December 17, 2012

College Volleyball Classifications and Scholarships

Can you in a nut shell explain (like i'm a 3 year old) the scholarship info for all Divisions.

Athletic or Academic and what that means for a 2.0 to 2.9 student or to 3.2
Thank you for your time.  J.L.

Of course - The classification for the 5 college volleyball playing opportunities can be confusing, and this is a section in which I spend the most time on when I present the NCSA Volleyball Recruiting Education Talks.  In my book, Inside College Volleyball, I illustrate the major differences in the the collegiate volleyball playing opportunities.

NCAA Division I - Is allowed to be funded by individual schools up to 12 athletic scholarships.  Women's Volleyball in DI is a Head Count sport, and the total number of 'heads' which can be on an athletic scholarship is 12.  So, if a school decides to fully fund the scholarship load of women's volleyball at 12 (the majority do, but a surprising number of DI schools do not fully fund 12 scholarships - these are the departments I label as faux DI), then each player or head, receives a full athletic scholarship.  

Division I rules do not allow for additional scholarship sources, if a Student-Athlete is on a Full Athletic scholarship.  This means that the 4.0, 1400 SAT player is not allowed to receive an academic scholarship on top of their full athletic scholarship.  The 'exception' to this rule, is if a player qualifies for the Pell Grant (because of their family financial status), then they are allowed to keep a certain percentage of this Pell Grant to offset 'cost of attendance'.  Cost of attendance is a number each school generates to include such items as pencils, paper, parking, etc., and a Full Athletic Scholarship is never as big as the Cost of Attendance total.

If you are on a Full Athletic Scholarship, your only academic concern (as it relates to the scholarship) is to remain eligible.  There is no practical difference between a 2.2 and a 3.8 - This applies to admission, and during the course of studies.  

Please note the roster sizes one sees at matches - When there are 18 players on the team, this means that 6 of them are not receiving athletic scholarships and are known as Walk-Ons.  DI walk-on players are still allowed to receive non-atheltic scholarship (academic, merit and need based), but the athletic department/coach has zero control over or influence upon these scholarships.  An interesting/challenging quirk of today's Division I, is that Athletic Directors are pressuring Volleyball coaches to add walk on players to help balance the equity count - Instead of telling the football coach they can't have 25 walk ons, they are telling the volleyball coach (and softball, and soccer) to add walk ons.  

Division II - Allows for 8 athletic scholarships to be funded by an athletic department, if the athletic department so chooses.  There is a much smaller percentage of DII programs, versus DI, which fund their volleyball programs to the NCAA maximum.  As you can do the easy math, 8 scholarships do not cover the traditional 12 player roster.

In DII, women's volleyball is an Equivalency Sport.  This means that a coach can take those 8 athletic scholarships (or whatever total their athletic department funds at - I know way too many departments which only fund 2 or 4 scholarships) and divide or award partial athletic scholarships to as many players as they see fit, provided that the total awarded does not exceed or equals 8.  To close the gap between the athletic scholarship award and going to school, the NCAA allows for other non-athletic scholarships to be awarded.  

Putting together scholarship packages is central to DII volleyball. Coaches are very good with their scholarship math, and will put together a scholarship package which includes athletic, academic, merit and need based funds.  

It is here that academics plays a central role in the scholarship process - Often, the difference between a partial scholarship package and a full scholarship package is the player's academics.  A player with a 2.5 and 900 SAT will be admitted but won't receive academic scholarship, but a player with that 3.8 and 1400 SAT will package out on a Full Scholarship because of how much academic money they would receive.

Negotiating a scholarship package is also part of parent's responsibility - The college coach is trying to obtain the player for the least amount of athletic scholarship funds, because this is the one budget he/she controls.  The academic, merit and need components are usually set amounts which are determined by a formula or matrix via the admissions office.  A coach will determine how much the player would receive from admissions, and then apply enough athletic scholarship support to commit the recruit.  This is why I constantly remind parents that unless your daughter packages out with a full, always ask for more scholarship support.  The coach can usually award more athletic scholarship money, but is trying to commit your daughter with the least amount as possible, so they can use that money for another position.  

In Division II, there really are no walk ons - All players are usually on some type of scholarship package, as opposed to a DII player being awarded a Full Athletic scholarship.

Division III - Does not allow Athletic Scholarships.  No matter how good you are, it is against DIII rules to award athletic scholarships.  But, all other scholarship support is allowed.  As you can surmise, the academic standing of a recruit plays the central role in receiving a scholarship at a DIII school.  

DIII is known as the academic category, as the philosophy is school first and foremost.  Volleyball is part of the collegiate experience, not the collegiate experience like in DI (and many times DII).  The season is much shorter, the non traditional spring season is a total of 10 days (not the entire semester), the practice day is shorter, the missed class times rules are very restrictive, etc.  

I strongly recommend the DIII level for the players who are academically gifted and are pursuing elite/challenging coursework which requires significant study or involvement; biochemistry, engineering, premed, etc.

NAIA - This is a completely different governing body than the NCAA. In scholarship protocols and playing level, the closest comparison is NCAA Division II.  They award scholarships and usually in packages, but the funding of athletic scholarships is determined by each athletic department so it is difficult to make a blanket statement about available athletic scholarships.

A strength of the NAIA category is that they have very open arms in the admission process, which allows for college athletic participation when a player has had some challenges.  The NCAA is very regimented about needed high school classes, gpa and ACT/SAT test scores, about when you have to start college after high school, about the definition of 'professional or amateur', etc.  The NAIA keeps the door open if you did not test well, or did not happen to take the exact number of science classes mandated by the NCAA, or if you needed to take some time after high school graduation to sort through life, etc.

Junior College - There are two distinct organizations which support Junior College or JC athletics.  One is the NJCAA (national organization) and the other is the CCCA (California based).  The main difference between these two organization, other than geography, is the the CCCAA does not award athletic scholarships for volleyball.

For the NJCAA, similar to DII and NAIA, the volleyball programs award scholarship packages by totaling athletic, academic merit and need based.  The athletic scholarships available are determined by how much each school wishes to fund, so there can be significant differences in available scholarship moneys.  Like DII and NAIA, the academic standing of a player can greatly influence the total scholarship package awarded.  

Also like NAIA, the JC's have the open arms philosophy of admissions, and are specifically focused on allowing students to lay the academic foundation to move forward into 4 year schools (NCAA and NAIA) to complete their collegiate education.  A larger percentage of talented recruits have made the conscious decision to start at a JC program, because they have not found what they were looking for in a 4 year program, or they feel they are a late bloomer and want the extra training/playing time afforded by starting at a JC.

Junior College has become a fertile recruiting ground for NCAA DI and DII programs, as coaches realize that they can secure an experienced player, who has played collegiate athletics and studied within the a collegiate setting for one or two years.  Many NCAA and NAIA coaches like JC players because they are more 'predictable' than incoming freshman. In addition, because of how early high school players are being recruited and committed, often times the Junior College ranks are the only viable avenue to secure talented players later in the recruiting process, when a NCAA or NAIA program has late scholarship opening.

I hope I was able to simplify the playing and scholarships opportunities, while also providing enough information.  

Coach Matt


  1. One correction. The NJCAA has divisions roughly equivalent to those of the NCAA when it comes to scholarship rules (or at least they did when I was coaching at that level) .

  2. One additional note - Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships.


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