“The NCAA tells high school athletes the chances of getting a scholarship in many sports are around 2 percent.
But does the reality of athletic scholarships match the fantasy? Hardly.
While tens of thousands of athletes will head off to visit colleges this fall hoping to be recruited, only a small fraction will make the cut. Even fewer will get scholarships. And for those who do end up playing in college, whether on scholarship or not, the experience may be very different from what they imagined.
In a survey of college athletes by the NCAA asking what students wished they could have changed about their college sports experience, the most common responses were about time. Another NCAA survey found that a typical NCAA athlete in-season spends 39 hours a week on academics—and 33 hours a week on sports.
There are more opportunities every year for elite competition in youth sports, said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, an associate professor of sports management at George Washington University. “People are feeling the need to go because now they’ve got these college showcases and coaches show up, and if you want to get your kid seen, you’d better be there.”
When parents add up how much money they’ve spent each year, it’s almost equal to a scholarship in some cases, she said. Still, Neirotti has felt the pressure herself. She’s done her share of writing checks and traveling for her own children’s sports involvement.
Don Schumacher, executive director of the National Association of Sports Commissions, agrees that parents who expect youth sports involvement to generate a positive financial return in the form of scholarships are off the mark. “You could spend $5,000 to $10,000 a year for three or four years chasing all these tournaments all year long, where if you saved that money and paid the tuition, you’d be ahead,” he said.
“Athletics in many ways is about helping individuals achieve their dreams, and it is about learning how you can push yourself to become better,” said Perko, who was a star basketball player for Wake Forest. “It’s the question of at what point does it become too much.”
Elissa Cordrey, a Summit, N.J., mother of four lacrosse players who has been through the recruiting process with several of her own children, thinks often about that question. She has seen other young athletes have difficulty filtering offers from different schools, and said players and parents can often be blinded by a program’s success or prestige and fail to think about whether that college is right for them.
Luckily for Cordrey, her children have so far had positive experiences at their Division 1 and Division 3 schools. But she is under no illusions about what high-level athletics involve.
“My kids love it and we are thrilled they are making the commitment,” she said. But if the child is playing for the sake of a scholarship, and not for love of the game, be careful, she warned. “Keep your eyes wide open. It’s not high school athletics. In some ways, it’s really exciting. But if your child’s not passionate, you are going to have a lot of teary phone calls.”