Tracking the Money: NCAA Programs To Foreign Olympic Medals

One of the recurring questions each Olympic swim meet brings up is that of athletes who train at American NCAA institutions but represent foreign nations in international competition.

While the discussion often lingers on fairness and ethics, the true center of the argument is money – particularly at public universities, where some argue that American tax dollars are being used to fund athletic departments that train foreign athletes who then turn around and beat American athletes for Olympic medals.

That, of course, ignores the non-money aspects of the issue. Most schools promote a diverse population, and administration (and many swimmers) find it a positive experience to have classmates and teammates from different nationalities and backgrounds. There are plenty of less-money-related arguments on both sides, but without hard-and-fast figures to analyze, they turn more into an exercise in editorializing than in reporting facts.

While those arguments have their place (and that place, at least earlier this month, was often in the comments section of our Olympic recaps), there’s one more nuance that’s worth a look – athletic departments that actually make money for a school, thereby reversing the cashflow and funding academics.

That’s not the case very often. In fact, as of 2014, just 24 schools in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision (which comprises mostly the biggest and best-known schools and conferences in the nation) brought in more revenue than they spent, according to the NCAA.

A few years earlier, ACTA (the American Council of Trustees and Alumni) broke down the numbers further. In 2012, 23 of 228 NCAA Division I athletics departments created more revenue than they spent. And of those 23, 16 received subsidies of some sort.

That left 7 programs that didn’t receive subsidies and still broke even. That list is below:

  • LSU
  • Nebraska
  • Ohio State
  • Oklahoma
  • Penn State
  • Purdue
  • Texas

Of the schools on that list one stands out: Texas’s Joseph Schooling was at the center of many of these comment section discussions when he won Singapore’s first Olympic swimming gold after two seasons competing and training with the Longhorns collegiate program.

But fans can rest assured that Schooling, at least, wasn’t technically turning American tax dollars into nabbing an Olympic gold medal over American Michael Phelpsbecause Texas’s athletic department is one of the few self-sufficient departments nationwide. (If anything, any funding Schooling gets from Texas is more likely income from the school’s football and basketball teams in ticket or apparel sales. Of all NCAA sports, only FBS football and basketball turned a profit in 2014. Men’s swimming programs ran a median deficit of almost $600,000 nationwide and women’s swimming about $630,000).

If nothing else, this very niche discussion serves as a handy list of schools where complaints about foreign athletes taking U.S. tax dollars don’t logically hold up.

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Tabitha
4 years ago

As the Parent of a Division 1 College Swimmer, it is very frustrating to see foreign athletes getting the scholarship dollars.

New beginnings
Reply to  Tabitha
4 years ago

As a former Division 1 college swimmer born and raised in the US, I’m grateful for the experiences I had with international swimmers on scholarship. I also value the friendships I maintain to this day

Whatever...
Reply to  New beginnings
4 years ago

And you would have the same friendships with American team-mates had they received the scholorships.

Maverick
Reply to  Whatever...
4 years ago

As a recent former college swimmer. When you want to win. You don’t care what their nationality is. You want fast teammates. With decent grades and a great attitude. WHO CARES where they come from???? If your children DESERVED a bigger scholarship most of the time they would get it.

Swim4
Reply to  Whatever...
4 years ago

As another former Division 1 college swimmer, I have taken trips to Brazil and Spain, thanks to my international teammates. I hope to make it to Australia, Croatia, and South Africa as well. Get out and explore the world!

I see why the rest of the world thinks Americans are so ignorant….

Beachbumj343
Reply to  Whatever...
4 years ago

I would think this common sense but over 60 dislikes? It’s basic logic that they wold have the same time of friendships.

occasional traveler
Reply to  Beachbumj343
4 years ago

Some people find diversity to be an appealing aspect of friendship. In other words, it can make your life more interesting to be exposed to people with very different backgrounds, such as from different countries. Eliminating foreigners from teams can only reduce the potential for making interesting and rewarding friends from different backgrounds.

