February 24, 2008

Recruited Walk On Questions

A question from a reader about being a Recruited Walk-On.

As a parent of a junior going through the recruiting process, just wondering what it really means when a fairly top-level div 1 school says your girl is just outside their top recruits, but he really likes her and their is a spot with them as a recruited walk-on; any big deal? On the walk-on question, are there only so many girls that a team can carry? Would it be unusual for a girl to come on as a walk-on and subsequently earn a scholarship? Thanks in advance - Mac

Mac brings up some very good questions about what it means to be a Walk-On student-athlete. In Division I Volleyball, a Walk-On is a player who is not receiving an athletic scholarship. Many DI Walk-Ons are receiving some type of academic, merit or need based support, but none of their scholarships are athletically related; in fact, I have been at schools where a couple of the Walk-On players were on a larger scholarship package than a full athletic scholarship because of the combination of academic and need packages.

With regards to the term 'Recruited Walk-On', all this means is that there has been multiple contacts between the coach and the player via e-mail, letters and/or telephone calls. A coach/program is allowed to have one exchange of information (e-mail, letter or phone call) with a prospective student-athlete without having her classified as being recruited - anything after that initial contact, then the PSA becomes recruited. Even though the term sounds good to a family, Recruited Walk-On versus just being a Walk-On player, it only has one meaning; a Recruited Walk-On is limited in the amount of financial aid/scholarship support that they can receive from an institution. A Recruited Walk-On can only receive non-athletic scholarships up to a total that equals a full athletic scholarship. For most PSA's this is no big deal, but for a few that are extremely smart, have need based or qualify for merit scholarships, this caps their award and 'costs' them a few thousand dollars in financial suport. So, while the coach is trying to sound good, the reality is they are limiting your financial packages.

On to the questions from Mac:

1. Spot as a Recruited Walk-On? The coach is trying to get a player for free because she is not good enough for them to give her a scholarship. This is a rather soft way for a program to cut loose a recruit, but still leave a door open for that player to be on the team. This is great for the program because they will get a good practice player and which may develop into somebody who could help the team during matches. It is only a big deal if the school is some place the PSA really wants to go to and would attend if they did not have a volleyball team.

2. Are there only so many girls a team can carry? No, there is no NCAA limit as to the number of players that may be on the volleyball roster. NCAA Division I allows 12 full scholarships for Women's Volleyball, but because of Title IX compliance athletic departments encourage women's teams to carry more players on the roster than the number of scholarships - this is done to balance out the number of football players. It is rare that you see teams with more than 16 players on a roster just because of training issues, but it can happen.

3. Earning a scholarship? That is the lure of being a Walk-On; come prove your abilities and we may have a scholarship for you. This can happen and many times it does, but it usually does not occur until the Walk-On is at least an upper classmen. Unfortunately, many times a Walk-On getting a scholarship is by happenstance (an incoming recruit bailed out, an international player could not get in, etc) and a last minute thing. Now, there are occasions where a Walk-On makes a big impact upon the program and is awarded a scholarship, but the reality is that if a scholarship comes free, the majority of coaches are going to allocate that scholarship to the next recruiting class.

Honestly, I would not encourage anyone to accept a Walk-On spot unless they have exhausted all scholarship opportunities at peer institutions. As a Junior, there is still a lot of time left in the recruiting process and a number of schools that could well be a great fit for your daughter. To join a mid to upper level program as a Walk-On this early, is not the best decision. Keep the
Walk-On offer as a back-up (the coach is not going to pull it or put a deadline on a decision and if they do, then that should give you an indication that this was a token offer to begin with), continue to play volleyball and stay engaged in the recruiting game.

It is important to realize that many times being a Walk-On is a great deal. For some of the elite universities that compete in Division I athletics, being an athlete is the way to gain admission to the school, walk-on or scholarship' ed; I have seen it happen amny times where a PSA with good grades/scores is able to gain admission to a great school by being a walk-on and the coach makes it happen with the admissions office.

Like every student-athlete, a Walk-On enjoys the same perks; preferential enrollment, athletics only academic support and counselors, athlete only weight rooms and training rooms, equipment, travel, etc. There are many, many positive benefits of being a student-athlete that have nothing to do with getting an athletic scholarship.

Being a student-athlete (via a Walk-On) looks great on your resume. Whether you are making plans for graduate school, competing for a coveted internship or trying to land a job, the resume just says you were a student-athlete, not a Walk-On student athlete. The ability to train and compete with an NCAA program, succeed in a course of study, balance all the demands of volleyball and school, and then have a, hopefully, normal college life is something that makes a big impression upon future employers!

The one thing that I caution players about when it comes to being a Walk-On is to choose for the school and your degree program, nothing else. Absolutely do not Walk-On at a school because of the coach; there is no guarantee that the coach will be there for your four/five years - sometimes things are just outside of their control. Also, do not Walk-On because the team is a good or well known - unfortunately injuries, reduced budgets, staff changes can quickly bring a once high flying volleyball program down to earth.

Choose to be a Walk-On at a school that is someplace you would attend even if they did not have a volleyball program. Know that you are going there because they have the academic and collegiate experience that will make your time there empowering and enjoyable. You will spend so much more time being a student, than being an athlete, that you must choose to spend your money at a school that can stand on its own without the volleyball team.