Sunday, February 26, 2012

Youth Sports: The Reality of NCAA Scholarships (Part 1)

My nephew just received a full ride to play football for Coastal Carolina. He scored 22 touchdowns in 11 games his senior year. The team’s previous record was 14. Still, my nephew was lucky to get a scholarship at all. He suffered an injury that cut his junior year short after a few games. The injury also significantly cut the number of calls he received from college football coaches and recruiters.
I learned a lot about the quest for a college scholarship from my sister. The biggest thing that I learned is that there are a lot of misconceptions regarding collage scholarships. Over the next couple of posts I will share the statistics and realities of NCAA college scholarships.
Misconception #1
All college athletic scholarships are full rides (4 years of free education plus room and board). Full ride scholarships make up a very small percentage of the scholarships granted. The average is actually about $10,000 per year, a small fraction of the $22,000 to $56,000 cost to go to school each year. Ironically, many youth sports parents spend $5,000 to $10,000 per year from age 11 to 18 preparing their young athlete for a scholarship. My message to you is, if you are investing money in youth sports for a potential NCAA scholarship you are misguided.
The reality is that outside of the money generating sports like football and basketball, full rides are rare. Many institutions simply cannot fully finance sports like soccer, baseball, bowling, golf, lacrosse, men's volleyball, softball, swimming, wrestling and track and field because these sports do not generate a lot of money from attendance and / or media contracts. Typically, women's volleyball players receive full ride scholarships.

The best chance for a full ride is in big money football and basketball. The NCAA allows 85 scholarships for football and 13 for basketball, enough to provide a full ride to every players and schools that generate a lot of money from these programs fully fund these scholarships. For comparison, a low money generating sport like men's soccer can only give 9.9 hardly enough for a squad that consists of about 28 players. Truth be told, many schools do not give the maximum number of scholarships allowed. To attract many quality players, one scholarship is often split and distributed among multiple athletes on a team. A one-year scholarship worth $50,000 is often distributed among 5+ athletes, each getting $10,000 or less per year. It's amount that satisfies a young athlete’s ego, but hardly covers the cost of going to school.
Misconception #2
Athletic scholarships are plentiful. That would be true if every Division I and II school offered the maximum amount of scholarships allowed by the NCAA. (Scholarships are highly regulated by the NCAA.) Here is the reality, only Division I and Division II schools can offer scholarships and the number of scholarships per sport per school is fixed. For example, baseball is only allowed to distribute 11.7 for the entire team each year. A college baseball team typically carries 36 players on a roster.
While the NCAA edict sets a maximum number allowed,  each college can determine how many scholarships they are going to give out based on their own principles and economics. Some schools DI and D2 schools do not offer any athletic scholarships at all. Ivy League teams and the military academies do not offer any athletic scholarships. Others offer some financial assistance through athletic scholarships, but simply cannot afford to offer the maximum number of scholarships.
Here is the hard cold truth - The number of athletes playing with a scholarship full or otherwise is about 140,000. Men’s and women’s hockey has the highest scholarship average per athlete $20,000 per year which is almost 4 times more than the average baseball players pull in.
The chart below indicates how many scholarships are available for reach sport.
The Main Point
Keep pumping money into a 529 college savings plan. Your kid has a 3-5% chance of playing a sport in college and the chances of getting a significant amount of money to play that sport is slim to none. 

Division I                                     Max             Men's            Max        Women's
                                                      #                Teams             #              Teams
                                                   Scholar-                            Scholar- 
                                                    Ships                                  Ships                                     

Baseball /Softball 11.7 291 12 283
Basketball 13 340 15 338
Track & Field 12.6 276 18 316
Football 85 242 0 0
Golf 4.5 290 6 252
Gymnastics 6.3 16 12 61
Field Hockey 0 0 12 77
Ice Hockey 18 34 18 24
Lacrosse 12.6 57 12 90
Rowing 0 0 20 86
Soccer 9.9 197 12 314
Swimming / Diving 9.9 134 8.1 193
Tennis 4.5 258 8 317
Volleyball 4.5 22 12 323
Wrestling 9.9 71 0 0

Division II                                   

Baseball /Softball 9 266 7.2 287
Basketball 10 310 10 312
Track & Field 12.69 184 12.69 201
Football 36 169 0 0
Golf 3.6 233 5.4 170
Gymnastics 5.4 0 6 9
Field Hockey 0 0 6.3 29
Ice Hockey 13.5 24 18 9
Lacrosse 10.8 48 9.9 68
Soccer 9 204 9.9 256
Swimming / Diving 0 70 9 89
Tennis 4.5 178 6 239
Volleyball 4.5 16 8 300
Wrestling 9 61 0 2


  1. It is true all that you have written. I have a lot of high school friends that have not been offered D1 scholarships or even DII scholarships. They are with accolades based on state recognition and yet they had no athlete scholarships.

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