assistance funds to help athletes financially, including paying five-figure insurance policies for elite athletes who want to protect their professional futures. [read more]


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