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The NCAA Is One Step Closer To Paying College Athletes… But This Could Be Bad News For Track And Field

Some programs will have $21 million flooding in, but it's unlikely that track athletes will see much of it.

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The NCAA alongside the country’s five biggest conferences, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and the Southeastern Conference (SEC), recently announced they will pay nearly $2.8 billion to settle a number of antitrust claims against them. The decision has laid the groundwork for a game changing revenue-sharing model that could put millions of dollars in student-athletes’ pockets as soon as fall 2025. 

A joint statement between NCAA President Charlie Baker and the commissioners of all five conferences said the move was “an important step in the continuing reform of college sports that will provide benefits to student-athletes and provide clarity in college athletics across all divisions for years to come.”

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Although terms were not disclosed, some details have come to light over the last few weeks. Gone are the days of amateurism in the NCAA, as the beginning of a new era of college sports emerges where athletes are paid similarly to professionals and schools can compete for up-and-coming recruits using direct payments.

“This landmark settlement will bring college sports into the 21st century, with college athletes finally able to receive a fair share of the billions of dollars of revenue that they generate for their schools,” said Steve Berman, one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs. “Our clients are the bedrock of the NCAA’s multibillion-dollar business and finally can be compensated in an equitable and just manner for their extraordinary athletic talents.”

There are only 69 schools that are impacted by the lawsuits, it is expected that dozens of other NCAA schools outside the five conferences will receive some smaller distributions from the NCAA.

“The settlement, though undesirable in many respects and promising only temporary stability, is necessary to avoid what would be the bankruptcy of college athletics,” said Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins.

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How Will Athletes Get Paid?

The new compensation structure will see each school permitted, but not required, to set aside $21 million in revenue to share with athletes per year; however, as revenues increase, so could the current cap.

Athletes in all sports would be eligible for payments, and each school is permitted to distribute the funds as they see fit.

Additionally, scholarship limits will be replaced by roster size restrictions.

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Why This Could Be Bad News For Track And Field

Although this all sounds great, it could spell bad news for Olympic sports such as track and field.

Unlike sports like football and basketball, track and field does not generate revenue for their schools. Sports like these, including others such as swimming, actually cost schools significantly more money than they generate.

Track programs incur the same costs as other sports (though usually on a smaller scale), associated with staff, travel, gear, recruiting, and more. However, unlike football, track programs don’t generate ticket sales, aren’t broadcasted as widely, and, in general, have far smaller followings.

As the new compensation model comes into play, schools will rely heavily on revenue-generating sports to acquire the funds needed to not only pay their athletes but also make a profit. 

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How can schools ensure they’ll bring in more revenue? By investing it back into those revenue-generating sports, increasing player wages, and bidding on competitive up-and-coming recruits.

Unfortunately, this will leave track programs at the bottom of the pecking order, and likely putting many at risk of folding all together. Some predictions estimate that as many as 50-60 NCAA track and field programs could be eliminated by the end of the 2025-2026 academic year, assuming the compensation model comes into effect this fall.

Although it’s hard to say exactly what this could mean for college track and field programs across the country, the forecast doesn’t look overly promising.

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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