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Athletic Scholarships

Colleges award more than $1 billion in athletic scholarships each year. But the odds of winning an athletic scholarship aren’t good, with only 0.8% of undergraduate students receiving an athletic scholarship, based on data from the 2011-12 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS). The average athletic scholarship was $10,166, up from $7,334 in 2007-08. More than a quarter (28%) of students receiving athletic scholarships receive less than $5,000.

Athletic scholarships do not have much of an impact on student loan debt because college costs are higher at the colleges that offer athletic scholarships. The average debt at graduation among Bachelor’s degree recipients receiving athletic scholarships is only about $3,000 lower than among college graduates who did not receive an athletic scholarship. (More than 90% of athletic scholarships are received by students enrolled in Bachelor’s degree programs.) This suggests that the athletic scholarships are substituting for the need-based financial aid the student would otherwise have received. So the main benefit of an athletic scholarship may involve providing the student-athlete with access to a more selective college, rather than reducing the net price paid by the student.

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NCAA Athletic Scholarships

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) establishes restrictions on the use of athletic scholarships to recruit student-athletes. NCAA Division III schools, which include some of the most elite institutions, may not offer athletic scholarships. NCAA Division I and II schools may offer athletic scholarships.

Athletic scholarships are available for several sports, including archery, baseball, basketball, crew, cross country, fencing, field hockey, football, golf, gymnastics, hockey, lacrosse, rifle, sailing, skiing, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track, volleyball and wrestling.

Other Athletic Associations

Besides the NCAA, there are several other athletic associations that may establish other restrictions on the use of athletic scholarships.

Gender Equity in College Sports

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 amended the Higher Education Act of 1965 to add a ban on sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funding. The text of the amendment appears at 20 USC 1681-1688, with the following preamble:

"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

This law is interpreted by the U.S. Department of Education as requiring gender equity in athletics, among other areas. In particular, women must have the same opportunities to participate in sports as men and the athletic scholarship funding for men and women’s sports must be the same.

The U.S. Department of Education provides an Equity in Athletics Data Analysis Cutting Tool that can be used to examine data provided by schools in compliance with the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act [P.L. 103-382]. The U.S. Department of Justice publishes documents concerning compliance with Title IX.


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