NCAA President Mark Emmert suggested that schools may consider changing rules that allow college athletes to receive Olympic medal bonuses after Joseph Schooling won upwards of $750,000 in Rio.
The NCAA still adheres to amateurism rules that prohibit student-athletes from earning money for their sporting abilities while they compete in the college ranks. These amateurism rules prevent NCAA athletes from signing endorsements or sponsorships, place limits on how much prize money they can accept from competitions and even prevent athletes from earning money based on their status as a student-athlete, as seen when former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel was suspended for allegedly selling autographs.
One major exception to these rules, though, allows athletes to earn bonuses from their own national Olympic committees for medals won in the Olympics. In the United States, the payouts are roughly $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze.
But some foreign nations can pay out much more. Schooling, a University of Texas junior who represents Singapore internationally, raked in more than three-quarters of a million dollars for the gold medal he won in the 100 fly last month.
Speaking to a think-tank called the Aspen Institute in Washington D.C., Emmert suggested that Schooling’s big prize haul could cause member schools to change that Olympic medal rule in the name of amateurism.
Referencing the 2001 rule, he said the NCAA’s schools “passed a rule that said, ‘You know what? That’s fine. A kid wins a gold medal for his or her country, they can take $25,000. They get to do it once in their academic career. It’s an extraordinary thing. We’ve got, like, five of those or 10 of those in any one year. Good for them.”
He then added “a complexity that happened this year” was Schooling’s victory.
“To be perfectly honest,” Emmert said, “it’s causing everybody to go, ‘Oh, well, that’s not really what we were thinking about.’ So, I don’t know where the members will go on that. I mean, that’s a little different than 15 grand for the silver medal for swimming for the U.S. of A. So, I think that’s going to stimulate a very interesting conversation.”
A moderator for the institute pointed out that the awards didn’t affect the economic model of the NCAA, but Emmert said that wasn’t the issue – it was whether athletes earning so much money could still be considered amateurs. When pressed on whether the ideal of amateurism still matters to college sports, Emmert responded “I think it does. I think the amateur model still is very important.”
The Power 5 Conferences (the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) now have autonomy to create their own rules apart from the NCAA as a whole. That means it would be up to those conferences together to decide whether amateurism is an important enough ideal to tighten down the rules and prohibit their athletes from accepting those Olympic medal bonuses. Emmert’s words reflect the viewpoint of the NCAA President, but there’s currently no official proposals nor any indication from the Power 5 Conferences as to whether the issue will be looked at before the 2020 Olympics.