Athletic scholarships have been a hot-button topic for decades. Chase them, don’t chase them … that’s up to the individual families and their circumstances. My only comment is that there are two essential components to receiving a scholarship offer – talent and timing.

The purpose of this article is to provide adults and athletes with some general facts and statistics about athletic scholarships. The more knowledge you have, the better positioned you are to make informed decisions.

For starters, here are a few things to know about athletic scholarships.

  • Approximately 2% of high school athletes earn athletic scholarships. About 2% of that number receive a full ride, meaning 98% of athletic scholarships are partials.
  • A full scholarship covers tuition, room and board, text books, and school materials. A partial scholarship covers a portion of tuition.
  • Head count sports offer full rides to each of their scholarship athletes. For men, head count sports are NCAA Division I FBS football and Division I basketball (revenue generating sports). For women, head count sports include NCAA Division I basketball, tennis, gymnastics, and volleyball. All of these sports may also have non-scholarship “walk-ons” on their roster.
  • Equivalency sports receive a limited number of scholarships and can divide them into partial scholarship offers to athletes. All collegiate sports that are not head count sports are equivalency sports (soccer, lacrosse, track & field, softball, etc.).
  • Most scholarships are a one-year contract, but typically get renewed annually
  • Division III programs do not offer athletic scholarships
  • Ivy League institutions do not offer athletic scholarships
  • Institutions spend over $6 billion annually on academic scholarships and over $3 billion on athletic scholarships
  • Academic scholarships are also very competitive, with over 80,000 valedictorians that graduate every year

Scholarship Limits per Roster

The chart below outlines the college athletic scholarship limits for 2019-2020. The College Athletic Association (CAA) sets the maximum number of athletic scholarships that schools can award to student-athletes. This includes NCAA member schools, NAIA, and NJCAA (junior colleges).

One very important note: This is the maximum limit set by the CAA. That doesn’t mean an institution will choose to fulfill that limit. For example, the scholarship limit for an NCAA Division I baseball program is 11.7. But College X might only fund 6.1 scholarships for its baseball program and University Y may opt to fund 8.2. The number of scholarships awarded per program is ultimately the choice of each institution.

Scholarship Limits NCAA I (M) NCAA I (W) NCAA II (M) NCAA II (W) NAIA (M/W) NJCAA (M/W)
Baseball 11.7   9   12/0 24/0
Basketball 13 15 10 10 *11 15
Beach Volleyball   6   5   0/10
Cross Country 12.6 18 12.6 12.6 5 10
Equestrian   15   15    
Fencing 4.5 5 4.5 4.5    
Field Hockey   12   6.3    
Football – FBS 85          
Football – FCS 63          
Football – Other     36   24/0 85/0
Golf 4.5 6 3.6 5.4 5 8
Gymnastics 6.3 12 5.4 6    
Ice Hockey 18 18 13.5 18   16/0
Lacrosse 12.6 12 10.8 9.9   20
Rifle 3.6 3.6 3.6 3.6    
Rowing   20   20    
Rugby   12   12    
Skiing 6.3 7 6.3 6.3    
Soccer 9.9 14 9 9.9 12 14
Softball   12   7.2 0/10 0/24
Swim & Dive 9.9 14 8.1 8.1 8 15
Tennis 4.5 8 4.5 6 5 9
Track & Field 12.6 18 12.6 12.6 12 20
Triathlon   6.5   5    
Volleyball 4.5 12 4.5 8 8/0 14
Water Polo 4.5 8 4.5 8    
Wrestling 9.9   9   8/0 20

*The NAIA Division II limit for men’s and women’s basketball is 6 per program

Interesting Takeaways

Most people expect more scholarship availability, but these are the max limits. When a head coach has a roster size that is two or three times larger than the appropriated scholarships, it requires creativity and creates a lot of pressure. Accurate evaluations during the recruitment process are paramount to sustaining a successful program.

Across the board, women’s sports have higher scholarship limits than men’s sports. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination and institutions must also provide financial aid proportionate to female and male participation. Because NCAA Division I football programs do not have a sister sport, it can give men’s sports an 85 scholarship gain on women’s sports. Institutions need to make up for the those numbers in other head count and equivalency sports to be in compliance with the law.

Wrestling is another example of an athletic program that doesn’t have a sister sport. This is why many wrestling programs have been cut by their institution over the past few decades. Institutions need to stay in compliance and some do so by cutting a men’s sport.

A final takeaway is to recognize there’s is no column in the chart for Division III sports. As mentioned, D3 programs do not offer athletic scholarships. Many parents and recruits are misinformed and believe Division III coaches are not being straight with them when no athletic money is offered. That’s not the case. Student-athletes are eligible for academic scholarships, grants, and financial aid and coaches often assist with that process. But if someone is telling you they’re receiving athletic money from a D3 program, they’re bending the truth a bit.

Number of Scholarship Available Each Year

Keep in mind that the above chart represents scholarship limits per roster. This means that approximately 25% of those limits are available for each recruiting class. For example, the NCAA Division I men’s soccer limit is 9.9 scholarships. That means a fully-funded program will have an average of 2.4 scholarships available per recruiting class. The rest of the money is already with returning players. And that’s if they’re fully funded. If the institution opts to fund only six scholarships, the average is 1.5 scholarships per class.

This is where timing is such a key component. If a roster is graduating very few seniors, the scholarship availability for that incoming class is minimal. When a roster graduates a lot of scholarship players, there is a deeper pool of scholarship money for incoming recruits.

What does this means for the athlete? A scholarship offer is not solely based on talent. There has to be money available. A program could make a healthy scholarship offer to an athlete one year, but if that same athlete was in a different recruiting year, they could be offered nothing based on available funding.

Hopefully this post provides some useful information to parents and aspiring college athletes. Take note that there is twice as much academic scholarship money available than athletic money. So if you’re investing resources toward a potential scholarship, the smarter money is on the tutor, rather than the trainer.