represent their countries in the Olympics.
Although these crowdfunding platforms can be vital for organizations, olympians, professional athletes, or some amateur athletes, crowdfunding is an attractive and potentially unknown danger for athletes with collegiate eligibility.
NCAA Bylaw 12.01.1 states that "Only an amateur student-athlete is eligible for intercollegiate athletics participation in a particular sport." However, Bylaw 2.9, the NCAA's core principle of amateurism, states "student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and
commercial enterprises." Although the NCAA's definition of amateurism has shifted over the years, receiving any form of compensation (including having something paid for) has been violative of the NCAA's amateurism principles, and has resulted in fines as well the loss of athletic eligibility. For example, Georgia running back Todd Gurley is currently suspended pending investigation into whether he received payment for autographs.
With the increasing prevalence of costly training camps and showcases for young athletes, meaning those who are not yet college eligible, it is easy to see how crowdfunding can be an attractive means of funding attendance at training camps and showcases. Although young athletes may be aware that they cannot be "paid," crowdfunding raises the following questions:
- Will young athletes recognize crowdfunding as being paid to play or train?
- Are parents aware that their kids cannot be paid to play?
- If so, will parents recognize crowdfunding as being paid to play?
- Will young athletes be disciplined, upon acceptance to a college team, for any violations their parents commit in support of them?
- Should athlete crowdfunding websites have any legal responsibility to protect eligibility?
Young athletes and their parents, assuming they are aware that athletes cannot receive compensation, may not inherently view crowdfunding to attend specific events as compensation. Taking a simplistic view, the young athletes and their parents may assume that the rule barring payment prohibits salary-like payments for on field performance. Therefore, those athletes and parents may believe that crowdfunding for a specific event is not violative of NCAA regulations.
This dangerous assumption could be problematic when the young athlete attempts to play in college. Should the NCAA become aware of previous crowdfunding, the player could be fined an amount equal to the funding received and/or suspended. Such a fine could be prohibitive to a college athlete if they used the crowdfunding service several times.
Potentially, the NCAA could hold the young athlete accountable for his or her parents' crowdfunding in support of their athletic endeavors. The NCAA's prohibition against players receiving extra benefits also extends to their parents. The NCAA's investigation into Reggie Bush and his family is a good example of this, although the investigation took place after he turned pro.
While attending USC, Bush's family rented a home from Michael Michaels, who at the time was establishing a sports agency that hoped to sign Bush. Throughout their time in the house (approximately a year) Michaels provided multiple impermissible extra benefits and inducements, including rent free housing, transportation, and money to pay off debts. Although it was alleged that Bush was aware of Michaels providing the benefits to his family (under the purported agreement that he would repay Michaels when he turned pro), Bush's knowledge was immaterial as parents are also prohibited from receiving extra benefits and inducements. The NCAA found multiple violations to have taken place (including violations not mentioned here), and retroactively sanctioned Bush, as he was now a pro player. Bush's experience should serve as a cautionary tale to crowdfunding parents, as an athlete can be sanctioned for their parents' actions as they relate to the athlete.
Lastly, there is a question of whether athlete crowdfunding sites should be responsible in some way for the potential repercussions of athletes utilizing their service. Although there is little, if any, legal recourse against such a site for an athlete unknowingly committing NCAA violations, there is no question that the websites should include a warning regarding college eligibility when signing up for the service, especially if the websites are hosted domestically. That warning should not be buried in their terms of service agreement, but should be explicit. If these sites are truly supporting the advancement of athletes, then they should seek to protect their aspirations by at least providing a warning.
Of course, crowdfunding for athletes is only problematic from an NCAA perspective if the user plays an NCAA sport. For those that don't play such sports, crowdfunding could be instrumental to their amateur and/or professional career. It is unfortunate that NCAA regulations would stand in the way of future NCAA athletes going to specialized camps, or showcasing their abilities, that will help them reach the next level. However, it makes sense. Allowing crowdfunding for future college athletes would create a vehicle by which highly touted young athletes could be financially swayed by colleges, professional teams, and agents. Such inducements are not only banned by the NCAA, but also the professional sports leagues.
Crowdfunding can be positive for many athletes, just not those athletes who plan on playing in the NCAA.