What is amateurism? And why does the NCAA care about it?

For once, being an amateur is a good thing! Today’s post discusses amateurism, how the NCAA defines it, and why it should matter to you as a prospective student-athlete. While talking about the administrative side of college sports isn’t very exciting, it’s super important and can’t be ignored!


The NCAA takes the word “student-athlete” very seriously and will reinforce over and over again that athletes are students first and athletes second. If you want to understand better what the NCAA means by this, check out the NCAA Core Values (http://www.ncaa.org/about/ncaa-core-values) where they emphasize the need for balance in a student-athlete’s life, call participation in college athletics an avocation (ie. a hobby or minor occupation), and mention the pursuit of academic excellence.

What this comes down to is that NCAA student-athletes are not professional athletes. They must balance their athletic and academic endeavors (not to mention social endeavors!)

What is amateurism?

According to the NCAA (http://www.ncaa.org/student-athletes/future/eligibility-center/what-amateurism), an amateur is “someone who does not have a written or verbal agreement with an agent, has not profited above his/her actual and necessary expenses or gained a competitive advantage in his/her sport.”

Being an amateur is NOT optional. Athletes can and have been penalized by a fine or denied NCAA eligibility based on amateurism status, so this is nothing to mess around with.

How can I protect my amateur status?

If you want to ensure that you are not considered a professional by the NCAA (http://www.ncaa.org/amateurism), be sure not to engage in the following:

  • Contracts with professional teams
  • Salary for participating in athletics
  • Prize money above actual and necessary expenses
  • Play with professionals
  • Tryouts, practice or compete with a professional team
  • Receive benefits from an agent or prospective agent
  • Agreement to be represented by an agent
  • Delay initial full-time collegiate enrollment to participate in organized sports competition

Essentially, this all translates to NO participation in professional sports or special treatment based on your athletic talent or achievements.

Does a restaurant in your hometown give out ice cream cones to the volleyball team when you win a home match? Don’t accept it.

Did you win $25 and a t-shirt at a beach volleyball tournament? Don’t accept it.

It doesn’t matter how trivial the gift or how small the prize. Be careful and turn it down.

The only situation you should feel comfortable accepting something is when everyone gets it—for example, you can accept a t-shirt or similar if every person who enters the event gets a t-shirt just for participating.

It’s worth it to be careful.

An athletic scholarship can be worth six figures over a 4-5 year period. Prize money and gifts can be tempting—they’re a powerful status symbol, even when they’re small. But would you really gamble an athletic scholarship by jeopardizing your amateur status for a measly $25 dollars?

Register with the NCAA Eligibility Center:

Creating an account at the NCAA Eligibility Center is an important step for any recruit at any stage of the recruiting process. This is where you’ll update the NCAA on your academic and athletic progress, and where they will determine your eligibility for college sports. There’s an $80 fee to register, but if you’re fairly certain that college sports is your goal, you should go ahead and sign up. If you’ve already been offered a college scholarship, you must sign up to be deemed eligible to receive it.

You can read more about the NCAA Eligibility Center on their website: https://web3.ncaa.org/ecwr3/

Or this site has a good FAQ section: https://professionals.collegeboard.org/guidance/prepare/athletes/ncaa-eligibility-basics

That’s it! Amateurism is a pretty straightforward concept, once you’ve done a little research. If you have further questions about how it all works, feel free to comment below! If you’re interested in reading more about basic recruiting steps, click here.

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