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NCAA Full Ride Scholarships are a Myth

by Jason Nadeau

What Does an NCAA or CHL Scholarship Actually Cover – Part 2


*This article was first published in 2011 and certain facts have changed which I will address with a current update here.

College Hockey Inc explains that in a rule change taking effect in 2012, scholarship agreements MAY be made for anywhere from one to five years.

To be clear, they states that ‘Signing a National Letter of Intent, even for a scholarship promised for four years, commits a student-athlete to that school for one year.’ They go on to say that, ‘Even those scholarship agreements made for one season are almost always renewed annually; they are very rarely cancelled and never for on-ice performance.’ It is this last assertion that I will discuss in this article as it affirms my sensational title that there are no absolute guarantees.

To read part 1: WHL/CHL Scholarship Guarantees

Everyone worries about securing their hockey and academic futures. They agonize for months, if not years, over choosing the correct path for their lives, be that the CHL or the NCAA routes. Once they finally make a decision and earn their OHL scholarship or NCAA letter of intent, they think, INCORRECTLY, that everything is just fine and their future is secure. Today I want to look at the realities of what actual guarantees you have when you sign your NCAA National Letter of Intent (LOI).

What Does a NCAA Scholarship Cover?

Frankly, most players assert that they have 100% ‘full rides’ when the reality is that most players do NOT get that offer nor do they actually get that contractual guarantee. Most get a 1 Year ‘renewable’ commitment. Obviously, the top players are given the world, but you aren’t reading this article if your son was already drafted by the NHL.

In my old article, I made the FACTUALLY accurate assertion that – There is in fact, NO such thing as a GUARANTEED 4 YEAR NCAA FULL RIDE SCHOLARSHIP!!!

I would argue that today, even with the ability for teams to give 4 year commitments, this assertion is still true in practice. I’ll explain why now.

Comparing Scholarship Details

If you recall, the WHL scholarship guarantee includes: tuition fees, compulsory student fees and necessary textbooks. The NCAA Letter of Intent covers what the NCAA defines as “Cost of Education.” What is this you say? Well, it is in fact more comprehensive then its CHL counterpart. Their award covers the cost of tuition, student fees, student housing/room, daily meals and books.

*Updated to 2021 – College Inc states that players can receive ‘Funds for tuition and fees, books, room and board, and certain other expenses. The only required expense that a full athletic scholarship cannot cover is transportation to and from campus.’ They ALSO state that ‘Not all hockey scholarships are full scholarships – some may cover half or some other portion of expenses.’

**2021 – NIL Rule Change – You may have seen the term “NIL,” which stands for “name, image, and likeness.” New Rule changes will allow NCAA college athletes at every level to monetize their success with the use of their name, image, and likeness. This rule change will have significant impact in Football & Basketball – without question. In hockey, other than the very TOP players, this will not significantly impact the financial standing of the everyday average hockey player. I think it is a great step in the right direction to properly compensate the athletes in sports that clearly exploit them, but for you the reader, if you can get an extra buck – Well done, just don’t expect it to be life changing.

So what is the big difference between the two? Essentially, the NCAA provides room AND board whereas the CHL does NOT at the college level! You can draw your own conclusions as to any additional cost.

Amount of Scholarship

When a player signs his LOI contract it lists the actual percentage of the overall cost PAID by the team. Below is the actual information included in an offer for one of my former NCAA family Advisor clients.

This institution has a total yearly cost of $21,531.20 for the two combined Terms. The Offer made by the team in this instance is an 80% scholarship offer. So, in black and white terms, if this player were to sign this LOI Scholarship contract, the family would still have to pay 20% of the overall costs for this year which comes out to a total of $4306.20. If we were to assume that he received the same scholarship guarantee for ALL four years, he would get an $86,120.80 education for a total price of $17224.8. Not a bad deal!!!

