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How Do Athletics Scholarships Work?

Behind the Blue Disk

Does the NCAA award athletics scholarships?
Individual schools award athletics scholarships, which are partially supported through NCAA revenue distribution. Divisions I and II schools provide more than $2 billion in athletics scholarships annually to more than 126,000 student-athletes. Division III schools do not offer athletically related financial aid.

Is an athletics scholarship guaranteed for four years?
Many athletics scholarships, like most merit-based scholarships, are granted for one academic year. However, schools are allowed to provide multi-year scholarships. Allowing schools to award scholarships for longer than a single year gives student-athletes greater assurance that their education will continue even if they suffer an injury, their athletics performance does not live up to expectations or the coaching staff changes. If a school plans to reduce or not renew a student-athlete’s aid, the school must provide the student-athlete an opportunity to appeal. In most cases, coaches decide who receives a scholarship, what it will cover and whether it will be renewed.

What do athletics scholarships cover?
Full scholarships cover tuition and fees, room, board and required course-related books. Many student-athletes receive athletics scholarships covering only a portion of these costs.

What is a full athletics scholarship worth these days?
The average value of a full scholarship at an in-state, public school is $15,000 a year. For an out-of-state public school, the average value is $25,000 a year. Full scholarships at private schools average $35,000 a year. The real value of athletics scholarships is intangible. Without them, many student-athletes would be unable to pursue their athletics and academic dreams.

Can student-athletes receive other non-athletics financial aid?
Yes. Thousands of student-athletes benefit from academic scholarships, NCAA financial aid programs such as the NCAA Division I Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund and need-based aid such as Federal Pell Grants. Student-athletes and parents should check with their school’s athletics department or financial aid office regarding permissible sources of financial aid.

Is an athletics scholarship the same thing as a National Letter of Intent (NLI)?
The NLI seeks to limit recruiting pressure by providing a prospective student-athlete an opportunity to make a binding commitment to a school. An athletics scholarship sets forth the amount of financial aid the student-athlete will receive during an academic year. The NLI must be accompanied by an athletics scholarship to be valid.

Do many high school athletes earn athletics scholarships?
Very few, in fact. About two percent of high school athletes are awarded athletics scholarships to compete in college.

Do many NCAA student-athletes go on to play professionally?
Even fewer! Of the student-athletes participating in sports with professional leagues, very few go on to be professional athletes. In reality, most student-athletes depend on academics to prepare them for life after college.

What percentage of NCAA student-athletes go pro?
Education is important. There are more than 400,000 NCAA student-athletes, and most of them go pro in something other than sports. The following are the percentage of NCAA student-athletes who become professional athletes in specific sports:

  • Baseball – 11.6%
  • Men’s ice hockey – 1.3%
  • Football – 1.7%
  • Men’s soccer – 1.0%
  • Men’s basketball – 1.2%
  • Women’s basketball – 0.9%


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