USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide from Fred Bastie, the owner and founder of Playced.com. Playced.com identifies appropriate colleges for potential recruits and delivers an online college planning experience for student athletes of all talent levels and ages.
The basic steps for a successful college recruiting journey are pretty much the same for all sports. If you aren’t a five-star recruit receiving emails and phone calls daily from Division I college coaches, or if you’re just “under-recruited”, you have to be proactive and put in some work if you want to play at the next level.
Generally, the work includes three simple steps. First, identify the right schools to pursue. Second, connect with the coaches at those schools. Third, have a coach or mentor reach out to those coaches to vouch for your abilities and character. These three steps are applicable for recruiting in every sport; however, the recruiting process is a little different for each sport due to the number of available colleges at each level of competition, how players are evaluated, the number of scholarships available, recruiting budgets, roster sizes, etc. Put simply, the right approach to the recruiting process for Division I football is different than Division II wrestling or water polo. You really need to understand the recruiting landscape in your sport at each level (NCAA Division I, II, III and NAIA) to know how to most effectively pursue an athletic scholarship.
Since we have limited space for this column, I will try to cover the sport specific information for the most talked about intercollegiate sports. This week I’ll cover football, basketball (men’s and women’s) and baseball, and next week we’ll talk soccer (men’s and women’s), softball and volleyball.
Division I FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) football has the most scholarship players of any college sport and is a “head count” sport, which means the athletic scholarships are guaranteed full rides for at least one year. The NCAA allows Division I FBS football teams to add up to 25 new scholarship players to the roster every academic year. For teams in Division I FCS (Football Championship Subdivision), scholarships are limited to an amount equal to 63 full scholarships; however, Division I FCS football is an equivalency sport and therefore these schools can award partial scholarships as long as the total number of athletes receiving scholarships does not exceed 85.
If you do the math, there are approximately 6,000 Division I (FBS and FCS) scholarships awarded each year, which equates to approximately 2.6 percent of high school senior football players. Yes, you read that correctly! So, if you want to play Division I football and you haven’t been contacted by any coaches yet, you better start reaching out to them today.
Like Division I FCS, NCAA Division II and NAIA football programs are also equivalency sports and generally award partial scholarships. Division II teams are limited to an amount equal to 36 full scholarships and the limit for NAIA football scholarships is 24. NCAA Division III football programs do not offer athletic scholarships, but they do provide other financial aid/merit opportunities. As you can see most college football players do not receive “full ride” scholarships, so unless you are a five-star recruit you have to consider cost when determining which colleges to pursue.
The recruiting process for college football players is starting earlier and earlier every year. Although college coaches can’t contact recruits directly until their junior year in high school, many athletes are being identified and evaluated starting in the 9th grade. Football players are generally evaluated based on speed, agility, strength, fundamentals and verifiable statistics. Camps and showcases are one way you can be evaluated, but you should only attend a camp where you have a chance to stand out. For example, if you are a freshman who isn’t fully developed yet, don’t go to a football camp at Alabama.
In addition to camps and showcases, a quality video highlighting your athleticism can go a long way in securing a scholarship if you get it in front of the right coaches. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, an endorsement from your high school coach can be a game changer in your football recruiting journey.
Men’s and women’s basketball at the Division I level are both headcount sports, so the athletic scholarship limits of 13 for men and 15 for women are full rides. Although there are significantly more Division I basketball programs than Division I football programs, the smaller roster sizes and fewer available scholarships make it just as competitive for basketball players to land a Division I scholarship.
Basketball at the NCAA Division II and NAIA levels is an equivalency sport and partial scholarships can be awarded to meet the per school limits. NCAA Division II programs (men and women) can divide 10 scholarships among their rosters and NAIA basketball programs have either 11 or six scholarships to award depending on the division they participate in. Again, Division III does not offer basketball scholarships, but they do provide other financial aid/merit opportunities.
Although there are more than 1,800 total college basketball programs for both men and women, there isn’t an overabundance of college scholarships available due to the number of high school basketball players looking to extend their careers. Those players who are willing to do a little work and have a realistic game plan have a much better chance at a college basketball scholarship.
High school basketball players are evaluated on speed, agility, offensive skills and SIZE. Even if you have the speed and offensive skills, there are general guidelines for size requirements coaches look for in a basketball player. The old saying “You can’t coach height” is true, but if you fall outside the guidelines it doesn’t mean you can’t play at that level, only that it might be more difficult.
College scouts at the highest levels begin watching basketball players in middle school and all other coaches are watching players by the time they are in 9th grade. That means you have to get on their radar early to have the best chance to get noticed. One way to do that is to play on a quality summer team that plays against the best competition.
If you want to play in college, but haven’t been contacted by college coaches on or soon after Sept. 1 of your junior year, you better kick your recruiting efforts in gear. Ask your high school coach and your summer coach to help you out in the process. Most basketball coaches are more than willing to help if you are realistic and don’t ask them to do too much.
College baseball is an equivalency sport for all NCAA levels and for NAIA scholarship purposes, so partial scholarships ranging from 25 percent to 40 percent are the norm. There are 11.7 scholarships per team at the Division I level to be split among no more than 27 players. There are nine scholarships per team at the Division II level and 12 for NAIA schools. Division III schools do not offer baseball scholarships.
What does all that mean? It means that if you have aspirations of playing baseball at the next level, then you better understand your family’s college budget. Playing college baseball is a tremendous experience and it can be life changing, but the scholarships don’t pay all the bills. Since the average college baseball scholarship is between 25 percent and 40 percent, you most likely have some financial planning to do. Keep in mind that most college baseball coaches know their way around the financial aid offices and they can help you explore other forms of financial assistance.
High school baseball players are primarily evaluated on arm strength, foot speed and power. Pitching is king and coaches tend to fill their pitching needs first, so if you are a pitcher understand you might have a little leverage. Video is important for baseball, but a skills video showing your mechanics and agility is probably just as important as game film. College baseball recruiting budgets are limited especially at the Division II, III and NAIA levels so those players who play on quality summer teams and proactively reach out to college coaches have a much better chance at a baseball scholarship than those that do not.
Here’s the deal
The competition for a college football, basketball or baseball scholarship at any level is fierce. Understanding the scholarship details at each level and how players are evaluated will give you an advantage over your competition. Also, keep in mind that in every sport when a coach is deciding between two athletes of similar abilities, he or she will always go with the better student. And, I cannot stress enough to talk to your parents about your college budget. Don’t spend time pursuing colleges you cannot afford.