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    The Myth of the Athletic Scholarship

    by JOHN MILLEA, Star Tribune

    Kevin Kray's dream was coming true. The Osseo High School senior wanted to play baseball at the University of Minnesota, and his parents wanted to hear the words that all parents of college-bound athletes dream of: We are offering your child a free education.

    "When somebody comes and says they're interested in your son, you think, 'Hey, maybe he can get a full ride,' " said Ann Kray, Kevin's mother.

    Kevin is the oldest of Ann and Dana Kray's three children, and the family had no prior experience with the mysterious world of college athletic scholarships. The family had assumed, as many people do, that full rides are commonplace.

    "I don't come from a family with a lot of money, and I was hoping the U would be able to help me out," Kevin Kray said.

    Said Ann Kray: "It's kind of like people's wages, you don't hear people discuss it. In the back of your mind you maybe think they got a full ride. At least that's your perception."

    Like it does for countless families, though, perception turned into a much different reality for the Krays. Full scholarships are rare in many college sports, and the realities of the scholarship world are just as elusive as the scholarships themselves. But this much is certain: A precious few high school athletes are rewarded with college scholarships each year.

    The numbers don't lie:

    For every 100 high school athletes, there is one full athletic scholarship available.

    More than 60 percent of all NCAA athletes receive no athletic scholarship aid. This includes Division III, which does not give out athletic aid.

    The average NCAA athlete on scholarship gets, per year, about $10,000 less than the value of a full scholarship.

    Minnesota offered Kevin Kray a scholarship that would cover less than half the cost of a year's education -- a total that is about $19,000 at the U of M, including room, board and books. He accepted, knowing that the size of his scholarship can be increased in the future, depending on his pitching performance.

    "We had to kind of take a step back," Ann Kray said. "At first we thought, 'Wow, you don't get full rides, huh?' Initially he had the dream of being able to get college paid for through athletics. It's kind of a bummer, you work just as hard and train just as hard, but there's not as much money for sports like baseball."

    Think about that the next time you hear of high schools holding signing-day ceremonies, when top athletes put pen to paper and agree to accept college scholarships in front of television and newspapers cameras, proud parents and envious classmates. Because it's likely that most of those young athletes are receiving a very small slice of the scholarship pie.

    "They invest all this money to get potentially 25 to 33 percent of a scholarship," Gophers baseball coach John Anderson said. "I shake my head a little bit and think, 'You're better off taking that money and putting it in the bank.' People are a little bit shocked by how little aid we have. If you get 30 to 40 percent of a full ride, you're doing pretty good."

    The myth of money

    Like most college sports, baseball doesn't have nearly enough scholarships to give everybody a full ride. The NCAA Division I baseball limit is 11.7 full rides, which Anderson tries to split up over a roster that can have 35 players. Men's tennis has only 4.5 scholarships, wrestling 9.9, softball 12 and cross-country/track and field has 12.6 for men and 18 for women.

    Those are some of the "equivalency" sports, which generally spread small amounts of scholarship money throughout the roster. Athletes in such sports, like track and field, are considered to be "on scholarship" even though they are likely getting a very small percentage of their school paid for and footing the bill for the rest out of pocket.

    Then there are the Division I "head count" sports -- football, men's and women's basketball, women's volleyball, women's tennis and women's gymnastics. That designation means every athlete receiving a scholarship in those sports gets a full ride.

    "There is so much misinformation out there. And the biggest one is that full rides grow on trees," said Phil Lundin, the longtime Gophers men's track coach who this year became men's track and cross-country coach at Division III St. Olaf College. Lundin said he felt like a Robin Hood figure when breaking up scholarships for his track team, which averaged 60 athletes in his 13 years as Gophers coach.

    "One year we had close to 50 on some form of athletic aid," he said. "I sliced that pie so thin you wouldn't have believed it. But everybody got a little bit."

    Very few of Lundin's athletes received a full ride. Many more got what are called "starter" or "book" scholarships, usually enough aid to pay for books and little else.

    Even fewer scholarships are available on the Division II level. Scholarship athletes in D-II receive, on average, $6,000 a year -- less than half of the $14,000 those at the D-I level get. The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, comprised primarily of Division II schools in Minnesota, allows its football programs to offer only 24 scholarships while the NCAA permits D-II schools to offer up to 36. Even so, NSIC member Minnesota Duluth won the D-II national championship game Saturday. The D-I Gophers, by contrast, give out 85 football scholarships.

