by Darian Brooks
It is best to start by saying no, not all recruited student-athletes at the collegiate level receive or are even offered full athletic scholarships. Not only that, but not all colleges or universities are even able to offer money through athletics. A student wishing to get on the field and play to represent their school must realize this ahead of time and understand exactly what they can be offered by a University and what it means to accept it. Below is a very brief overview of NCAA athletic scholarships.
Schools with sports teams most people watch on television through the year are members of the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA). These schools are categorized into Divisions I, II, and III (DI, DII, DIII). Athletic programs and student athletes must abide by the rules set by the NCAA to be eligible for competition. These rules change slightly for each division and the perceived level of competition also changes (Division I being known to have the top collegiate athletes in the country).
In regards to scholarships, only DI and DII schools are able to give financial assistance through the athletic department and specific team. Coaches decide how much they will offer their current and prospective athletes each year (excluding multi-year scholarships that are much harder to come by). The amount or percentage of aid is based on the coach’s discretion. For example, one athlete, John, that is a state champion and nationally ranked may be offered a full ride from a team or school that needs the athlete to strengthen their roster for the next four years. A different school’s team may already have the athlete’s position filled with current student-athletes and only offer 25% scholarship or none at all. A third school may not offer the student any scholarship because they already have given out all of the aid that they can to their other athletes. There is a cap on the amount of scholarships coaches have to hand out and it varies from sport to sport.
Once a student receives offers from different schools, they can decide which is best for them and must sign a National Letter of Intent stating they are committed to attending the specific university. This is a binding contract and after signing, students cannot back out of the agreement (easily). When accepting a scholarship, a student-athlete should keep in mind a few things. The first is that they must read the contract closely and fully understand what they are signing for. Contracts not only mean a student gets the amount offered and gets to play, but they must also maintain a specific academic grade point average and abide by the rules and standards of the coaches, the school, and the NCAA. Student-athletes should also realize that most of these contracts only last for one year. This means that the money is not guaranteed for the following year and if the athlete breaks rules, under preforms, or is unable to compete for any reason, coaches can and will reduce or eliminate all offered aid. Finally, accepting a scholarship means the student must play! Student-athletes that accept scholarship money cannot just decide they do not want to play and expect to have college paid for.
The recruiting process is one that takes strategy and commitment. Getting to the point of deciding between scholarship offers from different schools is not a situation most have the opportunity to do. High school student athletes should know the process early and understand what is possible based on their talent and the level in which they wish to compete. There are hundreds of thousands of high school student-athletes fighting for a small number of available scholarships.
Not every high school student gets to play a sport in college and not every collegiate student-athlete gets a full ride.