Column by John Lohn, Swimming World senior writer
BASKING RIDGE, New Jersey, October 24. MOST teenagers are not fortunate enough to walk around with a wad of cash stuffed into their pockets. In many cases, they're thrilled to have a little spending money, just a few bucks to head out with some friends. Of course, depending on family situations, some teens will have more than others.
We all know that Missy Franklin is the next star in the sport, a tag she has earned through her eye-opening performances. Her latest big-time exploit, a world record in the 200 backstroke at the Berlin stop on the World Cup circuit, would have been worth $10,000. Franklin, however, will not see that money, due to her decision to maintain her amateur status and, simultaneously, her collegiate eligibility.
Franklin is only a junior in high school, but her status as a rising star and potential Olympic heroine makes for an interesting scenario. On one hand, if she maintains her amateurism, Franklin will have the opportunity to compete at the NCAA level, something she has indicated is very much a desire. The bubbly Franklin is not just a superior talent, but also maintains a team-first mentality. It's no wonder her teammates at the World Championships spoke so highly of her infectious, fun-spirited approach.
Although swimming is an individual sport for the most part, there is something special about the NCAA Championships and athletes coming together to achieve a unified goal. The atmosphere at NCAAs is always feverish and the race for the team title makes for three nights of exciting racing. More, athletes typically speak highly about the five relay races and the chance to work with teammates for those all-important double points.
"Being on the U.S. team for the World Champs and my teams in Colorado, I love it so much," Franklin said in Shanghai. "It's great to support your teammates and have them cheering for you. That's definitely something I want to experience at the NCAA level. Being part of a team means a lot to me.""
On the opposite side of the spectrum is the chance to turn professional, decisions that were made by Michael Phelps and Katie Hoff, just to name two elite performers. With their stock high as teenagers, both Phelps and Hoff decided to capitalize on their standing and take advantage of a financial opportunity. While the careers of both have been impressive – especially Phelps, the greatest swimmer in history – there were no guarantees when they decided to go pro. They struck when they felt the time was right, at the same time making the choice to sacrifice collegiate careers.
Last year, Franklin topped the points race of the United States Grand Prix circuit, but forfeited the top prize of $20,000. She's currently the No. 1-ranked performer on the FINA World Cup Tour and could have placed herself in position for another big payday if not for protecting her amateur status. Could Franklin's talent be worth a few hundred thousand dollars during the next few years? Could it be worth millions, given endorsement opportunities? Maybe.
A full scholarship to one of the top swimming schools in the nation could be worth up to $200,000, so there are definitely two forces pushing against one another. But, how do you calculate the worth of tight-knit friendships and once-in-a-lifetime experiences, such as those Franklin anticipates once she arrives at a college – and makes a head coach incredibly happy?
One day- but don't hold your breath – the NCAA might pay athletes, or allow them to collect from other arenas while in college. If that happens, this issue surrounding Franklin becomes easier to sort out. Until then, there is no right or wrong answer to this equation. No one but the Franklin family can make a determination, and whatever they decide is what was proper for mom, dad and Missy. For now, the decision has been made to retain her amateurism. Perhaps in the future, say if Franklin has a highly successful Olympics, turning pro will be the move of choice.
Whatever shakes out, though, it makes for an interesting story.