USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities and play at the college level. Kyle Winters was a standout high school pitcher who tossed seven scoreless innings in a major tournament during his senior year. That performance against some heavy-hitting future MLB draft picks helped Kyle earn a full-ride scholarship to the University of New Mexico. However, Kyle opted to play professional baseball and was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the fifth round and played seven seasons for various minor league teams. Kyle is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience and dedication, along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community, have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
It’s no secret that the college recruiting process can get complicated, especially when it comes to athletic scholarships. There is a lot to consider when pursuing an athletic scholarship, including important deadlines, communication rules with coaches, as well as knowing which divisions offer athletic scholarships in the first place. (Pro tip: Division I, Division II, NAIA and junior college schools all offer athletic scholarships, while Division III schools help athletes secure academic scholarships and aid instead.) But are athletic scholarships even guaranteed for four years? Read on to find the answer to this and other important scholarship questions.
Read more: Combining athletic and academic scholarships
A scholarship offer is not a guarantee
To make things clear, it’s important to note that when a coach extends a verbal scholarship offer, it’s nonbinding. Verbal offers are not official — and neither are the verbal commitments that student-athletes might make after receiving an offer. Nothing is set in stone until the National Letter of Intent is signed. However, it’s important to keep in mind that even though they are not binding, for the majority of athletics programs, verbal offers and commitments should be taken very seriously.
Read more: Which divisions offer scholarships?
So, what is an athletic scholarship?
Simply put, an athletic scholarship is an amount of financial aid given to a student-athlete from a collegiate athletic department. It is awarded based on the student’s athletic abilities and anticipated contribution to the team. The team’s coach is tasked with deciding who to award scholarships to, as well as how much money each student-athlete receives. The number of scholarships available and the way they are given out depends on the particular sport and division level.
Read more: What is a full-ride scholarship?
Athletic scholarships can be guaranteed for four years, but it’s not the norm
The NCAA has allowed colleges to provide multiyear scholarships since 2012. Additionally, in 2015, NCAA D1 colleges from the Power Five conferences (colleges in the Football Bowl Subdivision, plus Notre Dame) agreed to implement a rule that prevented multi-year D1 scholarships from being canceled or not renewed for any athletic reason.
So, yes, there are athletic scholarships out there that are guaranteed for four years, but they are not the norm outside of powerhouse football programs and some other situations. While the practice of extending multi-year athletic scholarships has been growing, it is largely dependent on whether specific programs and coaches are open to offering them.
For most student-athletes, athletic scholarships are awarded for one year only and renewed annually. However, many coaches and programs see one-year scholarships as not much different than multi-year scholarships, because they automatically renew them if the athlete has no academic or conduct issues. That’s why it’s important to discuss scholarship offers in detail with each coach in order to get a good idea of what your situation will be.
Scholarships can be taken away
It’s possible for student-athletes to lose their athletic scholarships, and it can happen for a variety of reasons. The most common scenario is when a student-athlete thinks they have a scholarship but they don’t actually have one. This is one of the pitfalls of not understanding the difference between a verbal offer and an actual scholarship.
While college coaches are usually the ones who extend verbal offers, the National Letter of Intent is actually the binding agreement between the college and the student-athlete. That means if you sign an NLI and the coach who offered you the scholarships leaves the program — which can and does happen — your contract with the school remains. However, next year that same offer may not be on the table if there is a new coach and you were awarded a one-year scholarship. So, in the case of a coaching change, know that you may not get a scholarship in the second year.
An athletic scholarship could also not be extended to the next year if you get injured (though getting redshirted is more common), if you get in trouble at school, if your grades suffer or if you’re not performing as well as expected and the coach wants to extend a scholarship to another athlete.
Read more: Combining athletic and academic scholarships
Many people don’t realize that an athletic scholarship offer is not the slam dunk that it sounds like. The key is to have a firm understanding of the kind of scholarship you are being offered so that you’ll be much better prepared to keep yours. If you have any other questions about college athletic scholarships, make sure to check out NCSA’s guide to everything you need to know about athletic scholarships.