    The NCAA allows no athletic aid on the Division III level, although that doesn't mean some D-III colleges don't find ways to help their top athletes. One way is by awarding "leadership" scholarships to athletes who have displayed some form of leadership, even if it was just being a class officer in high school.

    Talking about money creates an uneasy dynamic between coaches, players and their families. It's a process coaches often go into with feelings of dread -- a sentiment families soon share.

    "I think the hardest thing in our business is you have to put a value on somebody," said Anderson, the Gophers baseball coach. "Somebody will say, 'How come you think I'm worth 25 [percent of a scholarship] and so-and-so [at another college] says I'm worth 55?' That's the most demeaning part of my job, having to put a value on a player. It's not that you don't like them as a player. You want them in your program, but 'here are our limitations.' People have a hard time with that."

    Myth: Athletes have it easy

    For all the athletes who land full rides and have a great college experience, there are many stories that go wildly off script. Some athletes are promised a scholarship, only to see it yanked because of a coaching change or other reasons. Some start at the Division I level but are overwhelmed by the total commitment that is necessary, the 16-hour days of practice, training, meetings, classes and mandatory study halls, which leave room for nothing else, not even a social life.

    Gophers football player Ned Tavale, a junior from Cretin-Derham Hall, said coaches joked about "signing my life over to them," but the reality is it isn't far from the truth. Some overwhelmed Division I athletes transfer to Division II or III schools, hoping to strike a greater balance in their lives. The trade-off is giving up a dream of playing at the highest level for the overall college experience.

    Money also is a factor. Former Wayzata football player Tommy Becker left the University of Minnesota, where he was receiving a full ride, for D-III St. Thomas and no athletic aid. He hesitated about leaving his full ride behind, "but I was unhappy and I didn't want to cheat the Gophers out of a scholarship by not being committed," he said.

    Mike Moberg played basketball at Maple Grove and accepted a scholarship at Division I Niagara (N.Y.) University even though he said he "didn't have a huge passion" for the D-I level but didn't want to pass up the opportunity.

    "When you're recruited by D-I schools, people kind of expect you to go D-I," said Moberg, who left the Niagara team after the first seven games of his freshman year and now plays basketball at Division III Bethel. "If you're not all the way in, you're not going to make it," he said of the Division I athletic environment.

    The myth perpetuated

    Bill Maresh, father of two sons who received football scholarships -- Mike is a senior at North Dakota State and Sam had his career with the Gophers put on hold by heart surgery this summer -- said the biggest lesson his family learned was that questions must be asked.

    "We kind of learned as we went, and we tried to ask the right questions," he said. "Any question you have, you've got to be able to ask. 'What about books?' 'How's housing work out?' A lot of people are nervous about asking the questions."

    Lynn Otto, who visited Division I, II and III colleges with her three sons from Hill-Murray -- two are now at Bethel and one goes to Stanford -- offered this warning: "The key is coaches. You never know. They talk a good talk."

    But some parents -- many who have paid tens of thousands of dollars for training sessions, camps, clinics, and teams that travel the country -- would rather believe a lie than accept a tougher truth.

    That's part of the reason scholarship myths still exist.

    In the late 1990s, when Dan O'Brien was the football coach at Concordia (St. Paul), it was an NAIA institution that did not award athletic scholarships. O'Brien, now Gophers director of football operations, had sent a few recruiting letters to players in Texas and one of them, from Houston, wanted to come to Concordia. But he and his parents also wanted a scholarship. What followed was an elaborate ruse.

    The player's parents paid for O'Brien to fly in for the signing-day ceremony. Before leaving for Houston, O'Brien went to the Concordia bookstore and purchased a cap that would rest on the table in front of the young man as he signed.

    But the fact remained that the Golden Bears did not offer scholarships, so O'Brien had no document for the player to sign. The solution? O'Brien asked the secretary in his football office to create an official-looking "letter of intent."

