Athletic Scholarships

Posted on August 27, 2016 in Scholarships

Are you a student, or parent of a student, who is hoping that an athletic scholarship will help cover future tuition bills? Are you hoping to be recruited by a top NCAA school, and to play in front of a jam-packed stadium?

For many high school students, the dream does come true: they are recruited to play sports for their dream university, and they receive an athletic scholarship to pay for their education. Many more high school athletes are not lucky enough to get this opportunity. Although these students do play sports while attending college, they are not selected to receive an athletic scholarship.

Winning an athletic scholarship is tricky these days. College sports are big business, and college coaches have a lot riding on having a winning season. Only the very top athletes in a few select sports receive a “full ride”, which is a scholarship with enough money to pay for an entire year (or four) of college expenses.

Sports That Give Scholarships

You can get a scholarship for just about every sport; it just depends on the college or university which you choose to attend. Colleges have limited funds to use for scholarships, and they must divide their scholarships up amongst all sports offered.

Student athletes who play college basketball are likely to receive scholarships simply due to the amount of colleges that have varsity teams. In 2014, more than 2,000 colleges or universities in the United States had varsity basketball teams. Compare that to the number of college varsity gymnastics teams (93), and you can deduce that there are fewer scholarship opportunities for gymnasts.

After basketball, the other large athletic scholarships usually go to students who play football, women’s tennis, and women’s volleyball. Division I schools receive the most scholarship funding, as we’ll cover next.

Where the Money Comes From

Funding for sports scholarships comes from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The NCAA earns most of its money from ticket sales of the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship (think: March Madness), and from the television and marketing rights that it sells to the tournament. In the 2014-2015 fiscal year, that amounted to $896.4 million dollars.

According to the NCAA website, approximately $199.2 million dollars of the annual earnings go to funding sports scholarships to Division I schools. While that is a tremendous amount of money, there are approximately 350 Division I colleges and universities, with more than 600 athletic teams. That money must be divided up by administrators and coaches to make the best scholarship offers to the top players they hope to recruit.

The NCAA sets rules about the number of athletes on scholarship that a school may have on a given team. The NCAA also sets rules about academic requirements that student athletes (with or without a scholarship) must maintain in order to remain active on a team. Coaches and administrators must abide by these rules or else risk losing future scholarship funds for the college.

Increasing Your Chances

Your chances of receiving some type of athletic scholarship may be greater if you set your sights on a Division II school. Division II schools have fewer teams and athletes than Division I schools, and they offer ‘partial scholarships’ (as opposed to full rides) to a number of deserving athletes.

Another important factor in determining if a student should receive an athletic scholarship is their academic success. Students who excel in sports and have a good academic record prove that they are able to balance both sports and school. This makes them appealing to a university, and to a coach, who wants players to stay off of academic probation.

To increase your chances even more, you need to get noticed. Gone are the days of just hoping that a recruiter would show up to see you play high school ball. Today, you have to proactively make a name for yourself.

There is a whole industry dedicated to helping students get recruited for college sports and win athletic scholarships. Companies like and NCSA Athletic Recruiting claim to connect students and parents with networks of college coaches and recruiters. These companies also provide advice and guidance about how to get noticed, including video profiles of a student and their athletic achievements.

"Applying" for an athletic scholarship is more about building a relationship with a coach, which includes having visits and chats. This is completely different than applying for a traditional academic scholarship, in which you submit an application, rarely meet the selection committee, and wait to find out if you have been selected to receive the scholarship.

Play By The Rules, or Lose Your Scholarship

Athletic scholarships are not guaranteed to any student for more than one year or sports season. Coaches can choose not to renew a student’s scholarship based on any number of reasons, in particular the student’s performance on the field. Students who are not contributing to a winning team may not have their scholarship renewed.

Other reasons that a student could have their scholarship revoked include: ineligibility due to not meeting NCAA academic requirements, trouble with the school or the law, or injury (even if on the field playing the sport the student is receiving the scholarship for). 

Losing an athletic scholarship can be devastating, but it can also put a hold on your education. If you don’t have the money to pay for your college tuition, books, and housing the next semester, you can’t go back to class.

Dream Big, But Stay Focused on the Big Picture

An athletic scholarship and successful college career in sports are worthy aspirations. Students who win these awards and get to attend college at a reduced (or free) rate deserve the glory. For everyone else, staying focused on the educational aspect of college is important. The achievement of earning a degree deserves just as much glory as a touchdown. 


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