Making the grade
Academics key in earning an athletic scholarship
It’s the holy grail for many parents and their children who have strived for years to achieve it: A college athletic scholarship.
While many parents and student-athletes put so much effort into earning a college athletic scholarship, there’s this reality: Most of them really don’t know what it takes to earn that scholarship or what’s involved in the recruiting process.
Many parents and student-athletes believe their high schools will help them in the recruiting process, but again there’s this reality: high school coaches and athletic staff members are so busy with their “day job” — coaching their teams, which has become a year-round position involving many administrative and fund-raising tasks — the truth is they have little or no time at all to help their student-athletes in the recruiting process. And, there’s this reality: high school faculty and counseling staffs know little themselves of what they really need to do when it comes to helping the student-athlete in the recruiting process.
So the reality is this: when it comes to receiving an athletic scholarship, parents and student-athletes for the most part are really on their own, but there are many resources out there to help parents and student-athletes. And, if the student-athlete wants it bad enough — and is good enough and has taken care of everything academically — that student-athlete will have the chance to play at the four-year level.
Parents and athletes also need to know the competition for athletic scholarships is as high as ever.
“We get hundreds of emails,” said Kristi Lansford, a 1983 Strathmore High graduate, who is the softball coach at Metro State in Denver, an NCAA Division II school. Lansford was talking about all those student-athletes who submit information about themselves to her program.
It’s no different at Cal State Bakersfield where Zack Grasmick, a 2004 Granite Hills graduate, is an assistant coach for the Roadrunner women’s basketball team.
“We get emails all the time,” he said. “They blow up our in box.”
Lansford also served as an assistant coach for the Cal State Bakersfield softball team, where she was in charge of recruiting. She said 80 percent of her time in the recruiting process dealt with just sifting through all the emails she received from prospective student-athletes.
One thing is for sure: If a student-athlete wants to be considered for any kind of scholarship, that student-athlete must be 100 percent academically qualified.
“It’s incredibly important,” said Lansford about academics.
That’s where the NCAA Eligiblity Center, formally known as the NCAA Clearinghouse, comes in. Every student-athlete, parent and high school counselor should be familiar with this web site. It covers everything a student-athlete must have academically, from college entrance exam scores and grade point average, to the courses one needs to qualify for an NCAA Division I or II school.
Lansford said if a student-athlete she’s recruiting hasn’t done everything required academically, “it’s just a nightmare.”
When asked how often she recruits a student who has academic issues because of not knowing the rules, Lansford said, “It actually happens more than you think. It really does.”
Lansford also said high school staff really need to be aware of the academic rules when it comes to recruiting. “Counselors need to be on it,” she said.
“I’ve seen it too many times,” said Grasmick about student-athletes having problems with a scholarship because they didn’t know the rules when it came to academics. “They just don’t get it done.”
Student-athletes who make sure they have all the academic requirements and are registered with the NCAA Eligibility Center obviously have an advantage over those who don’t.
“It saves an enormous amount of time and a lot of pressure,” said Lansford about recruiting athletes who have met all the academic requirements. “It just makes the job so much easier.”
“We’re looking for better students,” Grasmick said. “Most of the time, it does transfer over to the court. It’s a relief when you know a kid has taken care of business. It shows you more about their character. It’s easier on us to lean to the kids that have their paperwork in.”
Parents and student-athletes must begin to make sure they have all the required classes before they begin their freshman year in high school. “It’s really hard to catch up,” said Lansford about students who fall behind as freshmen when it comes to taking the required courses. “As soon as they possibly can, they need to make sure they’re on the right track. All of this is available to them on the NCAA Eligibility Center.”
“You think your freshman year, it’s not going to affect me,” Grasmick said. “But, you see it take effect.”
So when it comes to academics, Grasmick said, “That’s probably the most important thing of all. You definitely have to have your academics together.”
When it comes to being noticed, Lansford said, “I think persistence is the key.”
Again, if the student-athlete is good enough, there are plenty of chances to play at a four-year school at the NCAA Division I, II, III or NAIA level. “There’s so many options now,” Grasmick said. “There’s always a place if you’re willing to do the right things in the classroom.”
In many cases, colleges will use academic money with whatever athletic money they have to provide scholarship packages for students. One of the most useful — and least known — academic scholarships that can be used is the Western Undergraduate Exchange Program.
There are colleges from Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming who participate in the WUE program. So there’s the chance for students who live in California to attend colleges in any of these states at a reduced rate through the WUE program. Many colleges in these states will package a WUE scholarship with athletic money for students they’re recruiting.
There are also web sites that provide help with the recruiting process for parents and student-athletes. Among the most credible is worldwideathlete.com. Among those who work on behalf of worldwideathlete.com is former Lemoore High, Fresno State and NFL star Lorenzo Neal.
On the web: NCAA Eligibility Center, www.eligibilitycenter.org. Western Undergraduate Exchange program, www.wiche.edu/wue