Many families dream of the rewards an athletic scholarship can provide and the satisfaction of reaching the apex of one's sport. NCAA rules are designed to give the athlete every advantage in the recruiting process. But the situation turns murky when scholarships enter the discussion as families try to decipher how coaches allocate those dollars. And what might surprise you is that those hard-earned dollars can be taken away after any season.
This year's second Golf Digest Coaches' Survey examines the prevalence and size of scholarships and how they are awarded in Divisions I and II (NCAA rules forbid them in Division III). A total of 72 women's coaches in Division I (31 percent) and 16 coaches in Division II (13 percent) gave us an inside view of their teams.
Golf is an "equivalency" sport: Programs may split the value of a scholarship among multiple students. Coaches of women's teams reported an average roster size of 8.28 this season, with 7.04 players (85 percent) receiving scholarships. Only nine coaches had more than 30 percent of players without scholarships, remarkable considering per-team averages of 4.99 scholarships in Division I and 2.38 in Division II.
All those dollars mean a full ride remains the norm in Division I. Eighty-two percent of coaches had players on full scholarship in Division I; by comparison, only 6.3 percent of Division II teams had one player on a full ride.
One misconception about scholarships is that they represent a four-year offer. They are one-year arrangements--and 82 percent of coaches said they re-evaluate them in some form. When asked to explain their philosophy, the coaches sounded similar themes. "I reward hard work," one Division I coach wrote. "When others see hard work rewarded, it motivates them to work hard."
A Division II coach said she gives players two years, then re-evaluates. "Unfortunately, I've found players become complacent if they don't have the possibility of a scholarship reduction."
In much the way a general manager of a pro sports franchise juggles player contracts to stay beneath a salary cap, men's college coaches maximize their scholarship dollars to award as many players with as much as possible. They do so by slicing the funding pie into smaller increments, according to responses of 83 Division I men's coaches (29 percent) and 28 Division II coaches (13 percent) in the second Golf Digest Coaches' Survey.
Coaches of men's teams reported an average roster size this season of 10.51 players, up slightly from last year's inaugural survey, which found a typical roster of 10.1 players in Division I and 8.0 in Division II. Of those 10.51 players, coaches said 8.58 players (82 percent) received partial or full scholarships. Only seven coaches said they gave scholarship dollars to fewer than half their players. Many young men (and their parents) dream of getting a full athletic scholarship, but that's not the reality. A majority of players on men's teams receive scholarships of less than 50 percent of full value, often only enough to cover books and incidental costs.
As with women's teams, the opportunity to re-evaluate scholarships on an annual basis gives men's coaches a method to maximize the way they dispense those dollars. However, unlike women's coaches, men's coaches are more pointed in the process of re-evaluating scholarships because they have fewer dollars. Scores and tournament finishes are the major determining factors in whether a young man will retain or increase his funding. When asked to explain their reasoning and philosophy for re-evaluating scholarships, several coaches said they did not reduce scholarships, because of a personal or college policy.
"It's only fair to reward players who've achieved at a level higher than expected when recruited," wrote a Division I coach. "It's not permitted to decrease an athletic scholarship unless team rules have been blatantly violated."
That ethos was not universal. In several cases coaches emphasized that tournament scores and finishes were paramount. "Coaches are evaluated on how their team performs," another Division I coach wrote, "and players should perform up to their scholarship amount."