Athletics

Athletic Scholarships: 12 Things You Need to Know

I’m always amazed at how little players and their families know about athletic scholarships. Given that most of them have been justifying playing their sport for the chance at a college scholarship since middle school, you would think they would be better informed. Depending on the sport and division, scholarships can be very limited. It’s kind of like someone planning a trip to Europe and not realizing they need a passport for traveling. Yes, some of the stuff people are missing is pretty basic.

The following are 12 things you need to know if you’re looking for an athletic scholarship.

1. Who sets the numbers of maximum number of athletic scholarships.

All NCAA and NAIA sports have limits on the maximum number of scholarships schools are allowed to offer by sport. The number allowed by sport will also change by division. Players in Division 3 do not receive any athletic scholarships.


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2. Colleges are not require to fully fund athletic scholarships.

The NCAA sets the maximum, it does not require schools to fully fund scholarships for all sports. Many schools do not fully fund all of their allowable athletic scholarships.

3. Colleges do not offer all sports.

Not all sports are offered at all colleges. The NCAA requires Division 1 schools to offer at least 14 sports while Divisions 2 and 3 are only required to offer a minimum of 10 sports.

4. There are two types of athletic scholarships.

Head-count sports offer full-ride scholarships. This means that if a player is awarded a scholarship, it will be for the full cost of attendance. There are six head-count sports and they are only at the D1 level:

  • Football (FBS only),
  • Men’s Basketball,
  • Women’s Basketball,
  • Women’s Volleyball,
  • Women’s Gymnastics,
  • and Women’s Tennis.

The NAIA and all other sports at all levels are equivalency sports.

5. Equivalency sports can offer partial scholarships.

Equivalency sports are allowed to divide their scholarships among multiple players. For example, the value of one scholarship may be split among three players. Very few players in equivalency sports received full scholarships.

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6-Athletic scholarships are not required to cover all four-years.

The NCAA allows schools to offer scholarships for multi-year periods but does not require it. Some conferences, include the Power 5, are requiring athletic scholarships to cover multi-year periods.

7. Students with multi-year scholarships can still transfer.

Students who receive multi-year scholarships may still choose to transfer and will be subject to the NCAA transfer rules. Currently athletes are allowed a one-time transfer where they do not have to sit out a year and can immediately start playing. Transfers occur through the transfer portal.

8. Athletic scholarships may not automatically renew.

Depending on the conference, the school is not obligated to renew a scholarship at the end of the award period. If the scholarship is in an equivalency sport, it can also be renewed for a lessor amount. The Power 5 D1 conferences have their own rules which state that players cannot lose their scholarships because of performance.

9. Most athletic scholarships do not cover all college costs.

Since equivalency scholarships generally don’t cover the total cost of attendance, players need to compare the actual amount they’ll be expected to pay after they receive an athletic scholarship, rather than just the athletic scholarships themselves. In the following example, the student pays less at the public school with a smaller percentage scholarship.

10. Students with athletic scholarships may be eligible of in-state tuition.

Some public schools will charge out-of-state students in-state tuition if they receive a scholarship from the school. Athletes need to be aware that they may lose this discount if they lose the scholarship or quit the team.

11. Not all athletes sign the National Letter of Intent.

The National Letter of Intent only applies to students who receive athletic scholarships. D3 athletes do not sign the National Letter of Intent because they do not receive athletic scholarships.

12. Colleges may have the different academic eligibility requirements.

Conferences and individual colleges may have stricter rules for admission than the general rules required by the NCAA for scholarship eligibility. For example, meeting the minimum NCAA D1 eligibility requirements is not going to land you a spot on an Ivy League team.

While things may seem pretty grim for scholarship opportunities depending on your sport, there are other possible financial sources for athletes. First, don’t forget financial aid. Athletes qualify for need-based aid regardless of their athletic status. Second, academic scholarships are allowed as long as the player meets specific NCAA criteria. And finally, under the Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) policy, athletes never know what they might make as an Instagram influencer.

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Michelle Kretzschmar

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Michelle Kretzschmar

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