Just about every athlete aiming to play in college has the opportunity – or the goal – to get an athletic scholarship. Barring NCAA Division III schools, which only distribute academic scholarships, all other levels offer some level of financial aid to student-athletes.
NCAA Division I schools have the most eligibility requirements, but generally offer the most financial aid. The average scholarship disbursement for a DI athlete is around $14,000 per year. This division offers the most national spotlight, with men’s football and basketball becoming a billion-dollar-a-year enterprise.
Some DI scholarships are headcount scholarships, which means they are only given as full-rides, and only to a certain number of athletes.
The NCAA also offers variety with more than 1,200 member institutions, and boasts the highest quality facilities. Most professional players come from DI schools, but remember that only 2% of college athletes ever make it to the pros.
NCAA Division II schools are usually less exclusive in terms of athletic ability, and may have a less intense schedule. However, the stage is smaller, and thus the scholarship coverage is less than half of DI schools, coming in at an average of $5,000.
Playing DII offers the ability to transfer easily to DI schools after two years. Division II success stories include Ben Wallace (Virginia Union basketball) and Delanie Walker (Central Missouri football).
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) has less barriers in terms of recruiting, especially regarding international student-athletes, and covers about $6,000 per year. The competition level of NAIA athletics is comparative to NCAA Division II sports. Former NAIA athletes Scottie Pippen (Central Arkansas) and Dennis Rodman (Southeastern Oklahoma St) each secured NBA Championships with the Chicago Bulls during their time as NAIA athletes.
Unlike the NCAA, NAIA scholarships are all dispersed as equivalency scholarships, meaning the coach can distribute the given scholarship amount among as many athletes as they want.
The National Junior Collegiate Athletics Association (NJCAA) is the least academically stringent of college options. Colleges can offer two-year scholarships, and athletes can perform during the two years in hopes of either gaining a reputation or improving their academic standing. Cam Newton had troubles at Florida, recouped his value at Blinn Junior College, and won a National Championship at Auburn. A rags-to-riches story involving Junior Colleges includes Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler, who went from Hinds Community College to West Alabama to the Patriots roster.
A key point about athletic scholarships is that they are not the end-all be-all of college sports. Something any coach anywhere will tell you is that hitting the books is crucial to success. Being the hardest worker will almost always curry favor with coaches, and the first tip from coaches is to try and show your determination in your highlight reel.
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