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The Basics of College Athlete Recruiting

Updated on November 9, 2014

A Dream is Born

When a child plays their first little league sport the driving force is recreation and fun. But then for some there is a realization by a parent, or coach, that their child has some athletic ability that makes them stand out. As the child grows there may be extra training, playing on a travel team, and talk of playing at the college level.

There is an abundance of rules that govern the recruiting process and they may change every year. It is not the intention to rewrite them in this article but merely give a high level view of the process.

All Colleges are not the Same

To say that all colleges are not the same is an obvious statement. By comparing enrollment numbers and campus size you can discern a difference between schools. However when it comes to sports, schools decide what athletic association they want to belong too. Over time the lines seem to have been drawn at the enrollment level.

Each association has rules that govern in which division the school can participate. Using the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) as an example, the schools decide what division they want to play in. This is probably decided by the governing board of the institution, based on the emphasis they are willing to put on sports. At that point it comes down to money. I know that is shocking but that is the reality.

Because this is an ever changing landscape I will not concentrate on the numbers, but in the NCAA, the schools desire to play in a particular division is driven by the number of varsity sports they offer for both men and women. There are also guidelines for facilities at each level. So if a school has the number of sports required and the financial ability to support facility guidelines, they can still choose to remain in a lower division.

All of this adds up to what a school can offer an athlete in terms of scholarship monies for playing a sport.

College Athletic Associations

There are college athletic associations that cover junior, religious, and four year degree schools that over time appear to have been created based on enrollment and finances. A schools athletic association has no bearing on the quality of education, but it may point to the schools emphasis on sports.

One of the roles of the association is to set rules that each member will adhere too in athletic recruiting. Each of the associations have a similar structure with levels of competition divided into divisions. Due to the number associations and varying rules I will use the NCAA as an example.

National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)

The Structure

The NCAA has three divisions and Division I is broken into three levels. All the schools in Division I meet the requirements to participate in Division I, but there seems to be a distinction made on depth of talent and the amount of revenue generated by the athletic department.

  • Division I-A
  • Division I-AA
  • Division I-AAA
  • Division II
  • Division III

The amount of scholarship money a school can offer an athlete is determined by the schools division. There is also a limit on the number of scholarships and amount of money available for each sport. There are only six sports that can offer full rides to the athletes and only at Division I level. The number of women's sports allowed is greater than men's to compensate for the number scholarships available for football.

Men’s Sports

  • Football (85 scholarships)
  • Basketball (13 scholarships)

Women’s Sports

  • Basketball (15 scholarships)
  • Tennis (8 scholarships)
  • Gymnastics (12 scholarships)
  • Volleyball (12 scholarships)

Splitting scholarships into smaller amounts is a general practice used by coaches to stretch the scholarships across as many players as possible. This is why coaches look for athletes who also have good academic scores so the player can use academic and athletic scholarships to pay for school.

Unlike Division I and Division II schools, Division III schools are not allowed to offer athletic scholarships. These schools need to use academic grants for athletes they want to play for them.


For a student to be eligible to play at a Division I or Division II school they need to meet academic requirements in high school. The student needs to sign up with the NCAA Eligibility Center at which time they receive a number that is referred to as their clearinghouse number.

The student provides transcripts demonstrating the completion of a required number of core courses with a minimum grade point average. They also must submit ACT or SAT scores and proof of graduation at the end of their senior year.

While creating the account the athlete will also answer questions about their amateur status. In short the athlete can not be compensated with money, gifts, or sponsorship for athletic reasons. This includes playing for a travel team.

The Eligibility Center will verify that the student has met the requirements and certify the student is eligible to play in Division I or Division II.


At the Division I and Division II levels the coaches have the following rules when communicating with a student.

  • The athletic department can not call until July 1st following the prospect's junior year of high school. After that they are allotted one call per week.
  • An official visit, which is paid for by the school, is allowed beginning on the first day of classes of the prospect's senior year in high school. There is a limit of five official visits.
  • Until September 1st of the prospect's junior in high school, the only written material that the school is allowed to provide the prospect is a questionnaire, a follow-up questionnaire, information pertaining to camps and information on academics from the admissions department.

However the following is allowed by the prospect.

  • You may make as many unofficial visits to a school as you would like during high school. You may also speak to coaches during this visit so you may want to call ahead to verify their availability.
  • You may call and speak with a coach but they are not allowed to call you back. You are allowed to call until you reach them.

Division III schools have some in-person restrictions but coaches are allowed to contact a prospect via phone, email, or text, at any time, for any reason.

For further information on contact rules review the NCAA Recruiting Chart.

There is a lot to Think About

Playing college sports can be a rewarding experience but it is like having a job. The athletes are given first shot at selecting classes so that all their schedules fit with practice times. Each day the students have specific things they have to do for their sport along with classes and travel for games.

This leaves little time to socialize outside the sphere of the sport. When a high school athlete considers playing in college they may think in terms of high school sports, where each sport has a season and outside of that they are not required to participate. In college it is a year around commitment.

The path to playing college sports can be complicated. It is natural for the parent to be involved but keep in mind that college coaches want to know how your child handles themselves. Coaches do not want to deal with helicopter parents. Allow your athlete to speak for themselves. When a coach contacts your child, coach your child on professionalism but allow them to make the contact.

In order to play in college it will take more effort on your child's part than just the high school season. My article 'Is Playing Travel Sports for Collegiate Hopefuls Worth It?' provides insight into the realities of playing on a club team.

© 2014 Merely Musings


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