After breaking two individual world records and leading off a world record-setting relay two weeks ago, Regan Smith‘s planned NCAA career was a hot topic of the 2019 U.S. National Championships last week.
Smith, a rising high school senior, is slated to swim for back-to-back-to-back national champion Stanford in the fall of 2020 following her potential first Olympic berth that summer. Given that she’s now the fastest woman in history by .71 seconds in the 200 back and .43 in the 100 back, it’s safe to say at this point she would be a medal favorite in Tokyo. And with Olympic medals, comes money – from national governing bodies, and potentially, from sponsors. And that’s where NCAA eligibility comes in.
According to a recent article by the San Jose Mercury News’ Elliot Almond, Smith takes issue, at least to an extent, with the current NCAA model that prohibits her from receiving the world record bonuses she could otherwise get if she were a professional athlete.
“It’s frustrating to her,” her father, Paul Smith, said. “She said, ‘Why can’t I put it in a trust fund to buy furniture when I’m 22? I earned it.’”
“She is under all kinds of pressure to go pro with the Olympics coming up — that’s a lot of money,” he added. Regan, however, has wanted to attend Stanford since she was a kid, and is “almost certain” she’ll still go, Paul said. “If [going to Stanford] means the world to you, some sacrifices have to be made,” Paul said he told Regan.
NCAA swimmers are allowed to accept money from their national governing bodies (like USA Swimming), for medals won at the Olympics, but not bonuses for world records set. They also cannot accept sponsorships or do endorsement deals.
The Mercury news cites USA Today in saying that Katie Ledecky was able to keep the $355,000 in medal awards she won at the Rio Games, Ryan Murphy came away with $234,375, and Simone Manuel almost $200,000. Seventeen American NCAA swimmers were allowed to keep about $1.5 million in prize money, according to USA Today.
But as we know, Ledecky and Manuel both went pro before their collegiate eligibility was used up, both signing suit deals with TYR, among others.
Olympian Elizabeth Beisel, who swam all four years at the University of Florida weighed in on the situation: “As sad as I was to miss out on that money, especially in the London Games when I won my two medals, I knew the education and degree I was getting at Florida was far more important,” she said.
Bob Bowman, who coached Michael Phelps through turning pro before college, added: “You’re weighing your long-term financial security verses your long-term personal enrichment… You hate to have to give either one of them up. Maybe the model has changed instead of all-or-nothing, some.”
The NCAA’s amateurism rules are some of the most controversial in sports today, especially in ones (like basketball and football) that generate massive amounts of revenue for schools. The pro-athlete side of the discussion is gaining traction nationwide, and the state of California has gone as far as to consider a bill, that if signed into law, would allow for NCAA student-athletes in California to profit off their name, image, and likeness beginning in 2023.