Athletic Scholarships

There is as much information available on athletic scholarships as there is on academic scholarships, perhaps even more. Not only will high school coaches help a hard-working athlete go to college, but universities also make finding top athletes a priority. In addition, numerous consultants, scouts and private companies make it their business to find star athletes and put them in touch with colleges and universities.

Yet the key factors in this area of financial assistance are not necessarily the number of scholarships, the flood of information or the amount of money available. To be successful in pursuit of an athletic scholarship, parents and student athletes must first excel in a sport for which financial help is given. After that, colleges and universities must notice the athlete. This alone can make the difference, even with all the attention paid to the best young athletes today. Marketing the athlete and dealing with the demands of school visits and recruiting by coaches can be a major portion of the athletic scholarship process. Only from that point will the road to a position in a college sports program be a high-speed freeway.

It may be best to first understand just what an athletic scholarship is and where it comes from. A key player in the process is the National Collegiate Athletic Association or NCAA. This organization is made up of universities and colleges who associate voluntarily to oversee athletic programs.

The NCAA states, “Athletic scholarships for undergraduate student-athletes at Division I and Division II schools are partially funded through the NCAA membership revenue distribution. About $1 billion in athletic scholarships are awarded each year. Over 126,000 student-athletes receive either a partial or full athletic scholarship. However, these scholarships are awarded and administered directly by each academic institution, not the NCAA. Division III schools offer only academic scholarships. They do not offer athletic scholarships.”

It would best to keep in mind that, as parents and students pursue an athletic scholarship, there are strict guidelines set by the NCAA and most universities. For instance, all high school athletes who want to compete in a college sport must register with the NCAA Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse. The organization publishes a guide that contains specific instructions on how to go through the registration process. One key part of this program is the National Letter of Intent, a binding agreement between a student-athlete and the university. Working closely with the high school athletic director, coach and parents is absolutely critical in completing the steps correctly.

As an athlete considers playing a college sport, it is best to think about the three divisions set in college regulations. The number of scholarships offered to athletes basically establishes these divisions. As mentioned earlier, Divisions I and II offer athletic scholarships. Division III schools, which tend to be the schools with smaller enrollment, offer only academic scholarships. In the case of the first two divisions, the key factor is that the athlete meets the standards for amateurism. The young athlete must not have received any type of compensation or gifts to compete in the sport.

But NCAA funds for athletic scholarships are only part of the picture. There are also organizations such as the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) that have hundreds of member schools interested in good athletes and good students. More than 90 percent of NAIA member schools offer athletic scholarships. Working with one of these organizations and the university is a subject of many books, articles and booklets intended to guide parents and athletes through the process.

But what about the money? Where does it come from? Some of the funds come from revenue and membership dues paid to the NCAA, NAIA or NCJAA. A graduate who has done well financially and wants to provide opportunities for young student-athletes donates some of the money to a particular university. Many times this money is given to the general scholarship fund, but often the donation provides for a scholarship in a particular sport.

For example, part of the $235,000 given by an individual to a major university recently will be used for athletic scholarships. Numerous private individuals and groups have established scholarship funds similar to this. Parents and high school athletes should be aware that basketball and football players at large Big Ten, ACC or Pacific Ten schools are not the only ones who get help with a college education because of their athletic talent.

In fact, many consultants and recruiting groups will tell you that you do not have to be one of the top five athletes in your sport to get a scholarship. There are excellent playing and studying opportunities at smaller and lesser-known schools, including the Division III schools that provide a chance to play basketball, football, baseball, tennis or another sport. These schools will look first at your academic record, so high school grades and test scores will be very important.

Most universities have logos and trademarks that are used on clothing and other promotional items. Funds from the licensing of these items provides a great deal of money for athletic scholarships. Other university income, such as that generated by the football program or basketball program for example, may be used to help athletes attend a university and participate in a sport.

Athletic scholarships can range from $500 to $30,000, depending on the type of scholarship, the sport and the school. For example, major universities that are part of NCAA Division I have several scholarships established by a family or an individual. Some of these focus on a particular sport such as football or track. Others provide financial help for students who participate in a sport that receives less media attention, such as rowing or lacrosse. Nearly all of the scholarships on the list at a particular university require not only athletic ability but also academic ability and financial need.

While the athletic scholarship process can seem complicated, there are several places to turn for assistance. The best place to begin is with the athletic director’s office at the high school. This office has the job of making sure everything associated with high school athletics is done in the correct manner, with the best interests of the student in mind. In addition, there are dozens of professional recruiters and consultants who can help. But this may be a later step in the process.

More than 600 colleges and universities offer athletic scholarships, but even with this large number it is often up to the athlete to find a coach who may be interested in adding a player to the team.