    And on signing day, the future Concordia player and his fellow college-bound classmates were celebrities. Parents, grandparents and other relatives were on hand, the local newspaper took photos and pride was abundant. Only a few people knew that one of the kids was signing a piece of paper that meant absolutely nothing.

    But everybody smiled.

    2008 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

    Recruiting Tips for Football Players

    Here's a list of tips and ideas to help make your recruiting process more enjoyable, productive, and successful.

    • Accept invitations to attend college-sponsored recruiting days (sometimes referred to as "Junior Days") that focus on student athletes and their parents. Frequently held in conjunction with a campus sporting event, they are great opportunities for you to learn more about the college and its sports program and include meeting current team members. An invitation to one of these events does not mean a student athlete is being recruited.
    • Choose your college as much for the education you will receive as for your sport. Very few college athletes will play their sport professionally. Should you get injured, decide later not to play during college, or not make the team it is important to be enrolled in a school that meets your academic needs.
    • Be a student of your sport and learn everything you can about your position.
    • Attend college athletic events for your sport whenever and wherever possible.
    • Learn about your sport's mental game and how it impacts your athletic success.
    • Maintain your eligibility for athletic scholarships by passing all required coursework and maintaining a satisfactory grade point average.
    • Keep up-to-date records of all practice and competition statistics to track your progress and share with coaches.
    • Apply and gain acceptance to at least one college you want to attend whether or not you have an opportunity to play your sport.
    • Personalize your letters and emails to each coach by using the coach's name and professional title. Avoid starting your letters and emails with "Dear Coach". Find coach information at individual college athletic program web pages or call the college athletic department.
    • The three essential qualities needed to win an athletic scholarship are (1) athletic talent, (2) academic achievement, and (3) exposure to the coaches and colleges that match your unique student athlete profile.
    • Ask yourself why you are interested in playing sports at the college level. Your answer will help guide your plans and shape your decisions as a student athlete. Do you love the game and competition? Do you plan an athletic coaching career? Are you looking for a way to pay for your college education? Is your goal to play professional sports?
    • Involve your parents, coaches and other supportive adults in your plans to attend college as a student athlete. Ask them to assist you with planning college visits, role playing before meetings and interviews, and reviewing the letters and applications you prepare.
    • Challenge yourself to exceed the minimal standards for high school graduation. Minimal efforts equal minimum results in competition and in the classroom.
    • Keep college coaches updated throughout your recruitment process. Send a brief email or text message when you have new information to share.
    • Visit college web sites to conveniently access information for prospective athletes. Learn about available academic and sports programs and what makes each college program unique.
    • Be realistic about your athletic ability and level of commitment. Ask your high school coaches and counselors to provide assessments and recommend colleges matching both your academic and athletic needs.
    • Arrange to have your final high school transcript sent to the NCAA Clearinghouse if you expect to compete as a D-I or D-II college student athlete.
    • Be self-confident, realistic and persistent in presenting your student athlete profile to coaches.
    • Ask former and current college athletes to share their experiences and offer advice.
    • Your online student athlete profile is your most valuable tool for organizing the details of your academic and athletic performance and communicating them to coaches. Frequently update your online student athlete profile to reflect competition results; participation in tournament, camps and showcases; video highlights, current G.P.A. and other information coaches need to evaluate prospects.
    • Be honest with college coaches and counselors about your athletic abilities, academic standing, accomplishments and personal goals.
    • Know college and conference calendars and schedules. Be aware of all application deadlines and recruiting periods for your sport.
    • Know and follow all college and conference student athlete recruitment and eligibility regulations.
    • Make official campus visits to your 'Top 5' colleges and athletic programs prior to your Senior year sport season. This scheduling will allow you to enjoy a productive but relaxed 48 hours on each college campus while visiting with team members and coaches.
    • The amount of athletic scholarship money that may be offered to a student athlete does not necessarily reflect how much a coach wants the player on the team. For example, the current team may have a large number of upperclassmen with few athletic scholarships available to incoming freshmen. Or, a limited number of scholarships in a given sport may restrict athletic scholarships offered to incoming freshman.
    • Take the SAT and ACT college entrance tests during your Junior year and retest should your scores be lower than expected. Take both exams because some colleges emphasize one score over the other. Satisfactory completion of standard college entrance testing by Fall of your Senior year can help coaches more quickly decide you are a valuable recruit.
