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Can Athletic and Academic Scholarships be Stacked?

Basketball and mortar board representing academic scholarships for athletesYou would think this would be an easy question to answer. And it is for NCAA D3 schools since they aren’t allowed to offer any athletic scholarships so the answer is no. As for D1 or D2 schools, if you just stop and think about it a little, you would begin to realize that there’s no way it could possibly have a simple answer.

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Why is that? Just imagine if schools could freely give athletes scholarships for academic qualifications instead of athletic abilities. There’s no limit on the number of academic (or merit) scholarships that colleges and universities can award. And there are no minimum qualifications. Schools give out scholarships for music, art, drama, leadership, and community service without demanding excessive academic qualifications.

Surely you can see the issue here. What’s to stop schools from providing generous academic scholarships for athletes and just skip the limitations of athletic scholarships?

NCAA Rules for Academic Scholarships for Athletes

There is something in the NCAA legislation called Bylaw 15.02.3. This rule states that any financial aid except that which is specifically exempted is going to count as athletic aid and make the student a “counter” in terms of scholarships.

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Federal and state financial aid based on need is exempted. Institutional academic scholarships for athletes (freshman) may be exempted if the students meet one of the following conditions depending on the division:

Division 1

  • Top 10% of the high school graduating class
  • Achieve a cumulative high school GPA of at least 3.50
  • Score 1200 or higher on the SAT or ACT sum score of at least 105

Division 2

  • Top 20% of high school graduating class
  • Achieved a 3.5 cumulative GPA out of 4.00
  • ACT Sum score of 100 or SAT of 1140

The schools also have to certify that athletic information was not required as part of the application process although students may voluntarily list athletic achievements.

What are NCAA Counters in Scholarships?

Then there is the counter and fully funded issue. This isn’t an easily explained subject. It has to do with athletes receiving non-athletic aid but having it count as athletic aid for purposes of limiting the number of athletes receiving athletic scholarships. The best explanations I’ve found so far are at Daily Compliance Item Institutional Aid (which is straight forward and I understood) and Fixing the NCAA’s Approach to Non-Athletics Aid which suggests that the entire process works against the benefit of the athletes.

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There’s a very interesting thread on College Confidential on combining academic and athletic scholarships and a variety of experiences that makes great food for thought on scholarships for college athletes. The Recruiting Code has an explanation on Division 2 athletic scholarships that is worth the read just for the coaches comments. And Rick Allen at Informed Athlete has an explanation and offers to answer any questions as well.

There is a potentially useful table and diagram to determine scholarship counters that is part of a Power Point presentation that you can download in PDF format.

What about Non-Institutional Scholarships for Athletes?

The good news is that athletes can compete for outside scholarships, such as those offered by service organizations, churches, and businesses. As long as the scholarship is “awarded solely on bases having no relationship to athletics ability.”( Of course, all such scholarships must be reported to the financial aid office but this can really help out athletes in equivalency sports.

Remember, approximately half of D1 and D2 athletes do not receive any athletic scholarships. This is why it’s critical for athletes to use the Net Price Calculators (NPC) on college websites to see how much financial aid they’ll qualify for. Even with athletic scholarships, athletes can qualify for need-based aid.

The problem is when athletes have more need than what is recognized by the school. Even if the difference is just what might be covered by a part-time job, when is an athlete supposed to find the time? This is where out-side scholarships can be useful. A diligent plan to apply for all possible scholarships can substitute for a well-paying part-time job where the student gets to control the hours.

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When in Doubt-Ask

You can always call the NCAA eligibility center with questions about academic scholarships for athletes. However, it’s probably better to contact the college’s athletic department and the financial aid department with any questions you might have. Ultimately, the schools decide how much to fund programs and have to certify academic scholarships. And you should ask both departments because if they aren’t on the same page, you’ll be the one suffering the loss of aid.

Can Athletic and Academic Scholarships be Stacked?