A lot of misinformation is spread about college athletics, particularly surrounding scholarships.
For an athlete interested in playing a sport at the collegiate level, it is essential to understand every aspect of athletic scholarships before beginning conversations with coaches. That way, you know what to expect once you get into the process.
Here are five major misconceptions about college athletic scholarships:
1. Scholarship = “Full Ride”
Many scholarships are only partial. The chance of getting a full athletic scholarship depends on the program.
NCAA Division I college sports are divided into headcount and equivalency sports. In headcount sports, college coaches can only offer full-ride athletic scholarships. So, if a headcount sport has 50 scholarships and 80 players on its roster, it cannot divide the scholarships among all the athletes. Six sports fall under this category: football and basketball for men; and basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, and tennis for women. All other sports are equivalency sports, meaning a coach can divide their scholarship allotment across their team. While receiving a full-ride athletic scholarship is possible in equivalency sports, it is unusual.
At the Division II and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) level, all sports are equivalency sports.
If all NCAA sports were headcount sports, only 34% of athletes would receive scholarships, meaning the percentage of college athletes on a ‘full ride’ is much lower. Only 57% of Division I athletes receive some form of financial aid, ranging from a book scholarship to a “full ride.” The amount is slightly higher in Division II at 63%.
Given the low odds of receiving a full-ride college athletic scholarship, most athletes will have the best chance of having their college education funded by seeking a combination of athletic and academic scholarships plus financial aid.
2. Every College Provides Athletic Scholarships
Most Division I, II, and NAIA schools offer athletic scholarships, but Division III schools and Ivy League schools do not. These schools claim that offering athletic scholarships will take away from the academic and social experience that college aims to provide. By not providing athletic money, they believe they are creating “true student-athletes,” young people who can excel equally in academics and athletics.
On the bright side, these schools are mostly highly selective and competitive colleges and universities. Usually, they have billions of dollars in endowment funds, meaning they offer the best academic scholarships and financial aid in the United States. NCAA data shows that 80% of all Division III student-athletes receive some form of an educational grant or need-based assistance, about $17,000 on average.
It is certainly possible for a student-athlete competing at the Division III level to receive more money through academic funding and financial aid than what a partial Division I athletic scholarship could have provided.
3. All College Sports Teams Are “Fully Funded”
To ensure schools comply with Title IX requirements, the NCAA has limited the number of scholarships available in each sport. For example, a Division I men’s basketball team has an upper limit of 13, while a Division I women’s track and field team has an upper limit of 18.
A team able to meet the NCAA’s maximum scholarship amount is called a “fully-funded program.” Fully-funded programs are not as common as one might think. Just over half of Division I men’s swimming and diving programs have the budget to offer the NCAA maximum of 9.9 scholarships available to prospective student-athletes. Despite Division I and II schools having a maximum of 12 and 7.2 scholarships, respectively, only 50% of college softball teams offer any form of athletic-based aid at all. More to the point that there are not nearly enough scholarships available in collegiate athletics as we are made to believe.
4. Scholarships are Four-Year Guarantees
Coaches can package scholarships in two ways: a multi-year contract or a renewal/non-renewal contract. If a coach offers a prospective athlete a multi-year scholarship, the athlete will have a guaranteed scholarship for at least two years. They can only lose their scholarship if they commit a felony, violate a team or school rule, or quit the team. In the event of a career-ending injury, a student-athlete can keep their scholarship, provided that they apply and the NCAA approves their application for medical retirement.
Most schools offer renewal/non-renewal scholarships, which are year-to-year contracts that are reviewed for renewal/non-renewal at the end of the award period. It is not uncommon for coaches to lower or cut an athlete’s athletic aid if they under-perform, show a lack of commitment to the team, or if the coach feels that the money could provide more value elsewhere.
A student-athlete scholarship package depends on the school, conference, and sport. All Big Ten Conference member institutions offer scholarships for student-athletes entire enrollment, while schools like the University of Texas San Antonio only award athletic scholarships for a maximum period of one academic year.
5. Scholarships Are Non-Negotiable
College recruitment is like the job interview process: there is always room for negotiation. If an athlete feels like they should be receiving more athletic aid than the coach has offered, they are allowed to express that. If the athlete is a high-priority recruit, the coach may offer additional athletic aid, an academic scholarship, or financial aid. Or, if no more scholarship money is available, coaches may promise more funding later, if the athlete meets expectations in their first year. Of course, there is no guarantee, but it’s worth asking about (please do not lie and say another school has made a better offer if none has. Coaches talk, and will blacklist liars).
A student-athlete can also negotiate their scholarship at any point during their college career. If they exceed expectations and become a more valuable part of the team’s roster, a coach is more likely to increase their scholarship upon request if funds are available.
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SE Perspective is a blog series bringing a point of view from an individual in sports. This article titled, “5 Misconceptions About College Athletic Scholarships” is by Jesse Marsh. Jesse is a former Villanova swimming and diving student-athlete and team captain. And a current graduate student at Northwestern School of Journalism (Medill). Jesse is also an intern for SportsEpreneur.
Current articles by Jesse:
SE Perspective | Navigating the NIL World as an International Student-Athlete
SE Perspective | 6 College Recruiting Tips For International Student-Athletes
And this one! SE Perspective | 5 Misconceptions About College Athletic Scholarships
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