Cash Awards and Expense Reimbursement
Students frequently engage in athletic activity (intercollegiate or non-intercollegiate) where they may be offered expense reimbursement, cash prizes, or personal awards. Any assistance provided to a student-athlete in money or in kind could potentially affect the student’s amateur status, so it’s important to remember what is permissible and what is not.
If a student-athlete has played for and accepted a cash prize, she has violated amateur status, regardless of the size or disposition of the cash prize or award.
Q. The cash prize is less than the student’s actual expenses to participate, so wouldn’t this be considered a reimbursement?
A. No. Cash prize and reimbursement is not the same thing. A reimbursement is repayment for expenses incurred and is not dependent on performance, while a cash prize is given to the student based on their place of finish. Generally speaking, reimbursements come from a separate earmarked fund differentiated from prize money.
Q. If a student-athlete gave the prize money to his/her parents or returned it to the sponsoring organization, does the student retain amateur status?
A. No. The act of accepting a cash prize for playing a contest triggers the classification of professional. Even if the athlete does not keep the money he/she has still lost their amateur status.
Q. What if the amount of money won by the athlete is so small that the governing body for the sport does not consider the student-athlete to be a professional?
A. Accepting a cash prize of any size, at any time, would be a violation of a student’s amateur status under NAIA regulations. For example, if a student accepts a $100 cash prize in a tennis tournament, even if the governing body does not consider the student to have become a professional, it would be a violation of NAIA amateur status regulations.
Q. If the student wins an award (e.g. team MVP, outstanding defender), is she allowed to accept it?
A. If the award is a cash award it is not permitted. A student may receive an award of a personal nature but the award should not exceed a value of $500, and multiple awards should not exceed a value of $600.
(Awards of a personal nature may include a plaque, medal, team trophy, a watch etc.)
Another area where student-athletes can encounter amateurism issues involves allowable reimbursements that are not related to cash prizes(NAIA Bylaws Article VII, Section B, Items 2 and 5 and Section D).
Q. A student-athlete was a member of a team (club, semi-pro, company, etc.) and was provided only housing, meals and travel during the season. She did not receive any actual payment for playing. Did she violate her amateur status?
A. Yes. Reimbursable expenses are consistently described in the bylaws as “travel, meals, and lodging only from the immediately previous city to the event.” Living expenses not associated with travel to a specific event are not permitted.
Q. Is the student-athlete allowed to accept a per-diem to cover meals, etc.?
A. Yes, with proper documentation. Reimbursable expenses are consistently defined as actual expenses. Any reimbursement funds must be justified by actual receipts for the expenses, and any funds provided to the student-athlete in excess of actual expenses must be returned by the student. It is not acceptable to provide student-athletes with “meal money” or a per diem without further verifying that all money received by the student was spent on allowable expenses, and any excess was returned.
Each faculty athletics representative is required to certify that every student who competes in the NAIA is an amateur. The FAR should conduct an interview with the student to determine any potential activity that may involve a violation of amateur status. Additionally, most sports’ national governing bodies’ websites display prize money lists. If a player appears on such a list as having earned prize money, the student must be able to submit supporting documentation showing that she did not accept any prize money earned. If any questions arise, please consult the national office.