Odds for an athletic scholarship don't depend on participation numbers
By Dave Galehouse
Some recruiting services pitch exposure as the ultimate recruiting tool and the number one reason that you won't be recruited, using the theory that if college coaches do not know you, they cannot recruit you.
While exposure is important, it's exposure at the right level coupled with what a coach needs for his team and what a coach looks for in a player. No amount of exposure will help you get recruited by any college coach in any sport if you lack the size or skill to play for that particular coach and/or team.
According to the National Federation of High Schools, the greatest participation by high school athletes is in high school football, with 1,023,142 boys participating at the high school level? What does this mean for your recruiting efforts? Well, nothing really!
A recent recruiting services pitch we came across was as follows.... "There are 6.9 million high school athletes, how will you stand out" - “There are 254,000 seniors who play high school football. There are only 5,042 athletic scholarships awarded at the D1 level. Your odds are 1-50 that you get a scholarship.”
Let's look at these figures a little more closely...
The "6.9 million high school athletes" participation figure has nothing to do with YOUR recruiting process mainly because over 6 million of those kids are underclassmen and don't play your sport and quite frankly, it's a meaningless number. If you want to know how meaningless it is, consider this - Nationally, out of 100 9th graders, 68 will graduate from high school, 40 will enter college directly, 27 are still enrolled in college in their second year, and 18 will graduate from college. - US Dept. of Education -
Now let's look at the second statement in more detail about high school football participation.
There are several problems with looking at the football participation number. First off, not every high school athlete who plays football in high school is interested in playing in college, just as not every person who goes to high school goes to college. Some students play sports in high school just to play sports and have no desire to continue after high school. My high school baseball team senior year had 6 seniors. Only myself and one other player attempted (and succeeded) to continue our baseball career at the college level. So the number of players I was competing against on my team dropped 66 percent because 4 of them didn't try to get recruited.
Now let's look at the second figure about 5,042 athletic scholarships each year a the D1 level for football.
D1 football team are required to offer 85 athletic scholarships (and no more per team) and there are 119 football teams at the 1A level and you can divide 85 by 4 because each coach has about 21.25 scholarships per year. In reality, Division 1 football coaches can sign 28 recruits under the NLI program but can only have 25 players receive a scholarship in the new year, but for use of this example I will stick with 21.25 because they cannot have more than 85 players on the team under full scholarship.
At the D1 level, there are roughly 2,528 athletic football scholarships available each year. (21.25 scholarships x 119 schools) give or take a few scholarships as no coach can recruit .25 players.
There are 116 1-AA football teams. These teams are allowed to offer 63 athletic scholarships per team. 63 athletic scholarships divided by 4 years equals about 16 scholarships a year. 16 scholarships a year times 116 teams equals 1,856 athletic scholarships available per year. But wait, each football team in the Ivy League competes at the 1AA level, but they do not offer athletic scholarships. Now we have to deduct about 150 scholarships to maybe 1,706 at the 1AA level. It's also unlikely that every 1AA team offers 63 scholarships but for the sake of argument, we will say they do.
Now, let's say there are roughly 4,234 football scholarships ( 2,528+1,706) awarded at the Division 1 level and Division 1AA level each year, and that's assuming every 1AA team offers the maximum of 63 athletic scholarships (highly unlikely).
Now to the important stuff!
Not every high school football player is going to play D1, wants to play D1, or can play D1. How can someone say that you are competing for a scholarship at the D1 level against a 150 pound backup receiver who would be lucky to play at a low level D3 program?
Lets say 50% of all high school (senior) football players want to play in college (which I think is a very generous estimate), the total number drops to 127,000 senior football players. Now there are 119 1A teams, 116 1AA teams, 151 D2 teams and 229 D3 teams. That's 615 teams. If each team had 50 players, there are enough spots for 30,750 high school football players to play in college. Some college programs carry over 100 players even 120 and some times might only have 40, it all depends on the program, but 50 per team I think is a fairly generous estimate on my part.
Lets now say that out of those 127,000 kids who want to play football in college, only 20% have the skill, the size, the speed, and desire to play at the highest D1 level. Now the number is 25,400 players. A far cry from the 1-50 odds of getting a D1 scholarship and more like 1 in 6. (25,000+ players for roughly 4,000+ spots). This doesn't factor in the fact that many of these players might be basketball or baseball players who have no interest of playing football in college, but are still playing football in high school and get counted in the pool of 1 million plus players. And this will go for many sports, as there is so much overlap at the high school level.
It has nothing to do with numbers of high school players and all to do with how many players want to continue at the D1 level and can continue at the D1 level.
If you don’t have the size, speed and skill to play at the D1 level, you have NO odds (It would be like trying to win the lottery without actually purchasing a ticket!), but if you do have the size, speed, skill and desire to play D1 football, the odds of you receiving an athletic scholarship are better than people might lead you to believe. In reality, you are not competing against 254,000 other high school football players, you are competing against a few thousand kids who possess the size, skill and speed to play at that level. Again, while exposure is important, it's exposure at the right level that will help you get recruited. No amount of exposure will make up for a lack of size, speed and skill, especially at the D1 football level (or any level for that matter).
These same arguments apply to any sport, regardless of exposure - in order to receive an athletic scholarship three things have to happen. One, you have to find a program that has available scholarships to offer. Two - you have to find a program that has a pressing need that the coach is trying to fill, meaning if you are a catcher or a goalie and the coach has 3 catchers or 3 goalies already they might not be recruiting for your position despite your success or skills. And three, you have to be extremely talented and you have to contact the coach and find a way to display your skills to that coach. While there are hundreds of thousands of high school athletes, there are not hundreds of thousands of high school athletes that have the skills to compete at the high D1 level or the skills to be awarded an athletic scholarship.
A former Division One athlete, Dave Galehouse is the director of www.varsityedge.com and author of The Making of a Student-Athlete: Succeeding in the College Selection and Recruiting Process for High School Athletes, Parents and Coaches.