One of the first surprises for many student-athletes and their families is the disappointingly low number of full-ride athletic scholarships available. What may be just as surprising are the many different types of offers athletes can actually receive from a school. To better understand the basics of athletic scholarship offers, here are a few key facts you should know:
- Most offers are typically one-year agreements. Although multi-year offers are becoming more popular, they are still rare.
- Verbal offers from a coach are not binding agreements.
- The National Letter of Intent (NLI) is a legal binding contract between an athlete and the school. Since it is a contract, it is important that you fully understand the agreement.
Hopefully, knowing these terms will give you a better understanding of the offers you may receive. Let’s take a quick look at the most common offers a student-athlete may receive from college and universities.
Full-ride scholarship offer
Full-ride athletic scholarships are only available in six college sports:
- Men’s Basketball
- Women’s Basketball
- Women’s Gymnastics
These are known as head count sports that create revenue for the school. A full ride covers the major costs of attending college like tuition, room and board, books, and some course fees. The term “full ride” doesn’t mean for the “full four years.” Full ride scholarships, like all offers, are one-year agreements that may or may not be renewed.
Partial scholarship offer
The remaining sports or “equivalency sports” in NCAA Division I and II are where coach essentially have a pool of scholarship money that they can divide up amongst their team. While not a full ride, a partial scholarship offer can still cover a significant portion of college costs or very little. It may be that one student-athlete on a team gets a scholarship that covers tuition, while a teammate may only get offered a scholarship that covers the costs of books.
Preferred walk-on offer
Not all offers come with a monetary reward. Sometimes, the reward is simply a spot on the roster. A preferred walk-on offer means the coach would like you on the team but cannot (or won’t) offer any financial assistance at least for the first year. Preferred walk-ons can earn a scholarship going into their second season, but nothing is guaranteed. Some student-athletes will turn down scholarship offers at smaller schools to play for a bigger program as a preferred walk-on.
Do preferred walk-ons sign on signing day?
Technically, preferred walk-ons don’t have anything to sign on Signing Day, as they aren’t receiving an athletic scholarship. However, walk-ons are an essential part of a successful team, and college coaches want to celebrate their signing, as well. Ask your future coach about having something to sign, especially if your school is throwing a Signing day party. Don’t forget to rep your new school with some gear!
Recruited walk-on offer
A recruited walk-on offer means there is interest from the coach but no financial assistance and you must still earn a spot on the team through additional try outs or summer training camp. Although there is no financial assistance or even a guarantee of making the team, some student-athletes still view a recruited walk-on offer as a great opportunity to be play at the highest level of competition.
Unrecruited walk-on offer
Typically, this is when a student-athlete qualifies for admission to the school and plans to join the team through an open tryout. In this scenario, there is usually a conversation with the college coach prior to enrollment to confirm the student-athlete will be able to try out for the team.
There is a lot to consider with any type of walk-on offer. This is especially true if you have scholarship offers from other schools.
The multi-colored shirts of college sports
While “redshirt” may be a familiar term to many student-athletes and their families, there are actually a number of different shirt color terms that designate a student-athlete’s eligibility status. The color also shows how a coach sees a recruit contributing to the program in both the short-term and long-term.
Redshirt scholarship offer
Typically, a redshirt athlete will have a scholarship but cannot compete for one year. They will participate in all team activities like practice, training, and receive benefits such as academic tutoring, but they will not see any playing time. However, they will get an opportunity to play four seasons in five years. Reasons for being redshirted include a coach wanting a year to physically prepare an athlete for college competition, or a chance for a student-athlete to recover from an injury. An “academic” redshirt would be a freshman who may not meet the academic eligibility requirements coming out of high school.
Grayshirt scholarship offer
This is one of the more challenging offers from a college coach. In some cases, grayshirt offers are made by programs that have more commits than open roster spots. Most coaches try to be clear about offers being made, but some committed student-athletes have been surprised to learn they have been grayshirted as National Signing Day nears.
A grayshirt offer means that an athlete will be on scholarship at the start of the second semester. That means they enroll first semester as a part-time student at the school or possibly a two-year school. The good news is that grayshirt athletes will also have five years to play four seasons. Plus, there’s a chance it could be turned into a regular scholarship offer if there is an unforeseen opening on the team’s roster.
Blueshirt scholarship offer
Blueshirting is becoming a more popular (but hardly common) way to creatively manage the number of athletic scholarships. Blue shirt rules allow for unrecruited players to be awarded a scholarship at the start of freshman practice. Like a redshirt, they will practice with the team but won’t be allowed to play for a year. This allows a team that may have too many commits to essentially borrow against their next year’s scholarship total. The rules are rather strict in regard to what is defined as being “unrecruited.” That means there was
- No official visit
- No in-home coach visit
- No signed National Letter of Intent
- No form of athletic aid
Given the recruiting restrictions, it is still a pretty rare occurrence for a student-athlete to be considered for a blueshirt scholarship offer.
Greenshirt scholarship offer
More and more fall sport athletes are getting a jump on their college careers by graduating in December and enrolling a semester early. The benefits to greenshirting include the chance to get ahead on classes, attend spring training and practice with your new team while on scholarship before the new fall season. Student-athletes who greenshirt are allowed to play their first year but the can also redshirt and have five years to play four seasons.
Beyond NCAA DI and DII
Statistics will tell you that only two percent of high school athletes receive athletic scholarships. Student-athletes and their families who may have had their heart set on playing for a DI or DII program should take a closer look at DIII, NAIA, and even junior colleges for financial incentives.
While NCAA DIII schools cannot offer athletic scholarships, 80 percent of DIII athletes receive some type of financial aid. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) reports that its athletes receive on average $7,000 in financial aid. And in the often-overlooked world of junior college athletics, the National Junior College Athletic Association offers full and partial scholarships at more than 500 colleges.
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