If you assumed Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin and other young medal winners like her had to choose between the cash prizes that go along with Olympic glory and retaining their amateur status ... well, you are wrong. Surprisingly wrong, given how the NCAA treats such things normally, but still wrong.
ESPN.com's Darren Rovell reported earlier this week, as confirmed by a spokeswoman from USA Swimming, that Franklin can stay eligible and still receive $100,000 for each of her two individual gold medals -- money given out by the U.S. Olympic Committee ($25,000) and USA Swimming ($75,000). So she gets $200,000 in direct compensation for succeeding in her sport, and at the same time Franklin -- who is 17, will graduate from high school in 2013 and has said she wants to swim in college -- can maintain her NCAA eligibility.
How is this possible with the NCAA, which watches with hawk-like intensity any extra benefits received by its student-athletes and specifically defines taking money for performance as a reason one would lose his or her amateur status? Well, let's just say a set of rules filled with technicalities is also filled with some loopholes.
Warren Zola, assistant dean of graduate programs for the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, notes the reason on his Sports Law Blog. "Tucked into page 64 of this 426 page [NCAA] manual are two rules that are now critically important to a slew of Olympic athletes as they carve out exceptions." The biggest one is the rule that allows "current or prospective student athletes" to accept "funds that are administered by the U.S. Olympic Committee pursuant to its Operation Gold program."
While going after a medal for one's country is a noble pursuit, doesn't this seem to be somewhat of a double standard? After all, a talented 17-year-old basketball player certainly couldn't earn $200,000 playing professionally in Europe and then expect to have NCAA eligibility. In a sense, though, that's what Franklin did.
There are some restrictions on what Franklin can accept. Rovell reported she can't take, for instance, a $50,000 bonus for setting a world record and she cannot receive any endorsement money. Still, the fact that she can profit from her sport and remain NCAA-eligible is puzzling.