The World University Games are a bit of a misnomer in some senses. That’s because students are eligible for the event without having ever begun to earn a single post-secondary credit hour. Specifically, the roster that USA Swimming is sending to this summer’s event in Kazaan, Russia has two high school seniors: USC-bound Chelsea Chenault, and Texas-bound Jack Conger.
Of course, USA Swimming well-vetted the rules before putting these guys on the roster, but for the education of our readers, here are the specific eligibility rules that apply in this scenario:
5.2.1 Only the following may participate as competitors in the Summer Universiade:
a) students who are currently officially registered as proceeding towards a degree or diploma at the university or similar institute, the status of which is recognised by the appropriate national academic authority of their country;
b) former students of the institutions mentioned in a) who have obtained their academic degree or diploma in the year preceding the event.
5.2.2 Notwithstanding Article 5.2.1, in countries with fewer than 2,000,000 inhabitants or having fewer than 5,000 university students, students attending technical or secondary schools may participate in FISU events provided they have been attending their establishments for at least two (2) years.
Countries wishing to take advantage of the concession in the first paragraph of Article 5.2.2 must submit an application to the FISU Executive Committee at least six (6) months before the scheduled start of the event. Such an application must be supported by documents endorsed by the appropriate state or national academic authorities.
Because Conger and Chenault are REGISTERED at their future schools to proceed toward a degree, they are eligible. High school juniors, for example, generally wouldn’t be eligible. Keep in mind that the rules must be left intentionally vague to account for the different educational systems around the world. The Universiade, as the event is known around the world, is a global event, not an American college event.
By that same spirit, this is why swimmers like 28-year old Mike Alexandrov are eligible for the meet. So long as he is still a student progressing toward a degree (or finished in the last year), he is a University student. It’s easy for American fans to get caught up in the fact that most of the world doesn’t have as formalized of a collegiate athletics system as the NCAA is, and so most of the world doesn’t see it as odd that an athlete would be able to be considered a “student-athlete” for four years.
The WUG’s are not designed to be as stringent of a system as the NCAA is. The WUG’s are truly an event designed to celebrate the unity that we can all feel through the melding of scholarship and athletics, and how the two concepts can benefit from each other (something the NCAA seems to fall short of at times.)