August 1, 2008

College Walk-On Information

Another good question from a reader concerning being a walk-on. Within the right context, being a walk-on student athlete can be a great situation.


Regarding Woman's Division I Volleyball. What are the rules and limitations for walk on players? Meaning are they allowed to travel with the team? Receive meals, equipment (shoes) etc. Do they have a limit on playing time? Any information you could supply would be appreciated.


In theory, the only difference between a scholarship student-athlete and a non-scholarship student-athlete is that one is receiving a check from the school. With Division I volleyball being a head count sport (versus an equivalency sport) each scholarship player receives a full scholarship (if the program is fully funded to 12 scholarships). Division II volleyball is an equivalency sport, so most programs have a number of players that pay some amount to make up the difference between their scholarship and cost of attendance at their school. Since the NCAA limit for Division II volleyball is 8 scholarships and many athletic departments don't fully fund their volleyball programs (either conference rules or budgetary limitations), full scholarships do not dominate the roster.

Again, there are no rules for walk-on players versus scholarship players with regards to team training, travelling, equipment, etc. There are some walk-on paperwork issues that need to be taken care of for NCAA reasons or school auditing/accountability issues, but these are administrative details that vary from school to school or conference to conference.

To specifically answer your questions:

1. There are no rules or limitations on walk-on players. Some athletic departments actively encourage women's sports to carry walk-on players because it helps satisfy the Title IX rules to offset all the male athletes that are on the roster (i.e. football).

2. They are allowed to travel with the team. The majority of coaches will travel a walk-on player if the travel squad size allows it (conference or athletic departments set the travel size for volleyball teams, usually between 12 and 15) or if the player has earned the right to travel by her abilities.

I will caution you that if the volleyball travel roster is restricted to 12 players, the scholarship student-athlete will tend to get the nod to travel over the walk-on, all things being equal; the coach/program has made a financial investment into the scholarship player.

3. Meals and Equipment - Equipment would/should be provided just like any other player. Meals depend on the time of the year; pre-season training (before school starts) will be covered by the program, but once the academic term begins, then the walk-on would be responsible for her own meals. Pre-game meals for home matches depend upon departmental policies and meals on the road will be covered by the team.

4. No limit on playing time. Hopefully, the coach will reward any player with playing time during matches if they demonstrate their abilities during practice.

One area that you did not touch upon is academic support. Walk-on student-athletes receive the same academic support as scholarship athletes. This is significant, because part of this academic support is early or preferential enrollment, along with tutors, athletic department only counselors, etc.

Being a walk-on student athlete can be a great situation provided the circumstances are correct and there are no false expectations. The wrong thing to do is choose a school for the volleyball program or the coach. A coach can leave and all promises or program philosophies will leave with the coach. Don't choose a school because of the volleyball reputation or the personality of the coach.

Walk-on players need to be looking first and foremost at the non-athletic reasons to attend a school; academic fit, location, comfort level, etc. Playing volleyball within this environment is great.