The NCAA as an organization prides itself on the fact that all athletes will remain strictly amateur whilst they compete collegiately. As with everything that the NCAA decides to regulate, amateurism is covered very thoroughly.
With 100,000 seater football stadiums, TV audiences of millions, and huge media interest, you could be forgiven for thinking that surely these athletes must be getting paid. Despite this, the rule is that only amateur athletes are allowed to compete in the NCAA. This therefore excludes any athletes who have received prize money, been paid an appearance fee or signed a professional contract.
If you are good enough to be on a big money contract from a shoe company or are able to command appearance fees when you race then good luck and enjoy it whilst you can. You are probably well on the way towards becoming world class and will be able to enjoy all the perks that go with it. Through sponsorships, prize money and endorsements, athletes at the very top can make amounts of money that far exceed the financial value of any scholarship.
For professional athletes at this level, they will not be eligible to compete in the NCAA.
What about the £50 I picked up at a local road race?
For the vast majority of athletes who aren’t competing ‘professionally’, then the NCAA amateurism rules shouldn’t provide too many obstacles.
However, what happens to an athlete who has won some money at a local road race or placed highly in a UK Challenge series? Are they to be deemed as ‘professional’ and thus ineligible? Fortunately the NCAA sees sense and appreciates that this sort of situation will arise all the time. You will not be deemed ineligible as long as the amount won ‘does not exceed actual and necessary expenses and is provided only by the sponsor of the open event.’ Put in simpler terms, if you win £100 at a road race, but spend £50 on a hotel, £40 on travel, and £10 on food, then you have not won anything in addition to what it cost to compete.
However, if payments exceed the cost of expenses then you will be expected to pay this sum back. You will have to declare these winnings on an Amateur questionnaire prior to racing in the NCAA.
I have received a few kit drops over the years, does that make me professional?
Prior to enrolling as a student athlete it is also ok to receive free kit from a shoe company as long as no money or contract is involved.