MoxWelcome to the eighth installment of our weekly column, “Too Embarrassed to Ask,” where we’ll examine a hot topic from the world of recruiting that parents and student-athletes may want to know more about, but may shy away from asking because it is considered assumed knowledge.

Think of this column like a cheat sheet for those instances it is no longer acceptable to ask a question, say, having met someone three times but still not knowing their name.

This week’s issue: Equivalency v. Headcount sports.

The question: What are the main differences between the two NCAA distinctions?

The short answer: Scholarship money can be divided among student-athletes in equivalency sports. It cannot in headcount sports.

The actual answer: An NCAA “equivalency” sport (e.g., lacrosse, soccer, field hockey) simply means scholarship money can be spread among players, unlike “headcount” sports (e.g. football, basketball, volleyball) where a certain number of players only may receive money.

A simple way to think of this principle is to consider scholarships in total monetary terms vs. individual scholarship numbers. For example, if an equivalency sport team has $100 in scholarships and 10 players, it can provide every player $10, or some other combination of their choosing. The money equating to one scholarship can be spread to multiple players.

Conversely, in a headcount sport, scholarships to players fit in a one-to-one ratio. The money equating to one “scholarship” can be awarded to only one player only.

The movie quote that explains current understanding: “You about ready to lose that scholarship, boy?”
–Coach Bud Kilmer, from 1999’s Varsity Blues

What the quote says in our context: Coach Kilmer is a contemptible win-at-all costs buffoon, and threatens his quarterback by hinting he can get his scholarship to play college ball revoked should he not stop making a fuss about the plan to give a pain injection to a clearly injured player (this scene was heavy).

This quote for our experiences is helpful: Since football is a headcount sport, Mox (the QB with the scholarship) completely owns the scholarship. Thus, the whole thing was his to lose. Should this have been an equivalency sport, he still may have had a scholarship, but it would likely have been split between he and a few other players.

Our Advice:

This discussion is a good reminder that while athletics are one way to offset college costs, you shouldn’t rely on them completely.

In NCAA equivalency sports, the allocation of athletic scholarship money is spread across the entire team regardless of class year. This means that money is spread from seniors to freshman on a year-to-year basis and is not by calculated by grade.

As such, the concept of a “full-ride” in equivalency sports is not common.
So if you are interested in offsetting college costs, it’s vital to look into things like financial aid (for those who qualify), grants, academic scholarships and other avenues through your high school during your recruiting process.

The concept helps bring to light an important point: Very few high school student-athletes are going to be getting “full-rides” to play their sport in college. For one, they likely need to be playing a headcount sport, and then you have to be among the best of the best to be put on scholarship.

Further, it helps foreshadow a larger point: It’s extraordinarily difficult to get an athletic scholarship, and even more challenging to play a sport professionally.

So, use athletics as a vehicle to get you into the best school possible. Your sport is likely a four-year decision, while college is a lifetime one.