NCAA Revolution Ahoy As Board Clears Way For College Athletes To Profit From Sporting Success

Katie Ledecky - Stanford - Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

NCAA Revolution Ahoy

The NCAA today cleared the way for college athletes to begin profiting from their sports careers and any profile built from their success and fame.

In a landmark decision that will dramatically alter college sports and its economics, and with them one of the bedrocks of the greatest success stories in sports history – the dominance of the USA in swimming – the NCAA’s governing board directed its three divisions to immediately consider changing the rules governing benefits for athletes.

Changes must be made by no later than January 2021, the board stated.

The move coincides with growing pressure from legislators: last month, California passed a law requiring schools in the state to allow college athletes to earn endorsement money.


Katie Ledecky – Stanford Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The shift in policy is massive for sport in the USA. Now begins the test and art of building success in a world that does allow a 16-year-old, as Katie Ledecky was when she claimed Olympic gold for the first time, over 800m freestyle at London 2012, to earn a living and store for the future. Perhaps, even pay the coach a bonus – and so on and so forth.

In a concession the NCAA had long resisted, Michael Drake, chair of the board and president of Ohio State University, told the Wall Street Journal:

“We must embrace change.”

Cue the flight of mortarboards of the sporting graduate high in the air in celebration, not to mention the bank managers of the parents who help fund them too.

While Joe Schooling, US-based hero of Singapore, managed to bypass rules, to some extent, that would not technically have let him access the earnings he drew with his Olympic victory over 100m butterfly at Rio 2016, many athletes down the years, particularly Americans, had little choice but to accept the lot of the amateur athlete during their college careers.

In return, of course, they received an education that would otherwise have cost dearly, sports a pathway to a college scholarship.

The details of the new policy are yet to be determined. The NCAA told the WSJ that it must be “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model”.

Compensation for performance or participation will still be prohibited. There will be other conditions that restrict earnings. Trust funds may now be discussed, however, and the seascape of college sports in the United States looks set to be changed in radical fashion.

Where the college swimmer was previously cut off from financial reward and access to the trillion-dollar sports industry market, even if they were Olympic champions, the ability to  attract income, such as direct sponsorship funds, will soon be available without risk to their college eligibility.

In 2023, new laws will kick in allowing states to determine their own college sports rules. That would allow California, for example, to allow college sports men and women to earn from their achievements.


Game-changing at the International Swimming League – Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

It would be a brave state that forbade that as the 21st Century rolls on and events such as the International Swimming League join the market that has for a while already paid swimmers for their success, FINA’s World Championships a case in point.

The new policy may make it possible for swimmers to enter such events as the ISL and use trust funds and other financial vehicles to place money that they may not be able to touch during their college days but may access once their student days are done.

NCAA revolution comes at a time when swimming is a sport in its relative professional infancy. Only this year have swimmers begun to understand collective bargaining and the strengths that can accrue in the way they accrued for other sports that turned ‘pro’ many years ago. carried this article in the past week: entitled “How NBA Players Became the World’s Highest-Paid Union Workers”, it explains the pathway that swimmers have ahead of them  if they truly have the will to take charge of their destinies. 

FINA, like other federations in the Olympic stable, did not see athlete-driven revolution coming, let alone one with a very wealthy investor backing them up.

There is a journey ahead yet, one in which the whole structure of governance in Olympic sport is bound to change.


  1. Andy Gallion

    The money will flow from the schools’ overall athletic department sponsorship deals to the football and basketball players.

    • Katie McNerney

      Andy Gallion no, athletes are not being paid to play. They are able to make money off of their jersey sales, photos, likeness, ect. This is money that is rightfully theirs. Sponsorships will still be to schools themselves.

    • Andy Gallion

      Katie McNerney Instead of Nike spending the money in team sponsorships, the money will flow to the athletes directly. Well, the football and basketball players. Non-revs depend on the money flowing from the apparel companies. There is only so much marketing/sponsorship money out there. Companies won’t be spending extra, they will be reapportioning. This is also going to crush mid-majors.

  2. Steven Rose

    Have fun “making” 2k for “likeness” instead of getting hundreds of thousands for being a scholarship athlete.

    • Michael Ballard

      Steven Rose and now your scholarship is income and taxed

    • Buster Smith

      Steven Rose that’s not how it works at all😂

    • Steven Rose

      Buster Smith You’ll get one or the other. That’s how it works. Being a scholarship athlete gets you millions in luxuries. Getting “royalties” will get you pennies.

      • avatar
        Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

        Steven, we’re talking about swimming here… and I don’t know a single college swimmer who has got remotely close to having “millions in luxuries”…

    • Katie McNerney

      Steven Rose no, you’re scholarship comes from the school and is your compensation for all of the hours of hard work you do to help improve the schools reputation in a sport. That is 100% different than being able to get money from your likeness, yor jersey sales etc. By the way Very few athletes get a scholarship large enough to pay for even their tuition.

  3. avatar

    This will be a great deal for a very narrow range of college football and basketball players at the large state schools whose boosters will pay the well know players to promote their local businesses. For example, I suspect there are lots of businesses all over Alabama that would pay football players to make appearances that would help those businesses sell cars or insurance. A few college football and basketball players might do really really well. I suspect that Cam Newton or Reggie Bush could have earned well into the six figures the last year or two of college.

    Does this mean that someone like Katie Ledecky or Missy Franklin swims for four years in college and does not turn pro? Maybe. But, maybe not, because if you have a sponsor paying you to promote their product, then your job is to promote the product, not to attend classes, write papers, complete labs and take tests. It’s certainly not going to make a noticeable difference for 99% of swimmers.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Your swimmers questions, Leander, highlight the lot of the swimmer … and indicate how the move could strengthen and help college swim programs: if there is no impediment to profiting from your image, then it follows that a swimmer can race in the ISL, for example, can have t-shirts sold with their mantra, image and whatever else attracts the buyer, and it also follows that trust-fund arrangements can be made. It is possible to see this as good for swimmer, college and swimming; all depends on what rules and arrangements are decided on. What it means for the ‘big’ college sports you mention is another matter but not one that need concerns swimmers. From a remote perspective, it never made much sense to stop an Olympic swimming champion of 16, 18 and 20 years of age from being able to race for his or her college team while making financial provision for their future. It is for the NCAA board to come up with smart ways to make that possible while taking account of the value of scholarship and other matters. Simply barring reasonable arrangements with a blanket ‘no’ is neither smart nor reasonable. regards, Craig