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How Can I Make Money As A Student Athlete

Any student is likely to face challenges when it comes to funding a college education, but as a student-athlete you will face additional obstacles. While student-athletes have the ability to earn athletic scholarships in addition to academic scholarships, those who receive minimal or no aid are left with packed schedules and complex eligibility guidelines that can hamper efforts to bridge the financial gap.
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Any student is likely to face challenges when it comes to funding a college education, but as a student-athlete you will face additional obstacles. While student-athletes have the ability to earn athletic scholarships in addition to academic scholarships, those who receive minimal or no aid are left with packed schedules and complex eligibility guidelines that can hamper efforts to bridge the financial gap. 

Student-athletes have to be resourceful and creative when working under these time limits and rules, and have to have impeccable time management skills. Balancing academics, collegiate athletics, and work is possible, but requires great commitment and often involves sacrificing already limited free time. If you are a student-athlete looking to make some extra cash, read below to become familiar with your governing bodies guidelines, consider ways in which you can make money, and learn about income streams you will need to avoid. 

Who Governs College Athletics? 

The three major governing bodies of college sports in the United States are the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). 

The NCAA is the largest collegiate athletics governing body with nearly 1,100 member institutions and half a million student-athletes. Arguably the most commonly known amongst the three bodies, the NCAA is over 100 years old and distributes billions of scholarship dollars each year. 

Lesser known are the NAIA and NJCAA. The NAIA sanctions athletics for smaller colleges and universities in North America, and has 250 member institutions. The NJCAA sanctions athletics for community colleges, state colleges, and junior colleges in the United States and has 525 member institutions. Both governing bodies offer athletic scholarships.

How Do the Different Divisions Affect Aid? 

In 1973 the NCAA created three divisions to group like minded campuses – Division I, Division II, and Division III. A public misconception of these divisions is that they connote a difference in athletic ability; however, the major difference is scholarship. Division I athletes can receive multi-year cost-of-attendance athletic scholarships, while Division II athletes can only receive partial scholarships, and Division III athletes cannot receive any type of athletic scholarship. 

This differentiation greatly determines a student-athletes need for financial support. A Division I athlete receiving a “full ride” will likely not seek out additional income, but a Division I or II athlete receiving partial aid, or a Division III athlete receiving no athletic aid, may be more inclined to seek out other means of income. The NJCAA is similarly divided into three divisions that offer varying scholarship levels. In contrast, the NAIA allows its member institutions to determine athletic aid, but each sport is limited to a certain number of full athletic scholarships.

What Can I Do To Make Money? 

Outside of gaining an athletic or academic scholarship to help fund school, student-athletes can do what most other students decide to do – get a job. However, student-athletes face additional hurdles when it comes to making money. 

By and large the toughest barrier to you landing a job in school as a student-athlete will be your schedule. Regardless of governing body, division, or scholarship, student-athletes across the board share busy schedules packed with classes, studying, practices, and competitions. The NCAA reported in its 2015 GOALS study that student-athletes on average spend 31.5 hours on athletics per week, and an average of 39 hours per work on academics. Adding up time spent on academics, athletics, and sleep leaves limited time for any work, additional extracurriculars, and socializing. For example, a student-athlete that has a schedule similar to the average results of the latest GOALS study, and gets the recommended eight hours of sleep each night, will have 41 hours left in the week for all activity outside of sleeping, studying, and sports. 

Finding work that fits within such a rigorous schedule can be extremely challenging due to scheduling conflicts and the demand on one’s energy. Rest and recovery are crucial to a student-athlete’s lifestyle in order to perform the best both in the classroom and on the field. 

A general rule of thumb is to be frugal and flexible. You need to be as diligent with your finances as you would be with your training by tracking your spending, setting budgets, and cutting out frivolous purchases. Buying used textbooks, secondhand clothing, and cooking from home or taking advantage of athletically compensated meals and drinks are a few ways to save. When traveling home for breaks consider carpooling with teammates or friends. In the spring semester start planning your summer break and consider jobs or paid internships that can help build your bank account while you have more free time. 

Additionally, when it comes to part-time work, flexibility and transparency are key. Look for jobs that are flexible in nature like tutoring, babysitting, and freelance work. Freelance work can be a great way to hone skills you are learning in the classroom. Consider freelance writing, photography, or graphic design, to gain real world experience and boost your resume. Check for on-campus jobs such, as a library attendant or pool lifeguard, as your boss and co-workers will be better able to understand your demanding schedule. Lastly, always be transparent with your employers or clients that your schedule may be prone to change. This is especially important to consider if your team is likely to head into a championship season where competition schedules will be announced last-minute. 

First-year students should heed advice from older student-athletes who have had to execute this delicate balance before. Ask your teammates if they have found success with a certain type of job or have tips for managing a crazy schedule. College is a major transition and each student needs time to acclimate to the demands of their new life, so make sure you have your bearings, perhaps a semester or two, before jumping into the workforce. 

What Can’t I Do To Make Money?

As influencer culture continues to grow, student-athletes need to be aware that any type of partnership or promotion that presents them as an athlete can land them in trouble. As a student-athlete you are not allowed to profit from your personal brand, likeness, or affiliation with your team and school. This has become a hot topic in recent years and could likely change in the near future. 

In 2017 Texas A&M runner Ryan Trahan was ruled ineligible for NCAA competition when he used his popular YouTube channel to promote his small business. His online presence violated NCAA bylaw 12.4.4 which rules that an athlete “may establish his or her own business, provided the student-athlete’s name, photograph, appearance or athletics reputation are not used to promote the business.” As Trahan detailed in a YouTube video, this conflict left him with two options: to continue to create running content online as Texas A&M athlete, but make no reference to his small business on personal social media pages, or to continue promoting his business but make no social media reference to his role as a college athlete or involvement in Texas A&M athletics. Trahan ultimately ended up leaving Texas A&M altogether. 

Notably exempt from these restrictions are collegiate cheerleaders, as cheerleading is not governed by the NCAA. If you are a cheerleader you are able to receive compensation for brand deals, social media sponsorships, and the like. 

Regulations aside, student-athletes need to be realistic with their time and energy. A job that requires 25 hours a week is likely not practical for someone already dedicating upwards of 80 hours a week to school and sports, or at least will be extremely challenging. Likewise, a job that requires physical exertion or lots of time on your feet, such as waitressing, may not be a good fit as it will leave you further depleted and risk hindering your athletic ability.

Are These Rules Changing?

Recent years have seen an unprecedented push for student-athletes to gain greater power when it comes to generating income. A series of new legislation from both states and governing bodies reflect this wave of change.

In 2019 California passed a law banning schools from denying student athletes from hiring agents or accepting advertising deals. In response the NCAA’s Board of Governors said it will move to support students making money from personal brands and likenesses. This change should materialize in the 2021-2022 academic year. Most recently, In October 2020 the NAIA voted to allow its athletes the right to earn money from their personal brand and reference to their schools, becoming the first college body in the nation to do so. 

Within the next few years the landscape of student-athlete compensation will likely look very different, so it will be especially important for student-athletes to stay up-to-date on changing policies.

Train Like an Athlete, Earn Like an Athlete

Without discipline making money in college as a student-athlete may seem impossible. While it will be a challenge, earning money will ultimately take the same dedication, sacrifice, and motivation that you use to succeed in your sport. Transfer these skills from the field to your finances and always be mindful of your eligibility guidelines and personal limitations.

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