November 3, 2008

Multi-Sport Athlete Question

A short and simple question from a reader:

What percentage of college coaches would allow a scholarship player to participate in two sports? Wayne

A simple question that has a complicated answer. Within the structure of NCAA athletics, there is a hierarchy of sport scholarships. For example, a male student athlete cannot be on a track scholarship and participate in football - A female student athlete cannot be on a soccer scholarship and play basketball. This is a protective measure that does not allow some sports to benefit by pressuring or arranging for their athletes to be carried on scholarships funded by other sports.

In Volleyball, we are second behind women's basketball in the women's sports hierarchy. In terms of playing multiple sports, basketball and track/field are the two most referenced for Division I athletes. It would be possible to play tennis, golf and softball because of the seasons, but these situations happen mostly within the Division II or III structure. A nice opportunity that Division III holds for athletes is the comfortable chance to play multiple sports.

Back to DI - Track and Basketball are the most common sports that a volleyball player would play. For basketball, the benefit is that the player has to be carried on the basketball scholarship and the basketball season ends in time for the player to participate in the volleyball spring season. The negative issues would be no rest time for the player in between seasons, the pressure from the basketball staff to have the volleyball player double dip in practices in October/November, and being exposed to the 'have versus have not' mentality - there is a significant difference between how women's basketball and women's volleyball is supported in Division I athletics.

For Track, the athlete is still carried on the volleyball scholarship, so this is a free athlete for the track program. The benefits would be two separate seasons with rest time between, the opportunity to stay physically fit along with allowing a player to pursue an individually focused as opposed to team focused event (some kids just like to do their own thing without worrying about the team). Some drawbacks include not maximizing the spring volleyball season and exposing a current scholarship athlete to potential repetitive stress related injuries.

I seem to hear of more examples of volleyball players having been on the basketball squads - Williams and Young at UCLA, Willoughby at Hawaii, Foekle (spelling) at Stanford. I would think there are a few that have doubled up with track (the player at the U. of Texas), but they don't seem to garner as much attention.

To answer Wayne's question - I would hazard a guess that the percentage is low. Even with the positives of carrying the player on another sport's scholarship count or the physical conditioning aspect, there are just too many negative variables. The risk of injury in basketball would be cause enough to say no.

The few programs that do support such duality would probably have been told early in the recruiting process that the Prospective Student-Athlete wanted to play both and was just amazing in both sports.

Within my program, I don't believe I would support such a two sport athlete and my reason's are different than listed above. I feel it is important that my players have balance within their collegiate experience and quality academic time. Playing two Division I sports would just demand too much of an academic and experience sacrifice in my opinion.

I would not want a player to average B grades when they could average an A, I want my players to have down time from the physical pounding, I would want them to broaden their non-athletic experience by getting involved in student government or academic-social clubs, as opposed to participating in a second sport.

But, then again, I could be way off on my answer. Ultimately, it comes down to the opinion of each head coach and what they feel is best for their program and players!