March 14, 2008

NY Times article on NCAA Scholarships

A question about a recent NY Times article on NCAA Scholarships:

Hi Coach,There is an article in the NY Times on sports scholarships. Could you compare your scholarship experience with what is presented in the article? Thanks, Jen

I was not aware of this article until being notified by our readers. I took a moment to read through the piece, but not in too much of a detailed way. It is nice to see that a critical eye is being cast upon the NCAA scholarship arena, but before I move into answering Jen's question, my wish is that the author would have put a bit more pressure or responsibility upon the NCAA/Colleges-Universities to fund those illustrated sport programs better. I find it hard to swallow the assertion the parents and players are being foolish or naive to pursue limited scholarship support, when 3 other NCAA sports have a king's ransom in budget and salary allocations - A little mimicry of Robin Hood by schools could help a lot of Student-Athletes and families.

After reading the NY Times article, we should realize how fortunate we are to be one of the better funded NCAA sports. Division I Women's Volleyball is allowed to have 12 Full Scholarships and if a school chooses to fully fund the sport, then 12 'Heads' will be on a Full Scholarship - this is why DI Women's Volleyball is termed a Head Count Sport. Division I Men's Volleyball is allocated 4 Full Scholarships (last time I checked) and these 4 scholarships must be divided to support the players on the team - no matter how many players are on the roster, all the allocated scholarships must 'Equal' 4; this is why DI Men's Volleyball is termed an Equivalency Sport.

NCAA Division II Women's Volleyball is capped at 8 scholarships and is an Equivalency Sport. It is within this classification that we find the widest range of support among sponsoring schools. Many schools will fund up to a certain number, but will fall well below the NCAA allowed maximum of 8 scholarships. NCAA Division III is academically awarded, so this situation does not apply to the article.

The NY times segment focused on the Equivalency Sports by and large. In addition, by featuring such a school as Villanova, it was illustrating an expensive, private school located in a region of the country with a very high cost of living. When the author selected Field Hockey, Baseball and Soccer as examples, he/she illustrated sports that have high numbers of players per the make up of their sport; this means the scholarship support versus the cost of attendance difference would only be magnified.

The flip side of this example would be to pick a NCAA Division I Women's Tennis team located at a public school in the mid-west. In such an illustration, the players may only have to pay a couple of thousand dollars, if anything, to be a NCAA Student-Athlete. The same could be said for any number of sports, especially those with smaller roster needs.

A segment of the NY Times piece that was correct, is the high cost associated with playing elite level athletics. Club Soccer, AAU Basketball, Club Volleyball, Junior Golf, etc., are expensive to play. Parents can spend into the tens of thousands of dollars per year, but it is the price that must be paid. The days of the college coach coming to a high school event and finding the hidden jewel are long gone. There are the occasional athletes that gain substantial scholarships by only playing high school athletics, but these are mainly limited to football and basketball players. These three sports also enjoy the largest number of Head Count allocated scholarship totals.

With a Club Volleyball player that has played since the 7th grade, there is the very real chance that the family will spend more money on Club than the college scholarship that they may receive. This situation commonly occurs when factoring in the scholarship size offered by in-state public schools. From a pure dollars and sense observation, the better thing would be for the family to stay out of debt and put these funds into a low risk investment, then have 50K plus when it is time for their daughter's college.

What the numbers cannot reflect is the life lessons and skill improvement acquired along the journey. Just consider all the new places that a Prospective Student-Athlete experienced. What about the ability to make new friends and overcome challenging environments? The opportunity to develop their blessed volleyball ability to a very high level.

In today's world of cost versus benefit, things that have value cost money. Travel, education, athletics, relaxation - just about anything that is worthwhile is not free.

The challenge is to make good choices. For instance, if a family is not in a position to spend a lot of money on college expenses, after putting so much into Club Volleyball, then the PSA should consider a Junior College. Many, many JC's are fully funded and the PSA will gain valuable on-court volleyball experience, while completing two years of their education. Another option is to stay focused on in-state public schools which offer lower tuition and access to state education funds; you may not receive a full scholarship, but the extra costs to the family could be marginal.

Some parts of the NY Times article were absolutely correct, but Women's Volleyball, especially Division I, enjoys better scholarship support with smaller team numbers.