By Paul Culp, MA (Oxon.), CFT, GCDF, CCSP

We have football on the brain right now at The Coaching Educator as our founder and president, Rebecca M. Carroll, prepares to co-host the Ultimate Football Combine with our friends at Competitive Edge Athletic Performance Center in Meridian, Idaho, on April 27. Landing a football scholarship is not just about knowing what it takes to play at the college level and preparing yourself to meet that standard, which is the province of strength-and-conditioning maestro Matt Wattles and his team at Competitive Edge. It’s also about knowing how to make yourself visible to coaches and adhere to that all-important recruiting timeline that The Coaching Educator emphasizes in our Ultimate Athlete advising program.

Our articles on The “How Many” and “How Much” of Athletic Scholarships in general and The “How To” of Athletic Scholarships Explained are well worth your time if you’re interested in a football scholarship. Do read them. But for now let’s get sport-specific with football as we have with baseball. basketball, lacrosse, women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball. We’ve explained along the way that athletic scholarships tend not to be as straightforward as many athletes and their families believe, and it’s important to understand that football scholarships—justifiably admired for being both plentiful and generous—are simpler than some others but not as simple as is commonly believed.

So what are the odds of a high school football player making it as far as a college team, with or without a scholarship?

Nearly 1.1 million high school students play football, according to About 93,000 of them go on to play in one of the NCAA’s three divisions, the NAIA, or junior college. It comes to about 8.6 percent. Roughly 2.6 percent make it to Division I competition. The odds of making it to any level of the NCAA, or to the NAIA, are 13:1. Division I, as most of our readers probably know, has two levels: the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), formerly known as Division I-A, which is the highest echelon of college football, and the less prestigious Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), formerly known as I-AA. The odds of a high school football player competing in FBS are 71:1.

How many football scholarships are there?

FBS teams have an average of 118 players and a scholarship limit of 85. At this, the highest level of the sport, football scholarships are awarded on a head-count basis: Each scholarship is bestowed in its entirety on one athlete. Simple. Full free ride. FCS football on the other hand is an equivalency sport, meaning that a scholarship can be divided among multiple athletes. The average FCS team has 104 players, with 63 of those divisible football scholarships allowed. 

The equivalency system then prevails all the way down the hierarchy. Division II teams average 111 players each, with 36 scholarships to be parceled out as coaches see fit. The NAIA figures are 107 and 24. In the National Junior College Athletic Association, the scholarship limit, 85, actually exceeds the average number of players, 76. 

NCAA Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships, but sports can still be relevant to the financial aid quest, as we shall soon explain.

How much are these football scholarships worth? At FBS level, the average is $36,000, with the most lucrative at $42,000 and the lowest figure at $25,000. The FCS figures are $21,000, $31,000, and $15,000. Dollar amounts fall off sharply from there; D2 athletic scholarships as a whole are worth less than half the FCS figure, NAIA slightly more than half, and NJCAA about $1,900 each.

Consider these dollar amounts in combination with those we cited in An Arm and a Leg and Your First-born Child: Why College Costs So Much:

“The College Board reports that the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2017–2018 school year was $34,740 at private colleges and universities, $9,970 for state residents at public institutions, and $25,620 for out-of-state residents attending public institutions.”

We hasten to point out that football scholarships, like other athletic scholarships, can be combined with other forms of financial aid.

Bear in mind that the scholarship limit is per team, not per year, so the number of departing players determines the number of scholarships available to incoming freshmen.

Now, what of NCAA Division III? While Division III programs do not offer athletic scholarships, sports can still be a ticket to financial aid, a component of an extracurricular resume that colleges consider strongly in making decisions about whom to admit and whether to bestow financial aid. Thus it is possible, even without football scholarships, for athletic prowess and the desire to perform at the college level to play a role in the acquisition of financial aid for players applying at Division III schools.

Considering the ferocity of competition for roster spots and funding, not many high-schoolers who want football scholarships can afford to sit back and wait to be discovered. A few godlike players constitute the exception, while most high school athletes need guidance and a master strategy. We strongly recommend the “How To” article referenced above as a primer on the scope and complexity of how recruiting works.

If you want a football scholarship, you need The Coaching Educator.

We cannot recommend strongly enough that you let The Coaching Educator guide you through the process of registering for the things you need to register for, meeting the people you need to meet, visiting the places you need to visit, and attending the events you need to attend—without anyone breaking any rules. We’re proud of our Ultimate Athlete program, and we’re confident you’ll love it.

To learn more about our philosophy and capabilities, be sure to watch our free webinars, listen to our podcasts, sign up for our four-week College App Boot Camp, consider our Ultimate Programs and our special services for athletes and performing-arts students, and book a consultation to hear what we can do for you and how we do it. Keep reading this blog, and look for us on social media (see links below) as we keep our clients and admirers advised of new developments in our effort to help students get into and succeed at the right school.

Paul Culp is certified as a global career development facilitator and writes about college admissions, college costs, financial aid, and college life in general for The Coaching Educator team. A former journalist and corporate ghostwriter who now operates Shenandoah Proofreading, Editing & Composition Services (SPECS), he has also been a humanities teacher at all levels from university down to sixth grade. Paul has degrees from Oxford University, Jacksonville State University, and Samford University, and also is certified as a fitness trainer.

Credits and Recommended Reading About College Admissions and Scholarships

Featured image by Georgia Tech Football

Culp, Paul. “Baseball Scholarships by the Numbers,” The Coaching Educator, 15 April 2019, http://tce.local/2019/04/15/baseball-scholarships-by-the-numbers/

Culp, Paul. “Basketball Scholarships by the Numbers,” The Coaching Educator, 4 April 2019, http://tce.local/2019/04/04/basketball-scholarships-by-the-numbers/

Culp, Paul. “The ‘How Many’ and ‘How Much’ of Athletic Scholarships,” The Coaching Educator, 18 September 2018, http://tce.local/2018/09/18/the-how-many-and-how-much-of-athletic-scholarships/

Culp, Paul. “The ‘How To’ of Athletic Scholarships Explained,” The Coaching Educator, 24 November 2018, http://tce.local/2018/11/24/the-how-to-of-athletic-scholarships-explained/

Culp, Paul. “Lacrosse Scholarships by the Numbers,” The Coaching Educator, 6 December 2018, http://tce.local/2018/12/06/lacrosse-scholarships-by-the-numbers/  

Culp, Paul. “Ten Unusual Athletic Scholarships, The Coaching Educator, 8 March 2019, http://tce.local/2019/04/08/ten-unusual-athletic-scholarships/

Culp, Paul. “Why Scholarship Athletes Quit,” The Coaching Educator, 25 February 2019, http://tce.local/2019/02/25/why-scholarship-athletes-quit/

Culp, Paul. “Women’s Soccer Scholarships by the Numbers,” The Coaching Educator, 23 October 2018, http://tce.local/2018/10/23/womens-soccer-scholarships-by-the-numbers/?fbclid=IwAR1tqZ-uyy8Kjw8krJDl–ERyuxUF_lt2uVfcqFqbNtmQDDTQvvBK7EOhJ8

Culp, Paul. “Women’s Volleyball Scholarships by the Numbers,” The Coaching Educator, 10 October 2018, http://tce.local/2018/10/10/womens-volleyball-scholarships-by-the-numbers/

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