Olympic incentives don’t impact eligibility for NCAA athletes

Ginny Thrasher’s gold medal in Rio de Janeiro earned her $25,000 from the U.S. Olympic Committee, compensation she’s allowed to keep under NCAA rules.



MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As Olympic athletes rack up medal after medal in Rio, what are these actual medals actually worth?

Yes, it’s a “gold” medal, but it actually only contains a small amount of 24-karat gold, a little copper, and mostly silver.  The one hanging around the neck of WVU shooter Ginny Thrasher is worth about $366. Were it made of pure gold, it would be worth several hundred thousand.

Some countries have large incentive programs for their athletes. Kazakhstan pays gold medalists $250,000; Malaysia promises its medalists a solid gold bar worth $600,000. Members of the Italian Olympic Team can receive $189,800 for a gold, not a bad payday for former WVU Shooter Nicco Campriani, who scored two gold medals in rifle. Russians receive $189,800.

Americans receive $25,000 for a gold medal, $15,000 for silver, or $10,000 for a bronze. The fact it is taxed as “income earned abroad” by the IRS.  So right off the top, the $25,000 for the gold medal tax bill could equal $9,900 per gold medal, $5,940 per silver medal, and $3,960 per bronze medal.  The actual amount owed varies depending on the individuals tax status and other income and deductions.

But as it was being reported how our Olympic athletes were being compensated by their home country I started to wonder how people like Thrasher could accept such a prize. Thrasher is, after all, a Division 1 college athlete. She’s governed by the rules of the NCAA, which we have been taught over and over again are extremely strict on compensation to student-athletes. I posed the question to the university and found out the same NCAA which comes down hard on compensation of athletes outside of books, board, and tuition actually has some built in allowances for just such a thing.

“The NCAA has exceptions for monetary and non-monetary benefits received exclusively from the USOC.  Neither affect amateurism status or NCAA eligibility,” wrote Greg Featherston, WVU associate athletic director/governance & compliance in response. “Further, international student-athletes may receive similar benefits from their country’s USOC equivalent.”

Here are the actual rules straight from the NCAA Handbook: Expenses/Benefits Related to Olympic Games. Members of an Olympic team may receive all nonmonetary benefits and awards provided to members of an Olympic team beyond actual and necessary expenses and any other item or service for which it can be demonstrated that the same benefit is available to all members of that nation’s Olympic team or the specific sport Olympic team. (Adopted: 11/1/00, Revised: 1/19/13 effective 8/1/13) Operation Gold Grant. An individual (prospective student-athlete or student-athlete) may accept funds that are administered by the U.S. Olympic Committee pursuant to its Operation Gold program. (Adopted: 4/26/01) Incentive Programs for International Athletes. An international prospective student-athlete or international student-athlete may accept funds from his or her country’s national Olympic governing body (equivalent to the U.S. Olympic Committee) based on place finish in one event per year that is designated as the highest level of international competition for the year by the governing body. (Adopted: 1/17/15 effective 8/1/15)

I noticed a number of fans questioned whether NCAA athletes, like Ginny, could accept the money as I read national stories about the compensation. Turns out, the answer is “yes.”  She and any other athlete on Team USA can accept whatever compensation is extended as an incentive to all members of the U.S. Olympic Team and not be worried about their eligibility and status as amateur student-athletes.