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Sports Scholarships for College

Published: 2022-04-14
Sports Scholarships for College
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Who are you?

A stud high school jock?  Or, a parent of a superb young athlete? 

Maybe you’re a single mom, too busy making ends meet to shepherd a scholarship hunt for your travel team phenom?

One thing you may share in common is the dream of having a college coach come knocking on your door to offer free education as barter for bringing those special athletic talents to their school.

If you or your budding superstar is in the 11th or 12th grade, you may have been at the airport when his or her scholarship boat arrived at the pier.

So, if turning that dream into a practical reality, the best advisories are synchronized urging an early start on the effort.  Certainly to begin shopping schools and services and collecting performance video clips as early as the 9th grade is not extreme.

Since it is a college athletic scholarship that is the ultimate goal, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a must first stop for a couple of reasons.

  1. Download this NCAA Guide for The College-Bound Student-Athlete
  2. You must register and create an account with the NCAA Eligibility Center

Whatever the case, getting a collegiate sports scholarship for most standout high school athletes is a real journey.  For most, it's not a simple one.  It can get very complicated.  

There’s paperwork that must be done.  Videos produced.  Schools researched.  Registrations made.  Grades transmissions sent.  And the list multiplies as the number of schools are involved.

The bottom line in a scholarship hunt comes down to responsibility.  It needs to be shared.  The student-athlete needs to perform in the sports and the classroom and be committed to the search.

Families need to guide and offer time, encouragement, and even investment if able.  If there's a shortfall, a third team member can be added to the sports scholarship quest—a sports scholarship service.

The sports scholarship service industry is a big one serving the dynamic market of thousands of high school athletes which refreshes every year.   They can be very helpful in advising and offering multiple services to the campaign.

Though certainly the majority of these services are well received and ethical, there have been complaints.  Once again, the responsibility falls on the athlete and family to be diligent in searching for one of the truly helpful and effective services that will fit.

With or without a sports scholarship service the fundamentals apply:

  • Research schools that the athlete’s talent will fit.
  • Solicit co-operation with current and past coaches.
  • Prepare elements of performance videos.
  • Devise a creative plan to contact selected coaches

The last bullet point above cooks in my kitchen, because while college coaches have rules about how often and when they can contact athletes, the opposite does not apply.  Athletes can contact coaches as often as they wish.

Creative contact can cut through the mounds of unsolicited emails coaches get daily.  I’d submit that alternative and standout media might be used in ways like this to increase your noticed quotient:

  • Buy a basketball net, cut pieces off, and put them in a snail mail letter to the coach saying you want to help him add more to his collection.
  • Print postcards with your best action photo or press clipping and mail one a month to your wish list coaches.
  • Buy USBs in the shape of your sport and keep sending them
  • Send a RED CARD to prospective soccer coaches saying you never earned one while winning your championship.

So, success looms and college coaches express an interest what else is there to know?   Plenty.  Let’s look first at athletic scholarships in general.

Full scholarships exist, but are only included in the revenue sports that make money for the schools, namely:

  • Men’s Division 1 basketball and Division 1-A football
  • Women's Division 1 basketball, tennis, volleyball, and gymnastics.

Partial scholarships are awarded in what are termed Equivalency Sports where it is up to the coach to share their appropriated scholarship money between their athletes.  Rarely do full scholarships happen in Equivalency Sports. 

  • Equivalency sports for D1 men include baseball, rifle, skiing, cross-country, track and field, soccer, fencing, swimming, golf, tennis, gymnastics, volleyball, ice hockey, water polo, lacrosse, and wrestling.
  • For D1 women, equivalency sports include bowling, lacrosse, rowing, cross-country, track and field, skiing, fencing, soccer, field hockey, softball, golf, swimming, ice hockey, and water polo.
  • All D2 and NAIA sports are equivalency sports

For perspective, the NCAA tells us there are 8 million high school athletes and 495,000 of them will go on to play collegiately, not all on scholarships.

Here’s a recent accounting of sports scholarship availabilities:

OK, the phone rings, or the mailman brings a letter or there's a knock on the door and a coach shows interest in discussing an athletic scholarship.  The interview should not be one way.  There are three categories of questions you'll want to ask the coach, the school, and the culture.

Some to ask the coach:

  • Are there other players competing in my position?
  • Will I be redshirted?
  • What are the training and conditioning requirements?
  • How will our coaching and playing styles mix?
  • What is the length of your contract and will you coach me for four years?
  • Do you require or provide medical insurance?
  • If injured while competing who covers the athlete's medical expense?

Some to ask about admissions:

  • What percentage of athletes on scholarship complete and graduate?
  • What is the current team’s grade point average?
  • Are their study support programs for athletes?
  • What rating does the department in my major have?
  • Will class scheduling adapt to sports practices?

Some to ask about financial aid:

  • What does the scholarship cover?
  • What about summer school?
  • How long will the scholarship last?
  • Is financial aid also available?
  • What happens if the coach leaves?

More perspective:  The average yearly athletic scholarship is about $18,000 per Division I student-athlete, based on numbers provided by the NCAA – less than the reported average public school in-state tuition fees of $21,184 and $35,087 at ranked private schools.

And so we don’t conclude this blog on a downer, here’s a hypothetical designed to get your juices flowing, ball bouncing, feet running, arm throwing, and lungs burning:

Let’s suppose when an athlete is old enough to work after school, that he or she gets a $12 an hour after school job during the 36-week school year, working 20 hours weekly. 

That’s $17, 280, close but not even equal to one average scholarship year.  Four average scholarship years would be $72,000 in value. 

And a final keep-playing-sassy-and-futuristic-allegory for the over 450,000 student athletes who go pro in something other than the sport they played in college:

Just before the universal Monday Morning Big Business Meeting do you think they're talking about the ballet or the ball games they attended this weekend?