In this issue's "In My Opinion" section, Frank Pace contributes an article about the college recruiting process - the good, the bad and the ugly. Meanwhile, NSCAA President Al Albert dedicates his column to the everlasting contributions of collegiate soccer to the sport in this country. He suggests that college soccer has been a positive force in this country in spite of the perception that college soccer actually retards soccer's overall growth in America.
With reference to a four-part New York Times series by Bill Pennington about Division I athletics, my contribution to the discussion is a pragmatic look at the dream held by many young American players of earning a collegiate soccer scholarship.
More and more players (and parents) believe it is worth investing several thousands of dollars a year on select dubs, uniforms, showcase tournaments, elite camps, recruitment services and even private trainers to improve the odds of landing a soccer scholarship.
A recent survey of parents at the Jarosi Tournament in Columbus, Ohio, revealed that more than 60 percent of parents view soccer at a "select" level as a means to a college athletic scholarship.
The father of a local U-12 player recently removed his son from a private school the child had attended for eight years. The father plans to use the money he will save on tuition to pay for private trainers for his son with a goal of improving the chances of receiving a soccer scholarship.
Advertisements for elite clubs, camps and recruiting services give the impression that signing on with them will increase chances for a scholarship. They seem to suggest that scholarships are there for the taking. Aflyer from an elite club in Ohio, for instance, makes the claim that 80 percent of the club's players receive soccer scholarships.
College recruiting services routinely advertise that their service will improve a player's chance of securing a college soccer scholarship. Alan Yost of the recruiting service NCSA said, "Every high school player who signs on with us expects a scholarship offer...every player!"
A look at the facts paints a far different picture of soccer scholarships. Critics say that select clubs often inflate the number of players who receive scholarships. Many coaches throw away the information from recruiting services, preferring instead to use their own resources and go to many tournaments to watch players. Personal trainers
have offered no data on the number of scholarship athletes they work with. So why do parents buy into the "scholarship sales pitch?"
While there is nothing wrong with using soccer to help a high school player get into one of the best schools - and perhaps get a scholarship - everyone involved should be realistic about the situation.
A study in 1996 determined the following facts for the high school age soccer players:
• There were 8,182 boys and 6,500 girls soccer programs.
• There were more than 283,700 boys and 209,000 girls playing high school soccer.
• There were 51,066 boys and 37,620 girls who were seniors, played soccer and graduated.
• There were 721 college programs for boys and 736 for girls.
• There were 4,326 spots available on college teams for boys; and there were 4416 spots available for the girls.
• There were playing opportunities for fewer than 8 percent of graduating seniors.
• There were 433 scholarships for boys and 806 for girls.
• Less than 1 percent of the graduating boys and around 2 percent of the girls received soccer scholarships.
How's that for a dose of reality? But the good news is that in 2008 the situation is much better, right? Not really.
There are more scholarships available for both men and women. But there are many more players playing the game in high school.
In Pennington's New York Times series, he discussed the scholarship situation for all NCAA sports. According to him, "Excluding the glamour sports of football and basketball, the average NCAA athletic scholarship is nowhere near full tuition, amounting to $8,707. In sports like baseball and track and field, the number is routinely as low as $2,000. Even when football and basketball are included, the average is only $10,409. Tuition and room and board
for NCAA institutions often cost between $20,000
While the data compiled by the NCAA for the 2003-2004 academic year dealt with all sports, let's focus on men's and women's soccer. The article determined the following:
• Only about 2 percent of all NCAA Division I athletes receive a scholarship.
• There is no such thing as a four-year scholarship. All scholarships are renewable annually.
• There were 330,044 boys and 270,273 girls playing high school soccer.
• There were 2,357 scholarships for boys and 3,964 for girls.
• Those scholarships were awarded to 6,047 boys and 9,310 girls.
• The average award was $8,533 for boys and $8,404 for girls - that means the men's scholarship covered only 39 percent of costs and the women's scholarships covered only 43 percent of costs.
• Only 1.8 percent of high school soccer playing boys received a soccer scholarship; only 3.4 percent of the women received a soccer scholarship.
In the NYT series, Pennington quotes NCAA President Myles Brand as saying, "The youth culture is overly aggressive and while the opportunity for an athletic scholarship is not trivial, it's easy for the opportunity to be exaggerated by parents and advisors. That can skew behavior and, based on numbers, lead to unrealistic expectations."
The statistics above suggest that there is one
Soccer Journal • May-June 2008
NCAA scholarship for every 145 men who played soccer in college. Joe Taylor, a scholarship soccer player from Villanova, said, "It is a huge dogfight to get whatever you can. Everyone is scrambling. There are so many good players, nobody understands how few get to keep playing after high school! If I had to do it over again, I would have skipped a practice every now and then to go to a concert or a movie with my friends. I missed out on a lot of things because of soccer. I wish I could have some of that time back."
It is important that parents and coaches know these statistics and realize how difficult it is to receive a soccer scholarship. Although getting a soccer scholarship is a long shot, there is some good news. Being a good soccer player may give an athlete an edge when colleges award academic scholarships and need-based aid. In fact, there is much more money available to soccer players for academic excellence than athletic prowess. An increased focus on academics will pay greater dividends than soccer excellence in the long run - it may also pay off on the short run.
A recent study by the College Board Association of Princeton, N.J., determined that independent colleges in the United States award more than $10 billion in financial aid each year. This includes awards from institutional funds for scholarships, fellowships and trainee stipends. Add state and federal financial aid funding and there is in excess of $50 billion available for academic and need-based aid each year.
The numbers say that soccer scholarships are relatively scarce. Should your
players stop cracking shots and spend Saturdays cracking the books in a library
instead? Of course not. We know that soccer is a great game. It has an important
place in the lives of your players, whether or not there is a soccer scholarship in
the future. Everyone involved with soccer should just keep the scholarship issue
in perspective. Your players should be playing for fun, fitness and the challenge
of the game. If your players (and parents) are playing only to earn a soccer
scholarship - maybe they should spend more time in the library!