April 30, 2020

NCAA Division I Scholarship for a LIbero

Hello Coach, 

My name is J. and I go to a private school but play volleyball with a public school. I am 5’1” as a freshman and I was wondering if I would have any chance for a college scholarship at a D1 school? 

Sincerely, J.

Talent will determine your opportunity.

It is generally understood that the NCAA Division I scholarship is the Lottery Ticket of volleyball scholarships.  As a quick reminder, DI Women's Volleyball provides 12 full scholarships (if the school fully funds the volleyball program, which the majority of DI programs do) but only 12 players can be on an athletic scholarship.  Because of this limit of 12 players, women's volleyball is known as a 'head count' sport among DI athletics - 12 players/heads can get a scholarship and if the program is fully funded at 12, then 12 players are receiving a Full Athletic scholarship.  

When we do the math, the odds are not forever in your favor to be selected for a NCAA Division I scholarship - For simplicity; 325 DI schools offering 3 scholarships each year versus tens of thousands volleyball players in each graduation year.

Players and families must also be aware of the excellent scholarship packages which can be found outside of NCAA Division I - By combining the additional scholarship avenues of academic, merit and need based with athletic, significant scholarship support can be obtained which can approach the total of a full scholarship.  

Quick breakdown of divisions and scholarships:

NCAA Division I - 12 full athletic scholarships, limited to 12 players.  Non athletic scholarships can be awarded to players not receiving an athletic scholarship, but these non-athletic scholarships are not influenced or under the control of the volleyball program or athletics department.

NCAA Division II - 8 full athletic scholarships (if the school fully funds the volleyball program) and these 8 scholarships can be divided among as many players desired, as long as the total value of awards equals 8 or less athletic scholarships; women's volleyball in Division II is called an "equivalency" sport.  In addition to receiving an athletic scholarship, players are allowed to also receive an academic, merit or need based scholarship.

NCAA Division III - No athletic scholarships, per DIII rules in any sport.  But, players may receive academic, merit and need based scholarships just like any other student.

NAIA - 8 full athletic scholarships (if the volleyball program is fully funded) and these athletic awards may be divided among as many players as desired.  In addition, additional academic, merit and need based scholarships may be awarded.

Junior College - JC's are divided into 3 categories, similar NCAA athletics.  JC division I provides full athletic scholarships (up to 14 depending upon school support), JC division II provides partial athletic scholarships and JC division III does not allow the awarding of athletic scholarships.

Back to your DI scholarship question - Yes, if you have the talent, you can receive a scholarship.  

With your height being 5'1" as a freshman, you would need to play the Libero position, unless there is huge growth spurt headed your way.  NCAA Division I players are tall; the power conference players are ridiculously tall and the non power conference players are still tall.  This height makes right reality of DI will eliminate the Middle, Outside and Setter positions from your possibilities.

And, to make your scholarship mountain a bit steeper, the toughest position to receive a DI scholarship in, is the Libero.  The reason is the only thing I can remember from my Economics degree; supply versus demand.

Typically, DI volleyball programs only provide 1 scholarship to the Libero position (not 1 per class, but 1 total scholarship on the team) and a number of schools don't even do that, as they only accept Libero's as walk-on players.  If we return to our simple math, that is 325 scholarships for all of DI.  The supply of Liberos is huge and the demand is small.

To further make bad math, the Libero position tends to be the catch all recruiting position in women's volleyball.  Not tall enough to play outside, switch to Libero.  Not a good enough setter, play Libero. You can pass but don't hit as well, play Libero.  Mom and Dad are not taller than 5'8", you only play Libero.

It is because of this huge supply of quality players in the Libero position, that college coaches only have to award 1 scholarship, if any at all.  They know that talented Libero players will walk-on to their program just to say they are DI players or to have a chance of maybe, possibly receiving that Lottery Ticket sometime during their collegiate career.

Enough of the scary math and let's return to Talent - If you are good enough, you can receive a DI scholarship.  But, you need to be really good.

Since you are a freshman and the Libero position is the last one recruited, you have time to focus on developing your skill sets.  Basically, you need to serve receive very well, play great defense, be in the right cover position at all times, and be a supportive/vocal teammate.

Club volleyball participation is almost mandated to develop DI skill sets, as it provides thousands of additional repetitions and hundreds of additional matches versus just playing high school volleyball.  Additional camps/clinics focused on the back row skill sets may also be necessary, if your club program is a bit lacking in Libero development and support.

Another suggestion is to play as much volleyball as you can.  For many years, before the rise of club volleyball as year round business, California players were regarded as the most talented, especially in the ball control positions (Outside, Setter, Libero).  Many believed this was due to being able to play volleyball year round with high school, beach and grass volleyball, along with recreational leagues.  But, no matter the surface, the players were playing volleyball...it was a steady diet of touches and playing the game.

So, focus on developing your skills, practice and play volleyball whenever you can, and understand that it is a challenge for a Libero to receive a DI scholarship.

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