What is a walk-on player in college sports? - Do It Yourself College Rankings

What is a walk-on player in college sports?

Football players asking What is a walk-on playerCollege athletes without a scholarship that play on a team that offers scholarships are generally referred to as “walk-ons.” There are two types of walk-ons players, preferred or sometimes called recruited or invited, and just plain walk-ons. If you’re going to be a walk-on, “preferred” is definitely the way to go.

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Why the Coach Should Know You Before You Walk-on Campus

The preferred walk-on has actually been recruited by the coach who generally has offered the player a spot on the roster. The player isn’t offered any scholarship money as a freshman but there is the possibility in the future.

A plain walk-on player is someone who has decided to try out for the team without the coaches support. It’s possible that the coach actually knows the athlete but never actually pursued him.

What’s the difference? It really depends on the team and the coaches’ attitudes. Recruited walk-ons are often treated no differently than scholarship players. However, depending on the sport, regular walk-on players may be treated as simply living practice dummies.

If you’re going to walk-on, make sure you establish a relationship with coach before starting college. Being a stealth walk-on is not a good idea.

Not All Players are Created Equal

While being a being a recruited walk-on is the way to go, it’s important for players to understand that the playing field may not be as level as you would like to believe. Consider the volleyball coach who tells the Baylor Lariat that “walk-on athletes are treated the same as athletes on scholarship. During practice, they receive the same workout gear and during games, the same coaching.”

Yet just a few paragraphs later, the same coach states that

Tiffin said walk-ons “are essential to any program.” Tiffin added that without walk-ons, a team has no depth and can’t accomplish what needs to be done in practice – and any sport would be unable to reach its full potential.

“Walk-ons are not only good for increasing numbers at practice, but to increase the overall teams’ academic progress rate,” Tiffin said.

Another example is David Bagga, who walked-on to the University of Arizona Men’s Basketball team. In The Walk-On, the author Alicia Jessop writes that “Although he didn’t receive extensive playing or a scholarship to begin with, Bagga received everything else that came along with being a Division-I athlete.”

Yet, this is immediately followed by a lengthy quote from Bagga that starts with “Because I was a walk-on, I basically got shafted on everything [schedule-wise].” Some are more equal than others?

Obviously, this isn’t the case at every school. The same Baylor Lairat article quotes players as saying:

Players said walk-ons receive the same perks scholarship players receive, including sweats, per diem on trips and medical care. Per Diem is money each athlete receives when teams travel or have practice over a university holiday like spring break. Each athlete is responsible for purchasing food with that money, and once they receive the money, they sign a form saying they received it. They get a certain amount for each meal.

Ethan Hemer at Wisconsin states that “‘I would say that Wisconsin is unique in that walk-ons get a legitimate shot to play,’ says Hemer. ‘At a certain point it’s a matter of talent and ability to play. I know that at other schools, it’s not like that. Walk-ons are there to fill a scout team role.’”

Then there’s the anonymous athlete who describes walking onto to a team and finally getting the scholarship she worked so hard for. Yet, despite her hard work, she feels she was never given the shot to play when it mattered.

David Frank sums up the situation in The Unwritten Code of the College Walk-On, “The majority of walk-on athletes end up quitting before they are done with their eligibility.”

NCAA Rules May Still Apply

And there is always the possibility of just getting the drawbacks without the benefits if you’re a walk-on player. Just ask Baker Mayfield who transferred from Texas Tech to Oklahoma. According to ESPN “Even though Mayfield was a walk-on, NCAA rules state he needs to get a release from Texas Tech to transfer to another school. Mayfield won’t be allowed to transfer to another Big 12 school, a source previously told ESPN’s Joe Schad.”

Ultimately, Mayfield sat out a season and played at Oklahoma. He would have lost a year of eligibility for transferring within conference if it was for the Big 12 changing the rule in 2016.

The problem has to do with being a “recruited” walk-on player. If the player is a recruited athlete, they become subject to the transfer rules for their sport. The NCSA describes it as follows:

If transferring to a Division I school, the athlete must play a sport other than football, men’s or women’s basketball, or baseball. The exception is that an athlete can transfers to a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS or I-AA) school and use this exception provided he or she has at least two seasons of competition remaining.

For many athletes, walking-on is the only option available. Most sports aren’t headcount sports and not all colleges fully fund their scholarships. If you are considering the walk-on option, make sure you understand the opportunities and limitations for the team. The following all contain questions to ask if you’re looking at walking-on.

Learn more if you are considering walking-on:


What is a walk-on player in college sports?