RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – AUGUST 13: (BROADCAST – OUT) Swimmer, Katie Ledecky of the United States poses for a photo with her five medals on the Today show set on Copacabana Beach on August 13, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The National Collegiate Athletic Association is steadfast in its commitment to keeping money out of the hands of its “amateur” athletes, despite the fact that college sports is a multi-billion-dollar business. However, there is an exception for Olympians who also compete in college.

While collegiate Olympians cannot receive endorsements, just like other players, they are allowed to keep the prize money the United States Olympic Committee awards athletes per medal: $25,000 per gold, $15,000 per silver and $10,000 per bronze. As it stands, NCAA athletes have already made more than one million dollars:

The biggest winner: future Stanford swimmer Katie Ledecky, who won gold medals in the 200-meter, 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle events, along with the 4×200-meter freestyle relay. She also won a silver medal in the 4×100-meter relay. Altogether, Ledecky has accumulated over $100,000 in prize money.

This is obviously a good thing: Rich people shouldn’t be telling those who dedicate their lives to a sport — one that benefits those rich people — whether they can or cannot make money. However, it is inconsistent with the NCAA’s typical approach toward athletes receiving money.

The NCAA states in its amateurism bylaw that “pay” is only allowed if it is tied to educational expenses, and thus a scholarship, not true pay:

“A professional athlete is one who receives any kind of payment, directly or indirectly, for athletics participation except as permitted by the governing legislation of the Association.

“A grant-in-aid administered by an educational institution is not considered to be pay or the promise of pay for athletics skill, provided it does not exceed the financial aid limitations set by the Association’s membership.”

The association has gone to great lengths to defend this practice, even to a logically absurd extent. Even when the NCAA settled a lawsuit that paid former and current players for their appearances in the EA Sports NCAA video games — clearly a payment for their appearance as athletes, not for anything to do with education — they wouldn’t admit it.

“In no event do we consider this settlement pay for athletics performance,” NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said.

So how is one type of pay for athletic performance allowed, while the other is masked by rhetoric to seem like it is not the athletic pay it truly is? There’s really no logic to it. The Olympics began with amateurism rules, but they moved to a more sensible model in 1971, allowing athletes to receive endorsements. So NCAA athletes live under vastly different rules than their “amateur” Olympic colleagues.

The best answer came from Pac-12 commissioner of compliance Erik Price, who told USA Today that the NCAA is “trying to be better partners with the Olympic movement and make the rules more fair for the kids lucky enough to represent their country at the elite level. You’re trying to enhance their ability to represent their country and still compete collegiately.”

That’s a bunch of jibberish to say, essentially: We’re just making it up as we go along, because it benefits us. That’s long been how the NCAA creates its rules, as noted by Judge Claudia Wilken, who wrote in the Ed O’Bannon v. NCAA trial that, “The association’s current rules demonstrate that, even today, the NCAA does not consistently adhere to a single definition of amateurism.”

One notable consistency within the NCAA system is that the association has cracked down on athletes receiving money in the revenue sports of football and men’s basketball, while being more relaxed in the non-revenue sports, which are more represented in the Olympics.

Why? Critics say it’s because the NCAA is simply concerned with controlling the money. Olympic medal money is never going to find its way to schools, so schools aren’t giving up much by allowing athletes to take that money. But to allow athletes in the popular revenue sports to profit from marketing themselves could transfer some of the money that is currently going entirely to the schools.

“This is not about amateurism. This is about who controls negotiations and gets the money,” former NCAA president Walter Byers said.

In reality, because of fear of retribution in court, the NCAA can’t explain why an Olympian can make six figures, while revenue sport athletes have to go to bed hungry. That’s because there’s no justifiable, consistent way to explain it.

About Kevin Trahan

Kevin mostly covers college football and college basketball, with an emphasis on NCAA issues and other legal issues in sports. He is also an incoming law student. He's written for SB Nation, USA Today, VICE Sports, The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal, among others. He is a graduate of Northwestern University.