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Auerbach: World Athletics’ new Olympic prize money rule is an opportunity for the NCAA to right a wrong

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Auerbach: World Athletics' new Olympic prize money rule is an opportunity for the NCAA to right a wrong

The latest dent in the NCAA’s founding principle of amateurism came from an unlikely place: Monaco.

Gold medalists in athletics will become the first athletes to earn international prize money at the Olympic Games, the sport’s international governing body said on Wednesday. Each gold medalist receives $50,000 for individual wins. World Athletics, which governs track and field from its headquarters in Monaco, also promised to award prize money to silver and bronze medalists at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

“It’s important that we start somewhere and ensure that some of the revenue our athletes generate at the Olympic Games goes directly back to those who make the Games the global spectacle that they are,” World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said in a statement. a statement.

What is not yet clear is whether current college athletes will be allowed to receive that prize money. In what feels like a relic from college sports’ outdated past, the NCAA currently bans athletes from accepting prize money at events like the U.S. Open in tennis or golf. The NCAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on World Athletics’ announcement.

While the NCAA does allow money to be paid to college Olympic athletes under its Operation Gold program, this rule clearly states that the money must come from the sport’s governing body for the athlete’s sport in his or her home country. They can accept money paid by their national governing body and by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee; the USOPC currently awards $37,500 for each gold medalist, $22,500 for each silver medalist and $15,000 for each bronze medalist.

In that one very specific environment, college athletes can get paid to play their sport – and maintain their NCAA eligibility. They can’t do that in almost any other environment.

It’s long past the time when the NCAA allows its athletes to collect their hard-earned prize money regardless of which governing body hands it out. That should include World Athletics, which pays its prize money from the revenue it receives from the International Olympic Committee. That should also include individual professional sports organizations such as the USTA or USGA, allowing collegiate tennis players and golfers to earn prize money while maintaining collegiate eligibility.

Such circumstances are at the heart of a lawsuit filed by University of North Carolina tennis player Reese Brantmeier, who claims that she and other athletes like her deserve to keep the prize money they earn by participating in and winning tournaments. to win. At this point, they can only save enough to cover their expenses.

Meanwhile… these athletes see Caitlin Clark appearing in national television commercials and quarterbacks selling headphones through lucrative name, image and likeness (NIL) deals while maintaining their NCAA eligibility.

“I can’t think of any other situation where an organization can have a draconian quid pro quo where you’re prohibited from accepting money that you’ve earned through your own sweat,” UNC head tennis coach Tyler Thomson said. The Athletics last month when Brantmeier filed her lawsuit. “I just think it’s really wrong, and especially in the NIL era.”

That point is even more poignant in an era of zero, characterized by pseudo-salaries paid by booster-backed collectives. These NIL deals essentially allow donors to pay athletes to play at a specific school — a nonsensical solution in a status quo where schools and conferences cannot pay athletes directly. The argument that a tennis player accepting prize money is too closely tied to pay-per-play makes much less sense when compared to what happens in sports like football and men’s basketball.


UNC tennis player Reese Brantmeier has sued the NCAA for not allowing college athletes to accept prize money and maintain their eligibility. (Preston Mack/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The current system may not be what it is for much longer, as a litany of lawsuits continues to undermine the NCAA’s long-standing legal arguments defending its version of amateurism. In the meantime, the organization and all college athletes are stuck in something of a gray area, as rules that might once have made sense remain unchallenged until the spotlight shines squarely on them.

That light has shed light on the NCAA’s hypocritical stance on prize money. It is blindingly bright against the backdrop of multi-million dollar NIL deals and recruitment inducements that should not be inducements. It’s wild to think that college sports’ governing body could force tennis players to turn pro instead of allowing them to go to class and compete collegiately while accepting prize money at various events. Or that the NCAA could ban a collegiate sprinter who beats the fastest in the world from accepting money from World Athletics simply because it doesn’t go through the USOPC.

All these draconian rules do is encourage elite athletes to leave campus sooner than they would like. That’s not what the NCAA should ever do, intentionally or not.

So here’s a chance to right a wrong. Here is a chance for a common sense victory, amid several losses in court. Allow college athletes to keep their prize money – as well as their eligibility.

(Top photo of Athing Mu, who left Texas A&M to turn pro just before the 2021 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, celebrating her gold medal in the women’s 800 meters at the Tokyo Olympics: Jewel Samad / AFP via Getty Images)