The college fishing circuit, run by fishing-tournament organizations outside the NCAA, has grown to more than 600 registered clubs that offer a glimpse of what college sports might look like when athletes can collect paychecks.
At one such event this month, boats departed from a Maryland marina on a tributary of the Potomac River and the teams aboard competed for a prize of $4,000. The top 10 teams would automatically advance to a national championship tournament in April with a grand prize of $30,000.
Unlike contestants in National Collegiate Athletic Association-sanctioned events, many of the participants could not only accept the earnings, but also do what they wanted with them: invest in equipment, support future fishing teams or buy whatever they desired, be that textbooks or beer, the New York Times reports.
The clubs involved in the college fishing circuit have gotten serious. Many have sponsors who outfit them with boats and gear or pay for lodging, and some teams are actively recruiting high school anglers. Others have full-time coaches. At least two colleges now offer scholarships.
And without the NCAA’s involvement in the sport, college anglers can compete alongside professionals, win prize money and return to the classroom without any consequences.
“It’s kind of evolved into a nice counter to what the NCAA’s quote-unquote stated mission is,” David Ridpath, an assistant professor of sports administration at Ohio University and president-elect of the Drake Group, which pushes for educational reform in college athletics, told the Times.
“Here you have college kids competing, earning money. I’m sure their academics aren’t much different from others that are out there. They’re not corrupted by the money.”