Click here for the methodology behind the NCPA's scholarship shortfall study.
Ramogi Huma, President , National College Players Association
Ellen J. Staurowsky, Professor & Graduate Chair, Department of Sport Management & Media, Ithaca College
Scan the sports pages this time of year, or almost any time of year for that matter, and someone, somewhere, will make reference to athletic scholarships as “free rides” or “full rides”. Significantly, on a Website offering advice to high school football players about how to get recruited, the author notes, “College football is a ‘head count’ sport which means that the sports scholarships that are offered are ‘FULL-RIDE” (College Football Scholarships and Recruiting Information, n.d.). In an article revealing the complexities associated with athletic scholarships, sports journalist Bill Pennington (2008) wrote, “Excluding the glamour sports of football and basketball, the average N.C.A.A. athletic scholarship is nowhere near a full ride….” (n.p.). Although Pennington was attempting to contrast scholarships given to what are commonly referred to as “revenue-producing” athletes and “non-revenue producing” athletes his implication was off the mark from the standpoint that whether referred to as a “full ride” or “free ride”, neither exists for college athletes regardless of their sport.
As a matter of record, NCAA regulations define an athletic scholarship, or what is called a full grant-in-aid as “financial aid that consists of tuition and fees, room and board, and required course-related books” (NCAA Staff, 2008, p. 171). What this means is that the formula on which the athletic scholarship is based predicts that athletes, even the most highly visible and most successful, will not receive a full ride during their collegiate careers because of a gap between what the scholarship covers and what the cost of attendance (COA) at a given school is.
In many respects, this defies logic and the concept of the full ride has taken hold among sportswriters, college sport fans, and most importantly, among college athlete recruits themselves. Rather than receiving an all expenses paid college education, athletes who are the recipients of a full scholarship still have bills to pay associated with their schooling.