An Olympic-size exception in NCAA regulations

If your understanding of the NCAA’s no-payment rules for student-athletes is informed by the memory of Ohio State football’s 2011 “tattoo gate” scandal, you might be surprised to learn that Kyle Snyder received cash bonuses for international wrestling wins while also competing for the Buckeyes, according to a profile of Snyder in Victory Journal. From 2015 to 2018, Snyder earned at least $375,000.

Since 2001, the NCAA has allowed student-athletes to accept payments the U.S. Olympic Committee offers medalists (and world champions in non-Olympic years) through its Operation Gold program. Snyder received $25,000 from the USOC, the standard award for gold in 2016.

But the NCAA also allows enhancements to the USOC payments, as long as the money comes from an athletic federation. Under those rules, USA Wrestling awarded Snyder a massive payout of $250,000 for winning gold in Rio. The bonus was underwritten by the Living the Dream Medal Fund, a pot of money created in 2009 by two wealthy former wrestlers. Living the Dream also paid Snyder a total of $100,000 for winning gold at world championship tournaments in 2015 and 2017, according to Victory Journal.

Have other OSU Olympians received similar bonuses? It’s hard to tell. That information is protected under student privacy rights, according to OSU Athletics Department communications director Dan Wallenberg, and the NCAA says it doesn’t document such payments. In an email, NCAA representative Michelle Brutlag Hosick writes, “Because these type of awards are allowed by rule (not waiver), we don’t keep track of who accepts them or how much.”

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