Future \"expert level\" Old Man
Reply to  New beginnings
4 years ago

As a former D1 scholarship swimmer born and raised in the USA, I’m grateful for my previous international teammates as well. Now that I am also trying to save money to pay for my children’s college education, I realize the price of college is totally out of control and I am more rational in my opinion of this experience. Frankly, I made the decision a few years ago to stop giving money to my alma mater’s swimming program because of all the international athletes. I would rather see a local kid get a chance, but that simply doesn’t happen. International swimmers should count as 2x the scholarship against the 9.9 total. The top 10-20 international swimmers in the world rankings… Read more »

DrSwimPhil
Reply to  Future \"expert level\" Old Man
4 years ago

Every swimmer at the Junior National Level has scholarship opportunities in the NCAA

Future \"expert level\" Old Guy
Reply to  DrSwimPhil
4 years ago

Sorry, but that is simply not true. There are 50 or more boys in each event at Junior Nationals who will not earn athletic scholarships. Even the finalists at Junior Nationals will be presented with 50-75% scholarships unless they are top 8 in numerous events. There are simply too many swimmers above this level of competition in our country and around the world. Many of the international athletes start college when they are 20-22 years old, so this is the competition for the 17-18 year old American swimmer.

Ownthelane
Reply to  Future \"expert level\" Old Guy
4 years ago

First are you saying their arent enough full rides or scholarships of any value? I would disagree with the idea that no scholarships are available….scholarships are there…they may not be at a school the kid wants to go to…but scholarships are out there, perhaps at a smaller program, or one below the level of the kid looking. Each athlete has to decide if they are chosing a school with their heart of their wallet.

DrSwimPhil
Reply to  Future \"expert level\" Old Guy
4 years ago

Again, EVERY swimmer at the Junior National level can earn some sort of athletic aid somewhere within the NCAA. It may not be at Texas or Cal or some school that they WANT to go to, but the money is out there. You fail to recognize just how many NCAA institutions (not just Power 5 schools…mid major D1 schools, D2 schools) have at least some funding, and many of those “lesser” schools might just be the perfect fit academically/athletically/socially (not to mention there just might actually be some good coaches at those levels…).

Future \"expert level\" Old Guy
Reply to  DrSwimPhil
4 years ago

Maybe, but there really are not that many scholarships available. The top 5 conferences offer the max 9.9 scholarships, but the mid-major and below schools only offer 4 or fewer per team. Roughly 75 schools offering 9.9 and another 75-100 offering 4, divide this number by the four years of students and you have 200-300 scholarships per year. There are 1000 boys at the Junior National level and another 1-200 above them each season. I would agree that every kid at Junior Nationals could potentially find a small scholarship offer (books or less) at a school that is not a financially viable option, and may not be an academic fit or provide them with the best opportunity for future success… Read more »

DrSwimPhil
Reply to  Future \"expert level\" Old Guy
4 years ago

Then your argument should be with the NCAA and the scholarship limits, not whether the money should go to Americans vs Internationals. With 9.9 men and 14 women (8 and 8 in D2) scholarships, and the fact that you score 18 men and 18 women at championships meets, you’re always going to run into issues of swimmers not getting “full rides” at every level.

Future \"expert level\" Old Guy
Reply to  DrSwimPhil
4 years ago

All swimming programs loose money. The benefits in maintaining a program are the intangibles you can provide the university and the community before, during, and after college. Adding more losses to the equation by adding scholarships will simply increase the downward trajectory of the count of participating universities. International students are not unique on a college campus. With that being said, there is limited benefit to the university in providing these international students with precious and limited swimming scholarships.

DrSwimPhil
Reply to  Future \"expert level\" Old Guy
4 years ago

Limited benefit? Thanks for proving you have no clue about any of this.

Ownthelane
Reply to  Future \"expert level\" Old Man
4 years ago

Sad you have pulled your support of a team that provided you so much simply due to the increase in international recruiting. Kids are kids, they all work hard trying to carry on or improve the tradition of your program, and represent the school. When I hear someone say they are pulling their $ support because they disagree with the coaching philosophy,or recruiting…I cant help but think of my 4 yr old throwing a temper tantrum cause he isnt getting what he wants. Seems to be a very narrow OLD MAN view. Time to evolve, support your program, swim teams face enough challenges as it is it isnt they dont need their own turning their backs on them.

