As the NCAA glacially moves toward allowing its student-athletes to make money, there is one group that already rakes it in: cheerleaders. Many NCAA cheerleaders already crush it when it comes to endorsements and sponsored content on their social media platforms.
Long-held rules governing amateurism among college athletes do not apply to cheerleaders, meaning they can sell autographs, appear in commercials and wear their cheer uniforms while promoting products as social influencers, without fear of being disciplined.
Some universities offer meal plans, small scholarships, access to athlete housing, tutoring services,early class registration and waivers of out-of-state fees. Taryn Burke, a former cheerleader and current assistant coach at the University of Central Florida, said that the team there gets “access to the same exact things as any other sport would have” and awards scholarships based on a cheerleader’s skill level, grades and seniority.
Meal plans, scholarships, athlete housing, tutoring, and early class registration for those sweet little courses like “ballroom dancing.” That’s what some universities’ cheerleading teams have access to. In other words, the same perks that football and basketball teams are afforded to make their lives easier given that they effectively work full-time jobs as unpaid athletes. And yet these cheerleaders are allowed to walk into the local mall and load their arms with free bags from American Eagle, provided they throw up a post on Instagram:
Imagine some enormous Oklahoma lineman at this same mall, holding up a five-gallon bag of Auntie Ann’s pretzels and thanking them for how they “really know the way to a boy’s heart”? The entire team would be stripped of its scholarships, the head coach would be fired, and they would lose their bowl eligibility for a decade.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for cheerleaders leveraging their “cheerlebrity” and loading up on endorsements, getting free facial products, and monetizing their skills in any way possible. My gripe, as always, rests with the NCAA. Why on earth are cheerleaders being afforded special treatment? And if they’re allowed to accept endorsements, why can’t gymnasts? Simone Biles said no to college because she saw the value in turning pro, and the NCAA would have prevented her from accepting money. Yet cheerleading and gymnastics look like VERY related cousins.
If you watched Cheer on Netflix, you may remember some of these girls. Many of them picked up hundreds of thousands of followers thanks to the show, and that’s to their credit. They’ve been using their followings to get free tans, facials, underwear… all the usual influencer nonsense.
But the obvious comparison is that none of the Last Chance U stars who continued their playing careers in college would have been allowed to post sponsored content. Who knows why.
Just another day of the NCAA being the NCAA.