As softball players start deciding which gold teams to aim for, they’ll start asking themselves what their chances are of getting a softball scholarship. And if they aren’t, I’m sure as parents start to pull out their checkbooks to pay for playing on these teams, they’re considering the question. After all, it would be nice if there was some financial return on all their investments in lessons, teams, and travel. However, if you’re planning on using softball to pay for college, you might want to develop a plan B option because the odds aren’t great.
The first step is being able to get on a college softball team. We’re not even talking scholarships yet. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, in 2021-22 there were 15,454 high schools with girls softball. In 2020 the Office of Postsecondary Education reports only 1,675 colleges offering women’s softball–that’s both two and four-year institutions (this is likely an undercount because of COVID). That means that there’s about one college program for every nine high school programs.
The same sources tell us that there were 340,923 high school players and 34,750 participants at the college level. That means there are around ten high school players for every college player. Of course, not all high school players will even make it to the varsity team but still, the odds aren’t great. Remember, at least a quarter of the college participants are playing at the junior college level.
As for those who make it to the college level, the chances of getting a softball scholarship are even smaller. Let’s start with the fact that the largest group of schools in the NCAA, D3, doesn’t even offer athletic scholarships. That’s 387 schools and 7,874 players without any athletic scholarships. Furthermore, not all divisions of the NAIA and NJCAA offer scholarships either.
Then there is the fact the softball is an equivalency sport. That means that one scholarship can be divided among several players. For example, one player may receive a 30% scholarship and another will get the remaining 70%. Given that the average team size exceeds that number of allowable scholarships, it’s not surprising that few softball players receive full-ride scholarships. (Get a listing of all colleges offering softball programs.)
Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that the the NCAA limits the maximum number of scholarships. That doesn’t mean that the school has to provide that number. Not all scholarships may be fully funded. The SportsEpreneur reports that “despite Division I and II schools having a maximum of 12 and 7.2 scholarships, respectively, only 50% of college softball teams offer any form of athletic-based aid at all.” ScholarshipStats.com conducted a survey of D1 schools in 2016 and found the average softball scholarship was $20,715 with a range between $7,281 and $47,624. Keep in mind that a third of D1 softball schools are private and have an average total cost of attendance of almost $65,000. The average for in-state public universities is almost $27,000.
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Coach Shayne Lotito of Bryant University explains that “I know some D1 universities that have 1 scholarship and some that have 12 scholarships. It is not consistent within conferences either, some teams may have 6 and their conference opponents might have 12.” And remember that when they say 6 scholarships, that’s for the entire team, not per year.
According to the 2007 Big 12 Coach of the Year, Ehren Earleywine of the University of Missouri Softball Team, “lot of kids have this expectation that [they’re] going to get a full ride, [but] it’s just not the case in most instances. Most kids are getting partial scholarships. It’s very hard to get a full ride, and I think kids should understand the reality of that.”
The Buffalo News reports that “Most schools outside the top 40 or 50 in the nation offer fewer than the maximum. The University at Buffalo this year spread out 7.28 grants to men’s track and field and 7.2 grants to its men’s soccer team, a sport with a max limit of 9.9.” The article quotes softball coach Todd Banaszak saying “Everybody’s sights are set on getting one but how many are available? Not many.”
One thing to keep in mind that is players can use softball to get into a more academically competitive college that they might not make it into without being a recruited athlete. The Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships but do provide very generous need-based financial aid. Recruited athletes are often admitted with lower than average academic qualifications for the freshman class. The same is true of many of the most competitive D3 schools.
Ultimately, even if players are good enough to play at the college level, chances of getting a softball scholarship are not good. And all players who are recruited for a scholarship position have to keep in mind the possibilities of injuries. Make sure you have an alternative plan for paying for college than just softball.
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