Many high school athletes thirst for the opportunity to play college sports. It’s easy to see why. The lights are brighter, the stakes are higher and the crowds are larger. According to Statista, around 90 million people attended college athletic events in 2014. With these things in mind, millions of high schoolers pack gymnasiums and weight rooms looking to develop their skills and secure an academic scholarship.
Of course, it takes more than physical talent to score an expenses-paid spot on a college squad. It also requires academic dedication and ethical fortitude. To accept college academic scholarships, athletes must adhere to a body of eligibility benchmarks set out by the NCAA. Meeting these standards isn’t as simple as ticking boxes off a checklist, though. Becoming NCAA eligible is a long process with multiple steps.
Making the grade
According to the NCAA Eligibility Center, high school athletes should start referencing its eligibility requirements in ninth grade. The organization asks students looking to nab scholarships to complete 16 core classes which obviously requires long-term academic planning. In 10th grade, students must register with the NCAA Eligibility Center. During the final two years of their high school careers, prospective college athletes should complete the ACT and SAT, and submit transcripts to the NCAA.
In 2012, the organization tightened its academic requirements for incoming Division-I student-athletes, reported ESPN. Students who plan to enroll full-time at an NCAA Division-I school before Aug. 1, 2016 must graduate high school, complete all 16 core courses, have a 2.0 GPA in those courses and earn an SAT or ACT score that matches their GPA on a sliding scale. Student-athletes enrolling after Aug. 1, 2016 must complete all 16 core courses, have a 2.3 GPA in those courses and earn an SAT or ACT score that matches their GPA on a sliding scale. They also have to complete 10 of their 16 core courses by the start of their senior year.
High school athletes who intend to enroll in college before Aug. 1, 2016 but don’t meet the academic requirements cannot receive Division-I scholarships. Athletes who plan on enrolling after Aug. 1, 2016 but fail to meet the requirements can still qualify for Division-I scholarships by meeting the old standards. However, athletes who fall into this category must sit out their first academic year.
According to Inside Higher Ed, the NCAA is in the process of changing its Division-II eligibility requirements. Athletes who intend to enroll full-time in a Division-II school prior to Aug. 1, 2018 must graduate high school, complete the 16 core courses, earn a core-course GPA of 2.0 and score at least an 820 on the SAT or 68 on the ACT. Those enrolling after Aug. 1, 2018 must have a 2.2 GPA in their core courses and earn an SAT or ACT score that matches their GPA on a sliding scale.
Prospective Division-II athletes who want to enroll in college before Aug. 1, 2018 but fail to meet all of the academic requirements can qualify for a scholarship by meeting one standard. Athletes planning to enroll after Aug. 1, 2018 but failing to meet the new requirements can still become NCAA eligible by meeting the previous standards. However, students in both of these groups must sit out their first academic year.
NCAA Division-III schools do not offer athletic scholarships.
According to the NCAA, 10 percent of high school college athletes fail to attain eligibility based on academic performance. In urban areas like New York City and Philadelphia, that number is higher.
High school athletes looking to attain eligibility must also establish and maintain their amateur status. This means athletes cannot communicate with professional agents or players, draw a salary, or receive perks in the form of cash or gifts as a part of their scholarship package. However, the NCAA recently loosened its regulations, reported Forbes.
College basketball players can now enter the NBA Draft and try out for professional teams without relinquishing their amateur status. This rule change affects a small number of college athletes – only 1 percent of NCAA basketball players make it to the NBA. In 2013 that number was even smaller. Almost 20,000 athletes played college basketball that year and a mere 47 were drafted.
“High school athletes looking to attain eligibility must also establish and maintain their amateur status.”
This rule change does show that the NCAA is attempting to address the ongoing controversy surrounding the blurring divide between amateur and professional athletics. Over the past few years, current and former college athletes have lobbed complaints at the organization – which the IRS considers a nonprofit – over its increasingly commercial ways, reported Frontline. Many believe the league should compensate its players in some way, as it undoubtedly profits from their performance. According to USA Today, the NCAA earned almost $1 billion in 2014.
As of now, NCAA athletes aren’t compensated. And, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals, that won’t change anytime soon, reported The New York Times.
Amateurism is a foundational concept in high school and college athletics, and athletes should keep that in mind as they navigate the eligibility process. Most fans know that NBA superstar LeBron James went from high school to the pros. However, many forget that James made that jump, in part, because he forfeited being NCAA eligible by accepting gifts, reported The Times. James is a once-in-a-generation talent and already considered one of the greatest basketball players of all-time. Most high school athletes aren’t on that level, which means simple lapses in judgment can literally derail their lives.
According to The Seattle Times, only 1 percent of high school athletes earn Division-I athletic scholarships. Prospective college players should consider these odds and prepare themselves across all fronts if they want a shot at a scholarship.