How College Scholarships
Chris Mohr submitted this note below to the Soccer Coach-L mailing list. It is well worth reading by all U16 and above
coaches and all soccer parents. It will probably shock some soccer parents into the reality of college costs and possible
There's a fascinatingly informative article published yesterday (Dec 1st) in the San Jose
Mercury News about the uncomfortably mercenary pressures on players caused by college
soccer being classified by the NCAA as an "equivalency" scholarship sport, in contrast to
being classified as a "head count" scholarship sport like basketball.
Briefly, in a "head count" sport, even $1 of aid counts as using a full scholarship out of
the maximum allowable in that sport, e.g. 12 (so there is powerful incentive to offer players
a full, not just partial, athletic scholarship).
By contrast, in an "equivalency" scholarship sport, the program is free to divide the
value of the 12 full scholarships into as many fractional scholarship pieces as they wish, so
e.g. only 6 players on the team may be on "full" athletic scholarship, and 12 more may be
on partial scholarships whose aggregate value is equivalent to 6 full scholarships (with the
parts not necessarily equally divided among players).
Note from Ken Gamble - Most Division I Men's Soccer programs offer 9.9 scholarships
while most Division I Women's programs offer 12 scholarships.
While the article explores the typical dilemma the equivalency scholarship system
creates when a high school player is being recruited by less prominent school A, which
considers offering a full scholarship, versus much more prominent school B, which is
considering offering only a partial (and just how partial?) scholarship to them, the really
fascinating part is about the pressures which operate within programs to increase or
decrease the original fractional share for particular athletes, based on the player's
performance and the program's recruiting prospects for next year's crop of high school
Just like a professional sports franchise, pressure may be applied to existing players to
accept lesser fractional scholarship shares next year in order to be able to recruit an
outstanding prospect for next year. The program may also want to increase the scholarship
share for some players whose performance last season proved their increased value to the
team...but this has to come from somewhere, and they still have to recruit incoming
The implications of what's discussed in this article must be considered by any youth
soccer player with ambitions to win a soccer scholarship to a college (and anyone advising
them). The original article can be found at:
It is also posted below.
Published Wednesday, December 1, 1999,
The San Jose Mercury News
Scholarship limits force players and
coaches to haggle over the
value of an education
BY JODY MEACHAM
Mercury News Staff Writer
THE RECRUITING process had become an excruciating ordeal. USC and New Mexico
were offering the all-expenses-paid grand prize: full tuition, fees, books, room and board if
only Kim Pickup would play soccer for them. But Pickup had always dreamed of attending
Santa Clara, and Broncos Coach Jerry Smith was offering only tuition and books. ``I talked
to my parents, and I said, `If money is a problem, let me know from the beginning so I
don't start wanting this school and then you say sorry,' '' Pickup recalled. But Bedford
Pickup, a sales manager for a national computer manufacturer in Chatsworth, could swing
the extra cost in the family budget. So this weekend, Kim will conclude her college soccer
career as a Broncos defender playing for the national championship at Spartan Stadium.
The arcane rules of scholarships and the high-pressure recruiting process have made
for "a stressful four years,'' Bedford Pickup said, "but I guess that's what being a parent is
Not all college athletic scholarships are created equal to the full rides offered in
football and men's and women's basketball, known as "head-count sports'' in college
athletics. Soccer and a host of other so-called minor sports are part of a stranger universe
called ``equivalency sports,'' where schools not only trump rivals' financial offers for
athletes (don't call it bidding) but also where players' financial aid may go up or down each
season (don't call them raises or pay cuts) and where teammates may be asked to chip in
part of their scholarships to sign a hot new prospect (don't call that working the salary cap).
If you do use those parenthetical expressions, the NCAA -- the guardian of amateurism in
college sports -- is offended.
"I don't think you'll find anybody in higher education who will suggest to you that a
scholarship is pay-for-play,'' NCAA spokesman Wally Renfro said. "This is not a salary that
you are offering somebody. It is not pay. It is a reduction in the fees that it will cost you to
go to school there.'' Pay for performance, but to longtime critics of the collegiate-sports
system, that's a distinction without a difference.
"It's in instances like this that you really see the nakedness of the position that full
rides sort of hide,'' said Murray Sperber, a Cal graduate and former soccer writer for the
Montreal Gazette who is an English professor at Indiana University and the author of three
books on college sports. "The coach is essentially paying the athlete a certain amount and
moving around the salaries based on athletic performance. It's never because they did great
in class. The relationship is so clearly between compensation and athletic talent and
productivity that we are really talking about professional sports.'' Even those involved with
the system acknowledge that, in equivalency sports, managing the complexities of financial
aid is akin to the job of an NFL general manager.
