Explainer: The ins and outs of college athletic scholarships

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Swimming is an example of a non-revenue sport


More than half of high school students compete in a sport, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. But only about 2 percent of high school students receive scholarships to compete in NCAA sports.

Thus, the odds of receiving a scholarship in athletics at the collegiate levels are remote. There are roughly 138,000 athletic scholarships available for Division I and Division II sports and the average athletic sports scholarship is only about $10,400, according to the NCAA.

If you are a high school athlete hoping to earn a college scholarship, what can you expect?

Many schools often split their scholarship money into tinier scholarships so that they can lure more athletes to their campus. Many college coaches recruit when they first receive the year’s scholarship money so that they can seem more appealing to athletes.

“We recruit towards the AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] athletes in July,” said Mike Brennan, the new head coach of American University‘s basketball team. “That’s when we get a lot of money for scholarships because we are off season.”

The three divisions: Division I, II, and III determine which competition realm the athletes can compete. Division I is the highest level of intercollegiate athletics and has larger budgets, more elaborate facilities, and more athletic scholarships than Division II and III.

There are two types of Division I scholarships. The “head-count” sport scholarships are when the NCAA limits the total number of individuals who can receive the scholarship, but allows each player to receive up to a full scholarship. The “equivalency” sport scholarships are when the NCAA limits the total financial aid that a school can offer that is equal to a set number of full scholarships. The revenue-generating sports typically use the “head-count” scholarships while the non-revenue-generating sports typically use the “equivalency” scholarships.

Depending on the type of sport athletes play, the chance of receiving a scholarship differs. Recently, there has been a decline in men’s college athletes while women’s athletics are at an all-time high.

Take the University of Georgia as an example. This year, the university spent $10.7 million on student-athlete scholarships. Out of the 21 sports on its budget, 126 women and 121.2 men are sponsored for scholarships, according to Claude Felton, the senior associate athletic director UGA. The college spent $21,232 on in-state scholarships and $39,442 out-of-state scholarships, he said.

Felton said all of UGA’s sports are “funded more than adequately in order to be successful.”

The sports that generally receive the least amount of scholarship money are the non-revenue-generating sports teams. However, it can vary because of the size of the rosters for the sport.

“The golf and tennis teams may only have 7-8 players while track or swimming may have 40,” he said. “Equestrian, for example, has a roster of 70 so their budget and expenses are going to be much more than a sport with only 7-8 players.”

Division I schools have an average of 19 teams and 506.5 athletes per schools, according to the NCAA. A school belonging to the Football Bowl Subdivision must sponsor a minimum of 16 sports, including football, in order to comply with NCAA guidelines and to receive the scholarship money that the NCAA grants to the school. Other Division I schools must sponsor 14 sports.

Brennan, the AU men’s basketball coach, said that every D1 school has 13 basketball scholarships that cannot be divided up and has no more than 15 to 16 people on a team plus one or two walk-ons.

Sports like lacrosse or rowing are slowly diminishing because they aren’t able to generate revenues for their university. Some schools keep their non-revenue sports because they’ve received conference championships or regular season titles. However, over the past 30 years, sports like wrestling and men’s gymnastics have lost almost half of their sports teams.

The vast majority of Division I athletic departments spend more money than they make. Some schools have private scholarships that are funded by donors that are usually alumni from that school.

There are some intercollegiate programs that generate a lot of money, but often revenue comes from only a few sports.

Title IX is also a factor for why many non-revenue sports are still taking part in many universities. The amendment states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Therefore, there were men and women teams that were created to adjust to the amendment.

Since most athletes do not receive full scholarships to play their sport, many athletes take out student loans or apply for other scholarships.

The goal of collegiate athletics is to improve and expand athletic and educational opportunities for all student-athletes. It means to make sure that there are enough funds so that student-athletes are not worrying about grant-in-aid or APR and to have each sport at the same level of financial aid and support that the revenue generating sports enjoy.

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Average athletic scholarships