Katie Hoff Discusses the Pros and Cons of Foregoing the NCAA to Turn Pro

In the SwimSwam Podcast dive deeper into the sport you love with insider conversations about swimming. Hosted by Coleman HodgesGarrett McCaffrey, and Gold Medal Mel Stewart, SwimSwam welcomes both the biggest names in swimming that you already know, and rising stars that you need to get to know, as we break down the past, present, and future of aquatic sports.

We sat down with 3x Olympic medalist, 7x world champion Katie Hoff to discuss a big topic, especially for teenage women in swimming: Going Pro versus competing in the NCAA. With Olympian and world champion Regan Smith announcing her decision to turn professional after competing at Stanford for one year, we wanted a perspective from someone who had made this decision and seen how it played out in their career.

Hoff ultimately says she would make the same decision again after turning pro at 16. The fact that it not only enabled her to focus solely on her long-course swimming career but also allowed her parents to travel to see her compete without the exorbitant expenses was a huge deal for Hoff. She does wonder what it would have been like to have the bond of sisters that an NCAA team brings, but that didn’t outweigh the benefits of being able to sign sponsorship deals and provide for herself and her family.

Hoff also discusses the savvy that came along with interacting with so many businesses at a young age and how that helped her start her own business, Synergy Dryland. You can see more on Synergy here.

Read more about women in swimming foregoing NCAA eligibility and going professional here.


Music: Otis McDonald

Opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the interviewed guests do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the hosts, SwimSwam Partners, LLC and/or SwimSwam advertising partners.

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Holy Moly
1 month ago

This woman is amazing! So happy to hear her talk and give some perspective. Watching her rise from 05-08 was so much fun and awe inspiring. She has not received her due at all, but so good to see her happy and thriving.

Guimaraes Cayley
1 month ago

Katie Hoff is one of the nicest person!

I float
1 month ago

Since most of us go to college to maximize our earning potential, swimmers or non-swimmers would probably be making the same choices about staying in school. Gates and Zuckerberg left Harvard early because staying in school then wouldn’t have increased their earning potential more. NBA/MLB/NFL players leave early, or skip colleges entirely for the same reason.

I don’t know much about professional swimming, though I assume professional swimmers don’t make nearly as much as those basketball players. Then it’s really the individual athlete’s decision regarding her future earning potential. But a proper degree from Stanford, with proper internship opportunities and maybe some graduate studies, can potentially open doors for future 7-figure a year income opportunities.

1 month ago

Good interview.

Regarding Regan Smith, and as it specifically appliies to Stanford, and other athletes who left the program early, I believe Stanford is at a bit of a disadvantage compared to other universities relative to retention because it is a truly elite academic institution among the ilk of Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Yale, Caltech, and Duke. None of the above institutions produce athletes like Stanford does, and never will. It takes something extra special to balance the academic and athletic load at Stanford, and those who make it through should garner the highest level of respect.

For those who left the program to go pro, it’s completely understandable. Ledecky, Smith, and Manual represent 1% of the 1% in… Read more »

a b
Reply to  GTS
1 month ago

I mean, Duke has some pretty good athletic programs. I hear the men’s basketball is at least fair.

Reply to  a b
1 month ago

Indeed. Coach K has produced amazing results.

Regarding Stanford, historically they’ve produced the 2nd highest amount of Olympians in all sports (Behind USC), but I believe they’ve produced the highest amount of Olympic medalists. Harvard and Yale have actually produced a lot, but at just under a 1:3 ratio compared to Stanford.

Reply to  GTS
1 month ago

As they say- the hardest part of Harvard is getting into Harvard.

Reply to  GTS
1 month ago

Katie Ledecky deferred a year’s entry to Stanford University. Simone Manuel redshirted the 2015-2016 season at Stanford University.

Regan Smith deferred a year’s entry to Stanford University. Turning pro at the age of 20 is hardly outlandish.

1 month ago

Loved hearing Katie talk! I grew up looking up to her and love how articulate and honest she was. My favorite thing about so many of these Swimswam interviews is that the swimmers are direct and transparent about the scenario. They don’t just give coach-speak that means nothing. You see the emotion and can embrace their challenges.

I did have a question! She mentioned a few times of some big 2009 event(s)? What is she referring to? The only thing I can think around the time is the super suits getting banned. haha

Reply to  Swimmerguy_1
1 month ago

Phelps bong incident, her disappointment after 08

1 month ago

I love this perspective and would be eager to hear from others now that their (National Team) stories have been written.

Braden/Coleman, this has made me really interested in this idea of elites “coming of age” in the sport. Who has made the leap gracefully from ultra-elite high schooler to ultra-elite collegian/post-grad? What does that look like in different countries? I could be wrong, but without the NCAA and US college system, this looks so different in other countries. Australia comes to mind as a different model with many data points.

Anyway, it makes me think maybe the question isn’t so much about going pro or not, but about transitioning from being a kid to being an adult while performing… Read more »

1 month ago

I think Regan absolutely made the right decision. College will always be there but these endorsement opportunities will not. She needs to strike now while the iron is hot.
It’s too bad she can’t go back and recoup her prize money from 2019 words.

Reply to  Pool
1 month ago

Endorsements isn’t an argument for turning pro as of last year.

There are plenty of other reasons why it could be the right choice though.

Reply to  Pool
1 month ago

Hopefully Speedo agreed to pay for the rest of her college tuition. At the end of the day, a degree from Stanford is priceless and will get you much further down the road than immediate endorsements. Just my opinion tho.

Awsi Dooger
Reply to  Pool
1 month ago

College is not always there. You can get the degree but the experience isn’t remotely the same when you’re at a different stage in life as the other students. There’s a reason college years are summarized as the happiest years of your life. These athletes brainstormed to give that away. Then they are forced to rationalize it a la this interview.

Swim Mom
Reply to  Awsi Dooger
1 month ago

Millions of people around the world do not get “the college experience” and yet somehow they survive. It’s certainly not a requirement for a happy and successful life nor is it all it’s cracked up to be for many. Reagan Smith had a year of it and clearly it was not enough of a draw to keep her there.

And your right. It’s not the same when you return to college later in life. When you are older you appreciate the opportunity to learn a lot more.

Reply to  Pool
1 month ago

Of course Regan Smith made the right decision. Regan Smith wii train with Hali Flickinger and Olivia Smoliga under the supervision of Bob Bowman. There is not one female swimmer remotely close to Hali Flickinger in the women’s 200 meter butterfly left at Stanford University.

1 month ago

Very level-headed take, especially the last minute or so.

About Coleman Hodges

Coleman Hodges

Coleman started his journey in the water at age 1, and although he actually has no memory of that, something must have stuck. A Missouri native, he joined the Columbia Swim Club at age 9, where he is still remembered for his stylish dragon swim trunks. After giving up on …

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