BACKGROUND: In response to an unprecedented period in college sports, the USOPC Collegiate Advisory Council partnered with sport leaders, athletes and coaches to launch the USOPC College Sports Sustainability Think Tank in November 2020. For the first time, industry leaders came together with a collective goal to examine college sport vulnerabilities and explore creative solutions to encourage sustainable, broad-based opportunities. Stemming from that work, the USOPC Think Tank identified three priority concepts for 2021 that were shared publicly during a USOPC Think Tank Town Hall on February 22, and in follow-up questions through March 4, 2021. More information is available at:

FEEDBACK/QUESTIONS: Recognizing that the collegiate and Olympic/Paralympic landscape is vast, the USOPC Think Tank will continue to be transparent about progress and embrace feedback as future projects are tackled. Stakeholder insights and questions may be submitted through the feedback form on the USOPC Think Tank website. The following questions/topics were submitted during and after the Town Hall; they have been categorized into four sections: (1) scholastic sport model, (2) sport opportunities (Title IX/adaptive/transgender), (3) financial model, (4) extended partnerships.

Q1: “What is this body doing to re-emphasize these notions to the academic sides of universities? This whole conversation belongs not only in the athletic but academic offices of universities. Sport is part of the educational aspects of university life and is worth investing in for that reason alone. That’s why de Coubertin studied and was inspired by the American collegiate athletic model when creating the international Olympic movement.” 

Q1 USOPC Response: The USOPC Think Tank concepts and recommendations will be shared and submitted to the NCAA DI Presidential Forum Standing Committee, which is comprised of college and university presidents whom are conducting an NCAA sustainability evaluation. The USOPC Think Tank recognizes the unique value of the American scholastic sports model, which allows individuals to pursue their personal, academic and athletic dreams during a prime development stage in their lives. 

Q2: “I believe we are the only industrialized country that does not have governmental support for national team athletes and aspiring Olympians. This has been possible because the NCAA has historically provided all of the necessary infrastructure, but does that make sense? Would it not be a more sustainable solution to seek a national federal funding model rather than ask higher education to provide support, which is largely dependent on cross-subsidies to predominantly white sports from basketball and football?”

Q2: USOPC Response: The USOPC does not receive any federal funding to support the organization or Team USA athletes. The USOPC funding model is reliant on philanthropic donations, media rights and commercial sponsorships. Additionally, there are numerous organizations that contribute to the development of elite athletes in the United States, the NCAA and its institutions among them. The American scholastic sport model is the preferred pathway for many Olympic and Paralympic sport athletes, which is why collaboration with college leaders is so important to sustain future opportunities. 

Q3: “Would be interesting to hear about how the group felt about the programs that were dropped this year. Do NGB's/Think Tank Group realize that when programs are dropped at any level it hurts future base of those sports.”

Q3: USOPC Response: The USOPC Think Tank was convened to discuss the sports dropped at the Division I level and recognizes each sport ecosystem is fragile and requires broader collaboration to ensure sustainability. Sport specific collaboration is needed to protect the broad-based college sports legacy at all levels and also to support an elite-education based pathway to Team USA (college athletes accounted for the following footprints: 80% of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team, 40% of the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team, one-third of the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team and one-fourth of the 2018 Paralympic Team). The USOPC Think Tank further recognizes other college stakeholders (DII, DIII, NAIA, etc.) play an important role in various sport pathways. 

Q4: “What is the organization doing to make actionable change in the NCAA, given the continued monetization of college basketball and football players, for the remaining sports to preserve the amateur nature of college athletics - in turn, making it more likely mid-level Division I programs will be able to sustain their athletic programs?”

Q4 USOPC Response: The USOPC Think Tank recognized the Olympic and Paralympic sport landscapes are different than football and basketball, yet many NCAA rules govern all sports similarly – often causing unintended consequences for Olympic and Paralympic sports. The USOPC Think Tank believes more flexibility is needed to allow each sport ecosystem to address the nuances in the Olympic and Paralympic sport landscape. The “one-size-fits-all sport approach” is problematic at any school size.  Each sport needs a sustainable strategy and policy flexibility cultivated across sport advocates (school leaders, athletes, NGBs, coaches, etc.). More details on each actionable recommendation can be found per project: sport sustainability, sport structure, vertical partnerships. 
Q5: “How does gender equity play into all these suggestions?”

