Student Athletes: Background on Amateurs vs. Professionals
The law governing amateur athletes is an amalgam of statutes, regulations, rules, procedures, and judicial decisions that apply to individual athletes, the academic institutions for which they compete, and most persons employed by those academic institutions. This body of law spans several areas of American jurisprudence, including tort law, tax law, antitrust law, and civil rights law, among others. Thus, the law governing amateur athletics is not a single body of law unto itself.
Amateur vs. Professional Athletes
The most basic difference between amateur and professional athletes lies in the rewards that each group receives for athletic performances. Generally speaking, amateur athletes are not paid for their athletics performances, though the U.S. Gymnastics Association and the U.S. Figure Skating Association now allow member athletes to sponsor commercial products so long as the money earned is placed into trust. Professional athletes, by contrast, are typically paid annual salaries plus incentives tied to individual and team performance.
Athletic scholarships are the biggest reward offered to amateur athletes. Athletic scholarships pay for some or all of a student-athlete's tuition, including room and board, as long as the student-athlete remains enrolled at the school, continues to participate in the athletic program for which the scholarship was awarded, and maintains academic eligibility. Amateur athletes who are compensated for their performance in any way beyond their athletic scholarships can be stripped of their amateur status by National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) or other college athletic organizations.
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