    • Confirm you have the correct coach name, title, and address before you attempt to contact a coach. Coaches change jobs; however, you can take steps to ensure your message reaches the intended individual.
    • Tell your high school coach which colleges interest you. (S)He can provide initial introductions to college coaches in addition to valuable advice and contacts.
    • Participate in a physical conditioning program to prepare yourself for college competition and minimize the possibility of sports-related injuries.
    • Respond promptly and courteously to all inquiries and continue to visit colleges until you have a signed contract from the college of your choice. Avoid rejecting any interested school too early in the athletic recruiting process.
    • Remain flexible in choosing a college. Identify available athletic and academic opportunities and carefully compare them to your individual strengths and personal goals.
    • Participate in quality summer camp, clinic, tournament, showcase and travel team experiences. They provide you with opportunities to improve your skills and display them to college representatives.
    • Extend invitations to coaches to watch you compete in scheduled games, tournaments, camps and showcases. In addition to providing your event date, location and time you should include details that help coaches identify you during competition: your team name, uniform color and number.
    • A well-made video showcases your talent and skill in competition. Be sure your video includes your name and year in school, the name of your high school, your uniform color(s) and number(s) as shown in the video, and other information you think would be useful to college coaches viewing your video.
    • In competition and in the classroom, always conduct yourself in a positive manner. Coaches are reluctant to recruit student athletes that can bring negative attention to themselves, their team and their school.
    • If a coach advises you that you are not a good match, accept the news and quickly move on to identify and contact colleges that can be both an academic and athletic fit.
    • Ask a lot of questions throughout your recruiting process. Before visiting colleges, prepare a list of questions to ask coaches and counselors about your athletic career, the coaching staff and team, academics, and finances.
    • It is never too early to visit colleges with athletic programs that interest you. However, if you are interested in early signing (November of your Senior year), your college visits should begin no later than Fall of your Junior year.
    • Review the team rosters for college sports programs that interest you. Current players' hometowns and states can suggest where a coach focuses his or her recruiting efforts. Reviewing the athletes in your position and their year in college can indicate a team's recruiting needs. Current team member profiles can reveal the physical and competitive qualifications expected of team members.
    • When meeting a coach face-to-face, be well-groomed and neat in your appearance. Your appearance provides a first impression that is long-remembered.
    • Develop your plan to let college coaches know who you are and what you can offer their program. Persistently follow your plan to make your goal of a college sport scholarship happen!
    • A well-made video that showcases your athletic talents and skills should be 5 to 10 minutes in length regardless of your sport and position. Include video of your drills or fundamental skills, in addition to competition highlights, only when requested by a coach.
    • Respond to requests from coaches immediately. Carefully review your responses to eliminate errors in spelling and grammar.
    • Send thank you notes to every college coach during your recruiting process. Your courteous follow-up communication with the coach could open the door for you in the event another student declines their scholarship offer. Whether a coach replies (s)he is not recruiting your athletic talents or you decide not to attend the college, thank all coaches involved for their time and interest. Thank you notes following unpaid, as well as paid, college visits present a positive image of you both as a player and a person
    • Show your initiative and leadership by contacting coaches to express your interest in attending college as a student athlete. Colleges are more likely to recruit student athletes who demonstrate interest.
    • Keep all scheduled appointments for recruitment phone calls and visits. If for any reason you are unable to complete a scheduled appointment, contact the individual as soon as possible to request a re-scheduled appointment.
    • Promote yourself to multiple colleges. This approach allows you to benefit from the widest possible range of academic and athletic opportunities and increases your leverage when discussing scholarships.
    • Register with the NAIA Eligibility Center for initial eligibility certification prior to participating in athletics at a NAIA college or university.
    • Register with the NCAA Clearinghouse by the end of your Junior year to confirm your eligibility prior to receiving an athletic scholarship, practicing and competing at a NCAA Division I or II school. You can register online.
    • Be knowledgeable about all levels of U.S. college sports competition and related opportunities. Athletic scholarships are primarily awarded by three national athletic organizations: National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), and National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). The NCAA is the largest of the three organizations. Smaller colleges and universities are part of the NAIA and the NJCAA is the association for junior colleges and community colleges.

    taken from www.simplifyathletics.com