**2021 Update – as mentioned above – Teams CAN offer a deal that lasts the duration of a players college stay. I would concede that this does happen for the TOP players. 100%! If you are reading this article, you are probably not getting an offer for 100% scholarship for 4 years unless you are an NHL prospect or drafted. I’ve had U17 Team Canada Players that only got promised 75% for 2 years, to be bumped up to 100% if everything ‘goes well.’ And things did not ‘go well,’ after a new coaching staff came in.

The average player is still going to be operating on a year to year – pay to play scholarship.

Play for Pay Scholarship

Earlier, I argued that people LIED or were mistaken when they bragged of having a 4 year scholarship. Now if you talk to 100 parents, 99.7 will say their kid has a full-ride, but that’s an entirely different conversation. The reality is that while the NCAA CAN guarantee 4 years with its LOI contract, I’d argue that this does not happen in practice to allow teams the greatest flexibility. This means, most players will still remain on a year to year basis. The remaining three years are only verbal guarantees that amount to what is sometimes referred to as a ‘Play for Pay’ Scholarship. By this name or any other, the result is that players must perform each season to an ‘adequate’ level (whatever that is, as determined by each individual team) or there is the possibility that teams can either terminate a players scholarship, reduce the level of the money offered or refuse to increase the amount offered in the final years of the scholarship entitlement.

OK let me break this down…

Actual Standard Offer

If you do NOT receive a 4 Year offer, then as you saw above, players in reality get a 1 year concrete offer. In addition to this, the team is verbally guaranteeing up to three more years. In our example above, our client was offered 80% for the first two seasons. If he ‘panned out’ and became a core player in his final two years, they would ‘bump’ up his scholarship offer to cover 100% of his costs. The verbal understanding was that IF he played well, they would reward him with a ‘FULL RIDE’. If he did NOT perform adequately, then they would retain him at the initial level offered, in this case, 80%. This is ALL done in a nudge-nudge, Wink-wink arrangement. They don’t really discuss in practical terms what happens if the player fails to meet expectations, because every player believes that they are going to win the Hobey Baker…

Conclusion – Perception is Reality

Now the important thing to realize here is NOT that the sky is falling. Rather, you need to focus on the importance of perception of NCAA scholarship legitimacy. What I mean is this:

1) In MOST cases for the average player – Teams Verbally guarantee 4 Years of Scholarship money.
2) If it became known that ANY or ALL teams reneged on their verbal offers, people would stop signing with them.
3) In this case, the perception that teams HONOUR their commitments is as important as the reality of the situation.
4) So as a result, even though normally, there is ONLY a 1 Year Legal commitment, there is a De facto 4 year guarantee that you can count on.
5) In most cases, even if a team is not happy with a players’ level of play, they will still only resort to terminating the verbal agreement in the most extreme of situations so as to protect their reputations.

6) That isn’t to say that teams don’t have proven methods of ‘removing’ players from their rosters, they can still maintain the ‘letter of the law’ and refrain from threatening a players scholarship money directly. What they do is strongly suggest going elsewhere because they will not be playing hockey if they come back the next season. There are many levers that teams can use to push a player out. The fact is, this happens at every level of hockey, so College Hockey isn’t a rogue entity or outlier, nor are they altruistic and acting in your best interest very often.

Now, this is NOT an everyday occurrence, but it happens enough that you should be aware that it is a possibility and prepare accordingly.

While the title of this article is very sensationalized, the take-away I want you to leave with isn’t that you should pass-up college opportunities or ‘Team’s are Evil and cannot be trusted.’ What I want you to do is to know and protect your rights and make the best decisions possible. Everyone isn’t out to screw you over, but they definitely are not acting in your best interests either.

Much like their CHL/WHL counterparts business is business and we must all realize and acknowledge that neither party is entirely altruistic in their intentions towards their product/players. As long as you know your rights you can better prepare and protect your future education and career.

Further Articles You might Find Interesting:

Retaining NCAA Eligibility – The Facts

NCAA & CHL Scholarship Guarantees

NCAA D3 comparisons

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