Future \"expert level\" Old Guy
Reply to  Ownthelane
4 years ago

I’m just choosing to donate where is see the greatest benefit and need based upon my opinion. In the years since my graduation I have donated cash well in excess of the scholarship received. I felt this amount was the minimum I owed the program, and is a good starting point for future graduates. And remember, it’s not turning my back on them if they are not interested in people like me in their recruits. My local USA Swimming Club as well as my High School swimming team are happy to have my financial support.

ownthelane
Reply to  Future \"expert level\" Old Guy
4 years ago

You have every right to support any program you want, college, Club, HS whatever. But which is it……”I’m just choosing to donate where is see the greatest benefit and need based upon my opinion.” or “Frankly, I made the decision a few years ago to stop giving money to my alma mater’s swimming program because of all the international athletes.” Your story seems to be changing….Did it ever cross your mind that the staff could be very interested in US kids, but perhaps those kids don’t return the interest. I don’t know your program, but perhaps some of the things preventing the coach from landing the US kids, are out of their control. Academics, facilities, etc.As a coach you take… Read more »

Future \"expert level\" Old Guy
Reply to  ownthelane
4 years ago

My statements quoted are not mutually exclusive.

As an alumni I want my program to reach it’s fullest potential. To achieve those results there are certain actions that I will not finance even though they are within the rules. The same goes for the real world after college, there are many methods to achieve desired results in business and life. Some actions will not be agreeable to all people.

In the case of my program, the academics, facilities, and other intangibles are spectacular.

Bo swims
Reply to  Future \"expert level\" Old Man
4 years ago

Allow prize money to be used towards tuition. Makes more available for scholarships

Common sense
Reply to  Tabitha
4 years ago

Well as the parent of a division 1 college swimmer you should also realize that universities don’t just hand out “scholarship dollars” as you say, they hand it out to the elite athletes that worked their butts off to get to the level that surpasses your average collegiate swimmer. A college coach is not just gonna give money to the average swimmer because he/she is an American athlete when instead they could give it to an elite athlete that will actually benefit their program.

The Grand Inquisitor
Reply to  Tabitha
4 years ago

So by extension, you must also be equally frustrated when out-of-state athletes receive scholarships your state universities. Am I right?

D Ro
Reply to  Tabitha
4 years ago

If your kid was as fast as Joseph Schooling, you wouldn’t even need to worry. Sorry top notch NCAA schools don’t have money to give your kid. If he is a ln asset to the team and a top performers, he certainly would be getting some money for that. A team is not 1 or 2 people. I got a 65% scholarship and was the school record holder in a Pacific 10 school. With 9.9 available, scholarships get divided up to a lot of people. Several kids got books, or a month or two room/board. I was happy to have a culturally diverse group of kids on my team rather than a bunch of local kids who wouldn’t have been… Read more »

attilly the silly
Reply to  Tabitha
4 years ago

“As the Parent of a Division 1 College Swimmer, it is very frustrating to see [athletes who are not my child] getting the scholarship dollars.”

Tabitha
Reply to  attilly the silly
4 years ago

OH BURN – (my child HAS the scholarship money, Silly) It can still be frustrating —- I watch his teammates not getting the money they had hoped for – But you go on an be sarcastic. We actually got the money……….hahahahaha

Just Another Opinion
Reply to  Tabitha
4 years ago

You watch his teammates not getting money because… his other teammates are getting money?

Logic fail.

New beginnings
4 years ago

They also earn ncaa hardware for those universities, which clearly those institutions value.

It’s a choice those schools are allowed to make

Whatever...
4 years ago

Not a tax dollar issue, it is an issue of scholarships being taken.

It\'s not whatever...
Reply to  Whatever...
4 years ago

Then swim faster, or find an institution that is a better fit

Brad Flood
Reply to  Whatever...
4 years ago

I’m not aware of ANY athletic (read: NCAA, NAIA) scholarship dollar that was ever “taken” or “given”; only those that were “earned” by the recipient and “awarded” by the institution to “NCAA qualified individuals”.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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