College Recruiting: A Give and Take, Part III - Scholarship Amounts

In this installment, we try to put some closure on the issue of the amount of athletic scholarship awards for track and field/cross country. If we haven't answered your particular question, send in a comment on either Jay's site or Alan's site, and we'll try to offer what insight or opinions we might have. Please be patient with us, though, as neither of us enjoy unlimited amounts of discretionary time.


Great comments on both the site and as well as and, rather than try to answer those individually at this time, I would like to offer the following as a conclusion to this question.


There were no comments or questions specific to the issue, "If an athlete runs ____ what size of scholarship can they expect?" And in some ways it's great that money is not the primary issue in the comments appearing on both sites. That being said, if you are a parent reading this and your son has run 1:54 and 4:10 as a junior you can, and should, be thinking, "If he improves a little as a senior he should get the majority of his education paid at an academically prestigious school." That's totally fair... and I called some college coaches to make sure I was on track by saying that sub 1:54 and sub 4:10 is pretty good. And if you're the parent of young women who as a junior will run 2:12 and 4:54 this year you should be thinking the same thing. 


That said, most students who have good grades and who have run fast have an interesting continuum of options by the middle of their senior year; big scholarship offers from schools they're not interested (yep, that sucks) and small offers or 0%, i.e. walk-on offers, at academically prestigious schools (yep, you want that education but the offer is small). What to do as a family? 


Be honest about how important the scholarship is and have a candid family meeting about it. In my family it was simple - I wanted to walk on at CU, turning down the DII offer that would have paid 80% (I forget the athletic and academic breakdown - I had good, not great, test scores and was a 4:30 kid at the time - decent, but not great). My parents said that we could afford CU, provided I work each summer to earn any and all money needed for my super cool, super trusty 1979 Ford F150 truck (two-wheel, not four-wheel, drive, but still very cool...arguably the only reason my wife initially dated me). I was quite nervous having that conversation with my parents, but it was a conversation that needed to happen. If you're a family that cannot afford to send your son or daughter to a school that costs $40,000 a year, yet your son or daughter will get 80% of their education paid for at a school that costs $16,000 a year, then you need to explain to your son or daughter how important the scholarship money is. The flip side is that many students don't need the money and the scholarship becomes an ego issue for - in rank order - dad, HS coach, mom... with my experience being that the student athlete couldn’t care less and is dying to run at the school that annually makes the NCAA Cross Country meet but is only offering 20%.


Okay, that's enough - tons of great questions to answer, but please give us time to coordinate our thoughts and efforts.


Jay went first, so I get to try to tie this thing off this time.


As a high school coach, I’d be deliriously happy if a much higher percentage of college coaches talked candidly with prospects about the amounts of athletic scholarship aid they are likely to be able to offer prospects. Absolutely, the actual amount will vary from prospect to prospect, but a simple disclaimer such as I’ve shown below could forestall no end of misunderstandings and ill feeling:


“We bring in approximately twelve women per year on some form of athletic scholarship. We average 3.8 full scholarship equivalents per year and must distribute that amount among the roughly twelve individuals we bring in on scholarship each year. Another ten to twenty athletes come in each year as walk-ons, with no initial scholarship support, but with the prospect of earning such support as their performances merit. If you are a top-level prospect, this gives you some sort of idea of what level of support we might be able to bring you in on. Understand also that it’s likely that the amount and timing of these individual award offers will vary somewhat based on the responses (accept/decline) of the highest level prospects that we recruit in any given year. If you are a high-achieving student, you may also come in line for assistance in the form of academic scholarships. For more information about academic scholarships, contact…”


Long life experiences have taught me that the costs of candor and full disclosure in the short term are easily overwhelmed by the costs of ill-feeling, unfavorable word of mouth, and distrust in the long term.


A statement like the one above could be posted on the prospect athlete questionnaire on the school’s athletic web site. It could be included in the mass mailings that so many schools send out to athletes who earn high places in state cross country and track meets. It could be added to the first e-mail exchange with the prospect athlete. Somehow, get this information out and abroad. Obviously, different circumstances dictate different notices for male and female prospects.


Speaking of the differences between male and female prospects, it is not merely the supply-side of different numbers of scholarships available for men and women that drives the differences in awards. There’s also a demand-side to this equation. A few years ago, a college coach (and it may have been Jay Johnson, but I can’t say for sure) told me that if you talked to the top 50 finishers in the boys state cross country meet, you’d find out that 48 wanted to go on and run in college. If you talked to the top 50 finishers in the girls state cross country meet, you’d find out that 10 wanted to go on and run in college. I’m guessing that figure of 10 has risen some in the interim, but it’s still true that a larger percentage of the guys than the girls nurture a strong desire to compete at the college level. The implication here, then, is that an expression of interest in running by the 40th-place girl at the state cross country meet is likely to grab a college recruiter’s attention a lot more quickly than an expression of interest from the 40th-place boy. Even this year, I’ve heard of athletic scholarship offers being extended to girls who missed the top 100 (all classifications combined) of the Colorado state cross country meet; I feel safe in saying that opportunity would never arise for a boy finishing outside of the top 100.


Links to All Parts in Series:

Part I - Introductions

Part II - Scholarship Amounts

Part III - Closure on Scholarship Amounts

Part IV - Role of the High School Coach

Part V - Closure on Role of the High School Coach

Part VI - Transitioning from HS to College

Part VII - Wrap-Up


Updated Recruiting Series

First Article