Athletics News

Shooting For College: Scholarships - Myths & Facts

Jan. 15, 2014

By Angela Kraus

In water polo, few issues are more misunderstood than earning an athletic college scholarship.

Basically, each family is responsible for paying for their children’s education. No one is entitled to a scholarship. Many schools don’t even offer them. When athletic scholarships are available, coaches consider a variety of factors, including playing ability, work ethic, leadership skills, seniority on the team, and whether the athletes have proven themselves and their value to the team.

Some scholarship misconceptions are explored below.

Some believe that good players automatically get athletic scholarships. But good is a relative term. In the sport of water polo, you must be very good to be considered for and receive an athletic scholarship. At present there are 44 men’s and 62 women’s college varsity programs in the United States. Division I and II schools can offer a maximum of 4.5 scholarships for men, and 8 for women. Ivy League institutions and Division III schools do not provide any athletic aid, as all of their financial assistance comes through academic sources or is based on demonstrated financial need.

Of the teams that do offer scholarships, many distribute awards among—but not necessarily equally—the four classes (freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors). Coaches may elect to use funds to retain their strongest and more senior players—i.e., incoming freshmen do not receive as favorable treatment. Coaches also don’t want to risk “putting all their eggs in one basket” and award all available scholarship funds to a single player. When a program has a big roster, it’s easy to figure out that, generally, there’s not much money to spread around.

Overall, the odds of receiving a scholarship are very low, but by virtue of the fact that more scholarships are available for women, they have better chances of receiving scholarships than men.

If an athlete is lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship, it’s unlikely to be a “full ride” covering all expenses. In the “recruiting wars,” coaches understand scholarships are powerful, as they can give a coach leverage to obtain better talent. And sometimes the athlete’s ability to say he or she is attending a school on a scholarship (in any amount) can make the difference in his or her decision. Because of this, coaches often split scholarships into smaller increments in order to convince more student-athletes to attend their schools. The result is that fewer full rides are offered, and most water polo scholarships are awarded for partial amounts, covering some portion of tuition, fees, room, board, and books (Note: This is where the term “book money” comes from).

Even when they are available, scholarships are not guaranteed for all four years, and they also can be canceled or reduced for almost any reason (subject to the student-athlete’s right to a hearing in case of any reduction or cancellation of aid). However, in October, 2011, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors decided that starting with the 2012-13 academic year (August 1, 2012), Division I schools would be permitted to offer student-athletes multi-year grants up to the full term of eligibility, so National Letters of Intent providing for multi-year grants are now available. Even so, athletic scholarships in Divisions I and II are still initially awarded for up to one year, and notwithstanding this new rule, it is expected that one-year grants will remain the norm, and be renewed for a maximum of five years within a six-year period. Again, and despite liberalization of these rules, athletes must be prepared to fund their educations if their scholarship amount decreases.

As noted above, only a portion of all varsity programs offer athletic aid. Division III institutions and Ivy League schools do not offer any in compliance with school and NCAA policy. However, it would be a huge misunderstanding to believe that these institutions cannot provide similar aid based on financial need and academic ability. Throughout the United States, much more money is awarded based on demonstrated financial need and academic merit than because of athletic ability, which often means the partial athletic scholarship offered by one institution might actually add up to fewer total dollars when compared to the total amount offered by a school without athletic aid. Outside scholarships from community organizations, parents’ employers, and so forth may also be available.

Athletes need to carefully consider the entire financial aid package a school offers before jumping to the conclusion that an athletic scholarship automatically means more money.

For more information about NCAA rules, visit:




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