Sports scholarships


Sports scholarships

Tony Amelse, assistant director of admissions at the College of Saint

Benedict and Saint John’s University (CSB/SJU) in Minnesota, sees it time and time again: high school students who want athletic scholarships so badly that they overlook the main reason they are attending college—to be educated and to become adults. While almost every high school athlete—and parent of that athlete—dreams of playing big-time Division I athletics, earning a full scholarship and playing in front of thousands of fans, the reality of college athletics is that most kids will not be playing in the limelight. Instead, they’ll be playing more for the love of the game and a chance to continue their athletic careers another four years. That’s a hard point to get across to student-athletes, and sometimes even harder for the parents of that athlete. “I have worked with students who could have received a financial aid package that would have made it equally affordable to attend a private Division III school, but they see that athletic scholarship as such a prestigious accomplishment, they can’t turn it down,” says Amelse. “That certainly reflects the value most American men, and more recently women, have placed on being a star athlete.”

Indeed, being a star athlete is the dream of just about anyone who has played competitive sports. The focus of many athletes and parents is not always on getting good grades to get an academic scholarship or admission into Yale, Stanford or Harvard. Instead, it is often on getting an athletic scholarship to play football at Notre Dame, women’s basketball at Tennessee or baseball at Miami. Those are the frustrations Amelse sees at CSB/SJU, both NCAA Division III institutions where no athletic scholarships are given. However, 90 percent of the degree recipients from CSB/SJU earn their degree in four years or fewer. Athletically, the school competes in the Minnesota

Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, made up of private Minnesota schools known more for academic excellence than athletic success.

Still, the St. John’s football team is nationally acclaimed and started the 2002 season ranked number one in many national polls. But that combination of academics and athletics still isn’t always enough.

“While many students take the athletic scholarship, there are those who know they are not going to go pro, and truly make decisions based on what’s best for them academically,” Amelse says.

“Sometimes that still means the Division I or Division II school is a better fit because of the academic programs offered or desire to be in a certain size school in a certain location. But people who have not followed Division III fail to realize that Division III athletics is still very competitive and played at a high level. Division III is not junior varsity.” Parents, counselors and student-athletes need to understand

the differences between Division I, Division II and Division III sports and the types of athletic scholarships available during the decisionmaking process. Keep these points in mind: *A scholarship doesn’t always include the coveted full ride, even at Division I schools. A full ride—tuition, books, room, board and any other fees—is more prevalent in sports that generate revenue for the school, such as football and basketball. However, sports that do not bring in a lot of money –wrestling, tennis, soccer, rodeo, swimming, for example— often divide athletic scholarships among team members. This even happens in Division I, although it is more common in Division II, where athletic budgets aren’t supplemented by the dollars that big-time

Division I football and basketball programs bring. *An athletic scholarship will never happen if the prospective student-athlete does not meet the school’s academic requirements. That’s why it is important to start the process early, and check with the NCAA

( about the procedures, policies and paperwork required.

Also make sure your child is up-to-date on the core classwork required for eligibility and is informed about such tests used in the admissions process such as the ACT and SAT. *While NCAA Division I and II schools do offer sports-related scholarships, Division III does not—but can offer scholarships based on academic accomplishments. Keep in mind these schools do also consider athletic achievements when deciding to offer grants, financial aid packages and academic scholarships. Many Division III athletes could play Division II and sometimes Division I athletics, but instead attend a Division III school because of its academic reputation or programs. In the book, How To

Win a Sports Scholarship, authors Penny Hastings and Todd Caven talk about how student-athletes can discover thousands of dollars in athletic scholarship money, get the attention of college coaches, and how the entire recruiting and scholarship process works. Caven,

Hastings’s son, earned a scholarship to play soccer at Stanford by using a proactive method to contact coaches and recruiters. He made the first move—not the coaches—and the result was four years playing soccer in the competitive Pac-10 Conference while earning an economics degree. “While Todd spent hours excitedly pouring through college catalogs and talking with coaches, other talented studentathletes in our area to whom we spoke sat back and waited to get noticed,” says Hastings. “As a result, most were never contacted by a single college coach! These young men and women, who could have helped many college sports programs while getting a college education, went completely unnoticed.” Hastings says it is important to research the school’s academic programs just as thoroughly as its athletic programs—for good reason. “I give seminars to high school students and their parents, and many are often surprised that just

because a school is classified as Division I that it might not be as strongly academically as a Division II or Division III school,” Hastings says. “Division I is only an athletic level, not a measure of quality of academic programs.” Because students are exposed to the powerhouse Division I schools on television, in magazines and in the headlines, many parents try to live through their kids by dreaming big and, sometimes, beyond reality. Is your student-athlete really good enough to play Division I sports, or will he or she be stuck on the bench or practice squad when they could be playing at another school at the Division II or III level? What about considering a non-NCAA school that may offer scholarships and a chance to play? Check out the

National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), the governing body for about 350 small-college athletic programs. Visit for participating schools. Hastings says you don’t have to be a superstar athlete to get a scholarship. But just because your teens are the best players on their teams, it doesn’t necessarily mean college coaches know about him or her. “A lot of kids will transfer or come back home after that first year because they didn’t plan the right way and just looked at the level of competition—not how much they might play, what the academic programs are like and where the school is located,” says Hastings. “Take the time to assess every aspect.

Otherwise, it’s going to be very frustrating for everyone involved.” d=5