Athletic Scholarships – Buyer Beware

November traditionally kicks off the holiday season. It also ushers in the NCAA “early signing” period (historically the 2nd Wednesday in November).

If you are intent on playing competitively in college, the NCAA National Letter of Intent (NLI) “early signing” period this year falls between November 9 – 16, 2016 for NCAA Division I and II athletic programs in sports other than football, soccer, and men’s water polo.

When working with prospective athletes, I have rules of thumb, among them: a) Like the school more than the coach and b) Like the school more than the sport. Before you sign on the dotted line consider the following:

1. The proverbial full ride is largely a myth. Most college sports teams are defined as equivalency sports (a “head count” sport = full-ride scholarship. An “equivalency sport” = typically a partial scholarship). All NCAA sanctioned sports have mandated scholarship limits. For example, a Division I men’s swimming and diving program is limited to 9.9 scholarships, with an average roster size of 28. What is a coach to do? Split those 9.9 scholarships up. Unless your name is Katie Ledecky (Stanford) or Michael Phelps (U. Michigan) do not count on a full ride. The average athletic scholarship covers approximately 30% of your annual costs. Individual families still pay 70% of the bill.

2. Another misconception – scholarship offers cover multiple years. NOPE. Most scholarships offers cover a one-year period. The majority of scholarships are renewed annually at the discretion of the coach. D I programs have the option of offering scholarships for multiple years, however it is the exception rather than the rule.

3. Signing a NLI IS binding. You are making at minimum a one-year commitment to attend and play. The institution is committed to giving you an athletic scholarship for one year. Failing to understand the binding nature of a NLI is can have consequences affecting your eligibility and options if you later decide you made the wrong decision and want to transfer. I aim to avoid this by helping you identify “good match” schools you will be happy to attend regardless if you are competing.

4. If you sign with a NCAA Division II school and are later offered a scholarship by a NCAA Division I school, you CANNOT sign with the D I school. Signing either a D I or D II offer is binding. The school you originally signed with must agree to release you from your commitment – sometimes easier said than done.

5. If a coach is fired or bolts to another program after you have signed your NLI, you ARE NOT released from your commitment. Many mistakenly make this assumption. Coaches are free to move about (by choice or otherwise), athletes are not. Your commitment is to the SCHOOL, not the COACH. It is one reason I preach – “Like the school more than the coach…”

6. Competing in college at the NCAA level requires you meet certain academic eligibility standards. No school will offer an NLI, unless you have registered with and have been cleared to play by the NCAA Eligibility Center. If you haven’t, register today.

7. Can’t decide? What happens if you don’t sign during the November early signing period? Your next opportunity to sign is in early April of the following year, commonly referred to as the “late signing” period. Are there risks to waiting until April? It depends. Coaches hope to fill as many open roster spots as feasible during the early signing period, but only the top top programs are consistently able to do so. For the majority of programs the recruiting season extends to the April late signing period.

8. Once I sign my NLI, can coaches from other programs contact me? No. When you sign it is binding. Once signed, other schools need to stop recruiting you. Does it still happen? Yes, but what goes around comes around.

9. A verbal commitment IS NOT binding.

10. Division III (D III) schools are prohibited from awarding athletic scholarships.

Buyer beware! Make sure YOU understand what YOU are committing to.