May 8, 2010

College Volleyball Walk On Question


My daughter is a senior (2010 graduate) and she's just about ready to accept a walk-on position at a D2 school. Our question is about what paperwork is involved with securing a walk-on position. I can't find anything that addresses this. I know my daughter will not sign a national letter of intent because no funds are involved. But is there something she signs that locks her in to that sole walk-on position? I have no reason to believe the coach won't keep her word and give the spot to my daughter but my daughter gave up a scholarship at an NAIA school to potentially accept the walk-on slot.

So, we're just wondering what paperwork in involved and at what point should the coach provide that paperwork to the student-athlete? And at what point is my daughter considered fully committed?

Thanks for your insight!


This is a good question which I think may affect a number of VolleyFolks. It is my impression that walk-on student athletes (SA's) are becoming more common as of late. I think it may be an indication that PSA's are taking a bit of a harder look at the total package of a college/university, versus just chasing the athletic scholarship.

A walk-on position has no contractual arrangement with the volleyball program, unlike what an athletic scholarship mandates. As you mentioned in your question, the National Letter of Intent (NLI) is presented for the initial award (arriving Freshmen or JC transfer players), and then each year a scholarship is signed (all things being OK) in the spring.

Walk-on SA's may sign academic/merit/need based scholarships before arriving to campus, but this paperwork trail is generated by the financial aid and admissions office on each campus.

In terms of securing a position on the volleyball team, this is just the word of the coach. You phrased an interesting question about when is your daughter "fully committed"? Well, there are two answers; 1) per the spirit of college volleyball recruiting, your daughter is fully committed when she told the coach that she is going to that school; 2) since your daughter is not signing a NLI, from an athletic department and NCAA view point, she is not fully committed until she starts practice in the fall.

As for paperwork, she will fill out a bunch of it and some of these papers may well pertain to being a walk-on, but this won't happen until the team reports for season training. The NCAA, conferences and athletic departments love paperwork - Every year, we chop up and pulp half the trees in the Pacific Northwest to document everything. My experience with walk-on players, is that they usually have to fill out declarations of what other scholarships a PSA may be receiving and the source.

But again, there is no specific papers or contract/agreement, with regards to the NCAA and athletic department to secure a walk-on position. I would be extremely surprised if a coach changed their mind about a player being a walk-on before this PSA arrived to campus for the season because walk-on players are free and athletic departments love female walk-on SA's because it assists in their equity counts. But, the next year could be another matter - Since a walk-on is free, this position has no cost to eliminate or change.

What can easily happen, and I have been a member of programs which have made this decision, is to not invite a walk-on player back to the team for her sophomore year. She did nothing wrong, but rather she did not have the skills to help us in a competition or training environment and we secured additional incoming freshman walk-ons who where better. Unlike some other sports, there is really a limit to the number of volleyball players which should be on a team, so coaches may not keep a walk-on player for four years. I don't like to have more than 14 players on my roster and I actually prefer just 12 (in a perfect world, I would just have 10 - Perfect as in no injuries or SA's getting sick). Some programs may go up to 16 and possibly 18, but this is pushing it, as volleyball programs don't usually have the staffing or courts to support more than 3 teams of players during the season.

In today's recruiting climate, we see two types of walk-on players. Those PSA's who are arriving on campus as a walk-on, yet they have been promised an athletic scholarship at a specific point of time. The second type of walk-on is the PSA who comes to campus with the understanding their is no promise of an athletic scholarship; this tends to be the traditional understanding of the walk-on position.

A current trend is for the future scholarship walk-on and a common term being used today is Recruited Walk-On. This term actually is based upon NCAA rules which say that a walk-on player becomes 'Recruited' when a coach engages in more than one conversation (either on the telephone or in person) with a PSA. The ramification of being a Recruited Walk-On, is that it limits the amount of non-athletic scholarship aid a SA may receive. This sounds worse than it is in reality - It comes down to the fact that a walk-on can receice any amount of non-athletic based aid, while a Recruited Walk-On may only receive non-athletic aid up to the amount equivalent to a Full Athletic Scholarship. This only affects a small percentage of PSA's who may be extremely smart and thus be garnering scholarships above the amount of a Full Athletic Scholarship. If this super smart PSA is a Recruited Walk-On, then they would forgo some monetary amount(s) of a scholarship to stay at this Full Atheletic Scholarship limit.

I have used this avenue when there is a player who I believe is a great fit for my program, but either I don't have the scholarship available for the year (or 2nd year) she arrives or I feel she has the potential to become an significant contributor to the team, but because of her volleyball background, has not had the opportunity to train at a high enough level.

As I mentioned earlier, I feel that the attraction of a walk-on position is increasing as PSA's/Families take into consideration all facets of a university/college. VolleyFolks are placing more value, as they should, on items outside of being on the volleyball team. Ranking of school, location, attractiveness of the campus, available curriculum, combined with the manageable cost of attendance numbers of a public school or large non-athletic based scholarship package of a private school, make a walk-on slot an attractive proposition to play volleyball at some schools.

The only thing which I would strongly suggest is to obtain in writing the specifics of the walk-on to scholarship offer or guarantee. Please remember that this is not a legal binding document in the eyes of the school or NCAA, but it does present some semblance of security in the craziness of NCAA athletics. Trusting the coach is one thing, and hopefully a coach is sincere in what they offer (remember that walk-ons are free), but coaches leave and with that vacate, all promises vacate with them. What remains is trying to get the athletic department to honor the verbal contract between coach (who is the representative of the athletic department/school) and student-athlete. If you have a letter from the coach, which is on school letterhead and specifically states the verbal agreement, this will help in any future conversations with administration.

For me, this represents a concern with walk-on positions, both walk-on to scholarships or traditional walk-ons; that a walk-on is a verbal agreement between player and coach. When push comes to shove, the athletic department is under no legal obligation to honor verbal agreements of this kind should a coach leave, or a coach change their mind about awarding a promised scholarship.

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