Q6: “Wouldn’t demoting varsity sports to club sports also impact Title IX compliance given that a majority of Olympic sports are women’s teams?”

Q7: “Agree that sports are so important on campus...but can we really justify admissions spots going to students participating in sports that aren't available to all?  My kids were alpine ski racers.  I know there is a huge financial barrier to entry.  Is this equitable??”

Q5-7 USOPC Response: The USOPC Think Tank believes more sport opportunities for all athletes are important to our society and to the world. This includes both female and adaptive sport participation opportunities, which should comply with Title IX regulations. The USOPC Think Tank priority concepts outline avenues for increased collaboration between colleges and national team leaders/athletes to strengthen each sport ecosystem. National governing bodies do not have separate organizations managing men’s and women’s sports, and different sports engage in college with both varsity and various club opportunities. Each college/university has its own admission standards/philosophy. Additionally, the NCAA has membership policies restricting improper use of athletics in the admissions process. The USOPC does not have a role in the college admissions process.

Q8: “I have not heard anything about how we will be raising up Paralympic athletes and making them more prevalent.  Are there any concrete plans around supporting these athletes moving forward?”

Q9: “I think having the Para side of sport discussion is very important. Will there be detailed discussion on this?”

Q8-9 USOPC Response: The USOPC Think Tank believes the priority concepts provide a framework for supporting both Olympic and Paralympic sport opportunities at the college level. Within the sport structure project, Olympic and Paralympic sport organizations are being surveyed for interest in sport-specific pilots/collaboration opportunities. The USOPC also has an experienced group of sport leaders focused on the Paralympic Movement called the Paralympic Advisory Council. This council can also be a resource in the efforts to increase opportunities at the collegiate level for Paralympic athletes. Of note, is the January 2020 adoption of NCAA Division I, Division II and Division III legislation to extend all Olympic exceptions to Paralympic. This accomplishment was a priority of the USOPC Collegiate Advisory Council, which drafted the proposal, and this legislation is the first time Paralympic references are included in NCAA compliance manuals.

Q10: “How will your group approach the transgender dialogue in sports?”

Q10 USOPC Response: The USOPC Sports Medicine and Ombudsman’s offices have been working with the NCAA Diversity and Inclusion office on this matter. Overall, the USOPC will continue to collaborate at the domestic and international levels on the topic to work toward consistent and fair policies that maintain participation opportunities for all athletes.
Q11: “What role does philanthropy play in the future of Olympic Sports?”

Q12: “The business model for higher education and athletics both have been focused on meeting budget goals by leveraging donors. Be it to fund scholarships, new facilities and rising salaries. This model was exposed as a major flaw this past year. How is this being considered with this model?”

Q11-12 USOPC Response: The USOPC Think Tank recognizes each sport could benefit from increased collaboration efforts at the youth, college and elite levels, which could increase opportunities for revenue, donations and community engagement. College Olympic and Paralympic sports need more latitude to be creative in sustainability efforts, in particular as it relates to financial policies and attracting new fan bases. Likely a combination of philanthropic and commercial efforts will be needed to help strengthen the campus infrastructure for each sport.

Q13: “What ideas were suggested to enable athletes or the USOPC to generate revenue for the colleges and universities?”

Q13 USOPC Response: Athletes serving on the USOPC Think Tank believe athlete voices and advocacy efforts can help their sports become more entrenched on each campus. These efforts certainly involve athlete efforts to engage with alumni, campus constituents and community supporters, and are vital to help each sport protect their place on campus. These efforts can often involve soliciting resources and support for campus programs.

Q14: How will NIL laws affect Olympic sports in college athletic departments?

Q15: “How do you anticipate changes in the rules around NIL will impact institutional support of Olympic Sports?

Q16: “What ideas were suggested to enable athletes or the USOPC to generate revenue for the colleges and universities?”

Q17: “NGBs have always done a great job focusing on athletes, athletes rights and support of their own NIL. How is this being considered into the full conversation?”

Q18: “How do you see NIL liberalization impacting Athletic Department budgets?”

