Recruiting Column: Why academics matter

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 is an industry leader in college recruiting. Their technology based recruiting service identifies the right colleges for potential recruits to pursue and provides a recruiting system that is second to none for student athletes of all talent levels and ages.

A few years ago, I was talking with a college coach at a showcase event when he made a very telling comment. He told me, “I wish every recruit at this camp had his GPA on the front of his jersey, and his standardized test score on the back of his jersey. “

That statement alone should tell you how important college coaches feel academics are when it comes to evaluating potential recruits. Don’t fool yourself, college coaches look at academics when evaluating EVERY recruit. If you don’t qualify academically for a particular college then you aren’t going to play for that college. It’s that simple.

Last week, we had an opportunity to interview Jeff Scott, the offensive coordinator at Clemson University. This was his comment on the importance of academics: “Academics are a huge piece to the recruiting puzzle. There are a lot of different levels to compete at collegiately and if you’re a good student in high school, you will have a great chance of finding somewhere to play in college.” I guess that sums it up pretty well!

Your academic standing definitely matters to college coaches and should also matter to you. Let’s go over why.

Why academics matter to college coaches

Most parents and student-athletes don’t understand the importance of academics to a college coach. In addition to being able to brag on the team GPA or graduation rate, there are many other reasons why college coaches want good students on their roster.

First, good students often qualify for academic scholarships and in-state tuition, potentially saving the athletic department scholarship money. This allows coaches in the equivalency sports to potentially spread the athletic scholarship money out over more players by filling in the financial gaps with academic scholarships. Most coaching staffs are intimately familiar with the academic scholarships that might be available for qualified student-athletes. Let’s face it, money is money and if part of your scholarship comes from your academic achievements you should be proud!

Second, a good GPA and SAT/ACT score indicates to coaches that a student will most likely achieve the minimum college GPA needed to maintain athletic eligibility. It is also an indication that a student will most likely be able to transition into college life. If an athlete is stressed about grades, he/she may not perform to the best of their abilities.

Third, grades and test scores are an indication of a student’s work ethic and achievement standards, for all areas of their lives. Athletes who put forth the effort in the classroom generally put forth the same kind of effort in practice and in games. Here is a formula many coaches believe in: GOOD STUDENT + GOOD ATHLETE = GOOD CHOICE FOR A ROSTER SPOT.

Finally, your academic profile has become a very important factor in recruiting. Admissions and administration offices are putting more pressure on athletic departments to recruit athletes that succeed once they get into school.

So, unless you’re the next Tom Brady, you better get your grades in order. College coaches review transcripts when evaluating a student-athlete and a good academic record is an indication of an athlete’s ability to succeed on campus in every facet, not just on the field.

Why academics matter to you

There are many reasons why academics should matter to all student-athletes. First and foremost, you are going to college to get an education. Every student-athlete would like to play professionally. Who wouldn’t like to make a living playing a game? But, just in case athletics doesn’t land you a huge contract, I would recommend you have a back-up plan in place that includes a college degree.

Second, most athletic scholarships are partial scholarships ranging from 25 percent – 60 percent. Consider these facts: A recent College Board survey reports that a “moderate” college budget for an in-state public college for the 2016–2017 academic year averaged $24,610 and a moderate budget at a private college averaged $49,320. Given these amounts, any scholarship money is important.

Third, the more colleges you qualify for academically, the more colleges you can pursue athletically. Let’s put this fact into perspective with a real example. If you are a Division I caliber basketball player with an ACT score of 17 who wants to go to college in California, you have 11 colleges you can consider. If you raise your ACT score to a 22, the number of colleges you qualify for academically almost doubles to 21. To put it simply, if you are an average student with average or below average test scores, many colleges will have to be scratched off your list. To some extent it’s a numbers game and you want the numbers to fall in your corner, so the better your grades, the better chance you have to play in college.

Finally, if a coach is considering athletes of similar abilities, academics is the first tie-breaker, so why wouldn’t you do everything in your power to make sure that base is covered?

Here’s the deal

There is a reason the word “student” is the first part of “student-athlete”. If academics didn’t matter, then the term would be “athlete-student”. Your academic profile and standing is critical to landing a college scholarship.

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