"There's a whole lot of strategy,'' Smith said. "Can we offer this, or can we get away
with this? How many great players can we get with 12 scholarships? Do I want to spend my
money on a player knowing I'm going to have her for four years when maybe I can get this
other player next year?''
In head-count sports -- in NCAA Division I, that's football and basketball for men and
basketball, gymnastics, tennis and volleyball for women -- even $1 of athletic aid given to a
player counts as a full scholarship toward the NCAA scholarship limit in that sport. There is
little incentive for a school to give partial scholarships. Splitting the pie But in equivalency
sports, the scholarship limit in a sport -- for example, 12 in women's soccer -- represents
the total maximum aid allowable. The aid nearly always is spread among more than 12
players, but it's legal as long as the total value of the aid on the team doesn't exceed the
value of 12 full rides. "It puts a lot of stress on the kids,'' UCLA soccer coach Jillian Ellis
said. "Bidding wars are part of our sport. It's not uncommon to say, "What did this school
offer you?" and then we try to match that. I've seen kids make a decision based on
For parents, many of whom assume an athletic scholarship for soccer is just like one
for basketball -- a free education -- equivalency sports are bewildering. Bedford Pickup said
he told one recruiter who was low balling his daughter that "it's not the girl's fault your
school is more expensive.'' If parents can't afford to cover the difference between an offer
and a school's costs, players have little choice but to choose the highest bid, a financially
based decision that a football or basketball player almost never faces. That shifts the
recruiting advantage to public schools.
At private Santa Clara, where the freshman year costs $27,965, a tuition-and-books
deal leaves the player or her parents on the hook for $8,060. At rival North Carolina, where
an out-of-state full ride is worth $17,091, a tuition-and-books offer to a California recruit
leaves her family owing $5,997. "If you have no money, money becomes the deciding
factor,'' said Vicky Wagner, a 15-year coaching veteran of San Jose club soccer who had a
player opt for Texas this year when her first choice, Santa Clara, couldn't come up with
enough aid. "If the family has money, then they have options.''
In both head-count and equivalency sports, a player's aid is subject to annual renewal.
But in equivalency sports, the better players commonly receive "raises.'' Upping the offer
after two years of receiving only tuition and books, Pickup got half her room and board
covered for her junior season, an increase equal to about $3,800 at Santa Clara, and full
room and board this season, another $3,800 increase. But raises may be difficult to grant
when there is a high school star out there who could put a team in the final four.
North Carolina Coach Anson Dorrance asked -- and received -- givebacks from some
of his veteran players in 1996 because he lost no seniors from the '95 team and needed
money to sign a freshman. "That seems like a legit request for the good of the team if you
can deal with giving back a little money and it's not going to put you into bankruptcy,'' said
Santa Clara's Aly Wagner, Vicky's daughter, who as the nation's top-rated high school
recruit in 1998 was among the minority of players who could command a full ride as a
Nevertheless, such choices are a part of the job many soccer coaches would rather do
without, and reclassifying soccer as a head-count sport would solve the problem. "It's not
fair to put a dollar figure on a player's head and try to determine who is worth more
monetarily to you than someone else,'' Brigham Young Coach Jennifer Rockwood said. "It's
hard to bring in freshmen on more money than a starter is getting.''
The NCAA's original classification was made in 1981, when it took over women's
athletics, and was based on what were the most popular sports at the time, Renfro said.
Only 22 of the 277 Division I schools that year offered women's soccer. Last season, 233 of
the 312 Division I schools fielded teams, and in number of athletes, soccer ranks behind
only indoor and outdoor track in popularity. Still, there is no pending NCAA legislation to
reclassify soccer. That's probably because there is an assumption that doing so would
require an increase in the sport's scholarship limit, said Lynda Tealer, Santa Clara's senior
women's athletic administrator.
Who gets the most? Dorrance, among other coaches, has devised an elaborate list of
criteria to determine how much money he gives each player on the team. For example, a
player on the U.S. national team or an All-American is entitled to a full ride. "I try to award
scholarships based on things that are out of my control,'' he said. "One of the problems
coaches run into when selecting a more subjective standard like performance is that one of
worst things you can do to a young athlete, who cherishes your opinion, is not to give
scholarship money when you don't think her performance is good enough.'' Pickup said she
left the negotiations on her raises to her father (don't call him an agent) because "I don't
want it to affect my relationship with my coach, and I don't want to be a bitter person.''
Her father has no complaints about the way the four years worked out. "I thought
Jerry made a fair offer as to what he could reasonably do. He told us what he would attempt
to do about raises if he could, but he made no promises. To me, it's worth the money to
have this team, such a wonderful group of girls.''