The International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced an exciting new tournament for the world’s elite junior tennis players, the ITF Junior Masters. The top under-18 boys and girls will be invited to play in China in a tournament similar to the WTA and ATP Finals held at the end of each year.
“The ITF Junior Masters is a new international event showcasing the top eight ranked boys and girls on the 18-and-under ITF Junior World Ranking at the end of the year. The inaugural event will take place at the Sichuan International Tennis Centre in Chengdu following a three-year agreement with the Chinese Tennis Association and the Chengdu Sport Bureau.”
The ITF recognizes the cost of participating in elite junior tennis events. With a total of $160,000.00 available for travel grants for participants, the grants will help insure that the best players in the world can focus on their preparation for the event rather than worry about obtaining funds for travel and lodging. For many, without this assistance they may not be able to afford to travel to the Sichuan International Tennis Centre in Chengdu, China to participate. For the entire release from the ITF, see http://www.itftennis.com/news/189976.aspx
Will I lose amateur status if I accept a travel grant?
For tennis players in the United States the issue of accepting any payment of any kind as an amateur athlete is one that is approached with caution out of concern for losing eligibility for valuable college scholarships. The NCAA, the governing body of collegiate athletics in the United States, has strict guidelines for student athletes. In order to remain eligible for Division I college sports, a goal of many American and International junior tennis players, one must remain an “Amateur” as defined in the NCAA Rules. Often it is a challenge to determine if an act is or is not permissible under the Rules.
With that in mind, what do travel grants mean for those athletes in the U.S. who wish to preserve their amateur status? Well, not much actually, but this provides us a good opportunity to discuss this complicated issue briefly.
The NCAA rules related to amateurism are set up to encourage the development of athletic skills through training and competition, while at the same time attempting to discourage exploitation of student athletes.
To review the NCAA Rules, you may go here to either order a printed copy, or download a copy for free. http://www.ncaapublications.com/p-4355-2014-2015-ncaa-division-i-manual-august-version.aspx
Article 12 of the Bylaws covers Amateurism and Athletics Eligibility.
As a general rule, one may accept prize money, defined as payment as a result of one’s place finish or performance in an athletic event, up to the amount of actual expenses, under 188.8.131.52 Exceptions to the Amateurism Rule.
There is a carve-out to the Rule for tennis players only. Rule 184.108.40.206.2 allows for a tennis player to accept up to $10,000.00 per calendar year in prize money. Once that threshold has been crossed, a tennis player may receive additional prize money on a per-event basis, provided that the amount does not “…exceed the individual’s actual and necessary expenses for participation in the event.” See 220.127.116.11.2.1
But wait a minute you say, this is talking about prize money, not a travel grant. So what about this travel grant?
Will a junior tennis player who accepts payment from the ITF in the form of a travel grant loses his or her eligibility? Not likely, but this is an article, not legal advice. Take a look at 18.104.22.168.4.3. This rule provides that an outside sponsor may provide payment for the expenses of an individual participating in an individual sporting event including actual and necessary expenses associated with an athletics event and practice immediately preceding the event. There are several other rules which lead us to the conclusion that the type of assistance the ITF is proposing is acceptable to the NCAA.
If maintaining NCAA eligibility is important to you, and you dream of playing Division I Tennis on a scholarship, you must be familiar with what expenses are permissible. You might be surprised that expenses of a parent, and a coach’s fee and expenses for a specific event, are expressly prohibited under 22.214.171.124.2.1.
An additional point to consider – Rule 12.02.3, as applied to individual sports, indicates that actual and necessary expenses are to be calculated based upon expenses incurred during the calendar year, January – December. The Rule preceding that one, 12.02.2 states the expenses that are actual and necessary. It is not always easy to determine what acceptable expenses are and what expenditures would violate NCAA rules. For example, under Actual and Necessary Expenses, Coaching and Instruction is included. See 12.02.2(d), and yes, that might be seen to conflict with the language in 126.96.36.199.2 cited above.
So glad I could clear that up for you.
The big NCAA sports are a multi-billion dollar industry, and the NCAA is, understandably, interested in maintaining its successful business model.
Fortunately for your author, the NCAA appears to want prospects to engage legal counsel to discuss important issues related to their athletic career. There are of course limits to that representation and in some regards the NCAA has drawn a bright line, such as Rule 12.3, Use of Agents.
Alexander Scott Dennison is an attorney based in Sarasota, Florida. He may be reached through his law firm’s website at http://www.floridadefenselawpa.com.