Q14-18 USOPC Response: The USOPC Think Tank recognizes the importance of the name, image and likeness topic. It is difficult to anticipate the market reaction to each Olympic and Paralympic sport and related athletes at the campus level. There is likely to be a period of recalibration of financial losses, but also new opportunities across the college and Olympic/Paralympic sport landscapes. This may impact various campuses in different ways. With the potential for change on the horizon, the USOPC Think Tank is advocating for increased flexibility for each sport ecosystem, while being mindful of the broad-based sports scholastic legacy, which may require additional incentives and/or protections to pressure the educational intent of the scholastic model.
Q19: “Having been a part of both two NCAA institutions and working for a Summer and Winter Olympic Organizing committees I am interested in the lack of D2 and D3 involvement in this group. Many of the greatest people that support NGBs and USOC are from these member institutions. It seems we take such a focus on D1 and not all of the institutions involved.”

Q19 USOPC Response: The USOPC Think Tank efforts serve as the starting point. The first set of efforts are intended to target the dropped sports occurring at the Division I level, which often has different legislative regulations, financial dynamics and sport sponsorship drivers. With the vast majority of Team USA athletes hailing from Power Five and Division I schools (92% athletes from the 2016 Olympic Games competed at the DI level), the starting point was intentionally focused on Division I. The USOPC Think Tank recognizes more work needs to be done at each sport level as DII, DIII, NAIA, and junior colleges have enormous potential for expanding Olympic and Paralympic sport opportunities. Some NGBs have already initiated conversations and strategies in this direction.

Q20: “Knowing that many student-athletes are beginning to compete outside of the high school season and with local clubs (Volleyball, Baseball/Softball, Soccer, Basketball, etc.) Is there a consideration that involvement with these organizations should be considered as well?”

Q20 USOPC Response: The USOPC Think Tank believes there is untapped potential at the developmental-level of sport where high school aged athletes are participating. For many sports, scholastic high school sports are impacted by the collegiate landscape (recruiting policies, college scholarships, competitive infrastructure). Both systems could benefit from increased sport-specific alignment. Furthermore, there are many sports leveraging outside clubs and creative partnerships with NGBs to help the sport grown. The USOPC Think Tank is encouraging more collaboration on a sport-specific-basis with high school federations and other developmental infrastructures.

Q21: “Is there ways university recreation and or NIRSA can play a role such as sport clubs??”

Q21 USOPC Response: The USOPC Think Tank is focused on protecting the varsity sport experience as it not only provides resources to athletes, but it also provides a strong competitive infrastructure. Since college club programs are often loosely managed at the student level, turnover, limited funding and limited infrastructure can make it difficult to replicate the competitive experience of the NCAA. That being said, there may be sport-specific partnerships between campus recreation efforts and NGBs, which can help bolster sport growth, and the USOPC Think Tank believes such opportunities should continue to be explored.

Q22: “How are you linking up with funding/training/development for post-collegiate in non-Olympic years? Are there additional partnership opportunities where post-collegiate could train at college institutions, and engage in graduate study, in exchange for better stipends, and volunteer coaching or camp involvement. Funding from sponsors or USOPC to help financially support some of the participating colleges to provide these resources, which are already existing, and more geographically diverse than the Olympic training center locations?”

Q22 USOPC Response: The USOPC Think Tank is interested in broader opportunities to enhance the sport-specific pathways and thereby assisting the incoming, current and post-graduate athletes. The USOPC collegiate partnerships team surveyed national governing bodies in August regarding the number of athletes trying to train on college campuses during the pandemic. 30 sports reported over 550 athletes were reliant on college infrastructure (facilities, coaches, training, etc.). The USOPC Think Tank is assessing current sport-specific examples of connecting schools and national teams (wrestling training centers, diving podium centers, etc.). Overall, the USOPC Think Tank recognizes the importance of the collegiate system and the need for more sport-specific collaboration to strengthen the pathway for athletes at various stages of their development.

Q23: “How do single-sport conferences get a seat at the table?”

Q23 USOPC Response: The USOPC Think Tank recognizes that the current concepts address the macroenvironment of college sports and seeking broad collaboration in the early phases of work, but also recognizes the need for each national governing body and collegiate stakeholders to further engage on a sport-by-sport basis to better serve each sport ecosystem. The USOPC Think Tank has been observing the interesting collaboration in the sport of ice hockey as many schools are members of single-sport conferences and there is strong collaboration with USA Hockey and College Hockey Inc., which demonstrates the benefits of such alignment (e.g., policy alignment, collective scheduling efforts, world-class talent development).
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