NCAA Player Compensation — Do College Athletes Make Money?

Tranell Morant

Many aspiring young athletes dream of being scouted for a college sports team. Taking part in college athletics at a high level has significant benefits, including exposure to high-level coaching, competitions, and facilities. However, players must put in a huge amount of time and effort alongside their college education. 

College teams are not allowed to pay their players a salary for their time and effort. Of course, this setup is very different than those of most elite athletes, who will often have huge sums of money paid every week. 

Thus, many people wonder how NCAA players make money. Below, we discuss more about this organization and how players receive compensation. 

About the NCAA?

NCAA stands for National Collegiate Athletic Association. It is a non-profit organization that any college athlete will know well. The NCAA regulates and organizes college athletics, including competitions, scholarships, and memberships. There are many sports that a person can play that will make them eligible to be associated with the NCAA. Some of the most popular include cheerleading, track, rowing, basketball, and football. 

Playing a college-level sport can significantly impact a person’s life. For example, Tranell Morant reports that playing NCAA college football taught him teamwork and leadership skills — which significantly helped his later business success. 

Although playing college sport may lead to future success, college students still need to pay their tuition and accommodation. However, the NCAA regulations impact not just the sporting career of a college student but also their finances. The organization makes rules that prevent players from making money through their sports. Read on for more information on how NCAA players are compensated.


Athletic scholarships are a huge incentive to play college sports. In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, American colleges awarded over $4.2 billion in athletic scholarships. These scholarships can range from small sums intended to cover the cost of participating in the sport to huge sums of money. 

For example, at Michigan State University, each coach can request one full scholarship every year, which covers the cost of accommodation, tuition, and books. 

These scholarships are probably the biggest financial incentive for NCAA players. The size of the scholarship often depends on how established the sport is. For example, popular NCAA sports like basketball or football often offer high scholarships to talented players. However, a more niche sport like archery or water skiing will probably only have small scholarships. The exception is if a school specializes in a particular sport. For example, Trinity Valley Community College has one of the best cheerleading teams in the country.

Social Media and Brand Partnerships

NCAA athletes who compete in high-level sports can increasingly develop large followings on social media, allowing them to have significant influence. It’s particularly the case for athletes competing in high-profile sports such as football, gymnastics, swimming, and basketball. For example, Louisiana State University gymnast Olivia Dunne has 3.9 million followers on TikTok and 1.9 million on Instagram.

However, until July 1, 2021, college athletes could not make money from their names, images, or likenesses. The NCAA banned the practice of making money from brand partnerships, autographs, or similar projects. The rules have only recently been changed to allow this after a series of legal challenges — including a ruling in the Supreme Court

College athletes like Dunne are now able to get huge brand partnerships and make significant sums of money. Many athletes have already launched brand and sponsorship deals — and the potential for making money is only getting bigger. It will be interesting to see if student-athlete earnings will start to compare to pro earnings.

The Entertainment Industry

College athletes are now able to make significant sums of money through the entertainment industry. For example, the Netflix documentary “Cheer” focussed on college cheerleaders at Navarro College in Texas. The show saw huge levels of popularity and launched the careers of several of the team. 

The team members who were featured have seen their popularity increase dramatically. Many cast members got to feature on The Ellen Show, and some have hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. As well as the direct fee they get for appearing on entertainment programs, the boost in their profile helps their brand deal potential.

The Future of NCAA Player Compensation

Most athletes don’t play college sports to make money. However, the scholarships that it provides can be a huge source of encouragement. The recent relaxation in the NCAA rules about brand deals and social media means that many popular athletes will likely see a huge financial boost.

Ultimately, the compensation that NCAA players receive depends a lot on their popularity, success, and college. Although the compensation levels are not the same as professional athletes, college sports have launched the careers of many sports stars.

Tranell Morant
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