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Your Guide to the Complex World of Football Scholarships

Football scholarship facts.

For most athletes going through the football recruiting process, snagging a football scholarship to a great school is the ultimate goal. Here’s some good news: there are approximately 896 football programs across the U.S., and the majority of them offer football scholarships to talented student-athletes. Here, we explain the football scholarship requirements and answer families’ most-asked questions about getting college football scholarships. Maximize your chances of playing college football by learning the college football recruiting process.

How many scholarships are given each year for football?

It’s impossible to know how many football scholarships are awarded each year, as not every program is fully funded and able to give out the maximum number of scholarships. However, there are certain pieces of information we do know, listed in the table below.

Division LevelNumber of TeamsTotal Athletes in DivisionAverage Team SizeScholarships Limit Per TeamScholarship Limit Type
D1 – FBS12915,16711885Headcount
D1 – FCS12513,02810463Equivalency
D217018,88911136Equivalency
D324825,709104N/AN/A
NAIA859,10210724Equivalency
JUCO685,1607685Equivalency
CCCAA685,35479N/AEquivalency

When it comes to college football scholarships, it’s common for college football teams to extend more offers than roster spots and scholarships that they have available. That’s because they expect some prospects to sign elsewhere and others to not stay with the team all four years. To make room on the roster, teams can extend different types of offers. These include:

Greenshirt: The student-athlete enrolls a semester early and participates with the team

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Football scholarships requirements

Athletes must meet both athletic and academic criteria in order to get a football scholarship. The athletic criteria are largely up to the football program at each individual school. Every coach has different methods for determining which athletes are right for his roster, which is why the recruiting process is so crucial. If you’re not sure what a college coach looks for athletically in your athlete’s position, check out the roster. Or, better yet, the athlete can send the coach an email to ask.

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The NCAA Eligibility Center has specific academic requirements that athletes must meet to be eligible to compete at either the NCAA Division 1 or Division 2 levels. We’ve included the Division 1 requirements below. A good rule of thumb is that, if an athlete meets or exceeds the D1 requirements, they will be eligible at the D2 level, as well. However, always bear in mind that each individual school has its own set of admissions requirements that athletes will also have to meet.

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How many scholarships do Division 1 football teams get?

Division 1 FBS teams can give out a maximum of 85 full-ride scholarships to athletes. Division 1 FCS programs can provide a maximum of 63 total scholarships. The 85 FBS scholarships are headcount scholarships, which means every athlete who receives a scholarship at the DI FBS level gets a full-ride scholarship. The 63 FCS scholarships are equivalency scholarships. This means a coach can divide these scholarships up, giving more athletes partial scholarships.

With eligibility being expanded for 2020–21 and college programs being able to go above their scholarship cap, Division 1 FBS football programs are likely to take on a full 2021 class and be close to 105 scholarship athletes in the fall of 2021. For 2022, many programs will have to get back down to the 85-player limit.

These insights focus on Division 1 recruiting. However, what happens at the Division 1 level also tends to trickle down to other division levels over time. Recruits for the class of 2022 and years directly after must stay proactive in recruiting and be careful to not pass up opportunities, whether that means playing at a lower division level, junior college or a college they had not considered before.

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The difference between NCAA football scholarships and NAIA football scholarships

The NCAA and NAIA are the two main governing bodies for college sports, and both have their own specific methods for how they handle football scholarships and regulate the recruiting process.

NCAA football scholarships can be awarded by both D1 and D2 schools—D3 colleges and universities do not give out any athletic scholarships. To receive Division 1 football scholarships or Division 2 football scholarships, athletes must meet or exceed the specific eligibility requirements created by the NCAA, as well as get their amateurism certificate. The NCAA also enforces their recruiting rules and calendar for the D1 and D2 levels, which detail when and how college coaches are allowed to contact recruits.

NAIA football scholarships can be awarded by any fully funded member college or university. The NAIA does have its own set of academic eligibility criteria that student-athletes must meet, but they don’t have set recruiting rules like the NCAA. The recruiting process is less scripted, and it’s up to the individual schools to determine their own recruiting rules and calendar.

Insider tip: While NCAA D3 schools do not offer athletic scholarships, most have competitive financial aid packages for students that, in many cases, end up covering a large portion of their tuition and fees. Learn more about how to knock down the price of a D3 school.

Scholarships are offered on a year-to-year basis, so more can be rescinded in the coming seasons if a program’s budget is cut or rosters become jam-packed with upperclassmen. This doesn’t mean recruits should necessarily take the first offer they get, but they should not wait too long. Sometimes a direct but polite conversation with the college coach is the best way to determine if a recruit is still wanted.

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How to get a football scholarship

The short answer: It’s up to the coach of an individual team to award an athlete a scholarship. Athletes must show that they have the ability to make an immediate, positive impact at their position or they need to demonstrate that they have the potential to develop into a key player. This is why finding the right division level athletically is so important. A recruit might technically qualify to play at a D1 school, but they could be a more impactful athlete at a D2 or NAIA school. So, they would likely get more money—and more playing time—at the D2 or NAIA levels, as they will be able to make a bigger impact on those teams.

Layered on top of athletic ability, recruits need to be academically eligible to compete at the school. Not only do they need to meet the NCAA and/or NAIA academic eligibility requirements, but they need to comply with the school’s specific entrance requirements, which are often tougher to meet the NCAA eligibility requirements. In other words, the higher a recruit’s grades and test scores, the more schools will be available to them.

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Do walk-ons get a scholarship?

Walk-ons do not get athletic scholarships. Despite not receiving any athletic money, walk-ons are often the backbone of a great football team. Think about it this way: D1 FBS teams can give full-ride scholarships to 85 athletes on their roster. However, most FBS D1 teams will have 118-130 student-athletes on their roster, and those additional spots on the team are filled by talented walk-ons. Learn more about being a walk-on.

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What is the difference between a verbal offer and an official offer?

Verbal scholarship offers are non-legally binding “handshake” agreements between a college coach and recruit, indicating that the coach is reserving a scholarship for that athlete on his team. However, coaches and recruits both can back out of a verbal offer at any point—and it does happen! If an athlete gets a verbal offer their freshman year and gets injured their junior year, the coach might pull the verbal offer.

An “official” offer is still essentially the same thing as verbal offer until you sign the National Letter of Intent, or NLI. Until you sign the NLI—or any other legally binding document—offers from college coaches are still handshake agreements that they’ll be providing you a scholarship to compete at their school.

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What’s the difference between a committable offer and a non-committable offer?

Because D1 football programs are so large, coaches will extend verbal offers to multiple athletes at the same position in the same recruiting class. The idea is that they will lose a few of those recruits to other programs, academic ineligibility or other factors. So, when everything shakes out, they should still have all their positions covered. Some programs take this to more of an extreme than others, sometimes extending over 100 offers to a single recruiting class.

When an athlete receives a verbal offer, they can ask the coach where they are at on the coach’s list of recruits. If the coach mentions that the player is after a few top athletes for that position, the recruit knows that they should continue the recruiting process with other schools of interest, as their offer might fall through.

Scholarships are offered on a year-to-year basis, so more can be rescinded in the coming seasons if a program’s budget is cut or rosters become jam-packed with upperclassmen. This doesn’t mean recruits should necessarily take the first offer they get, but they should not wait too long. Sometimes a direct but polite conversation with the college coach is the best way to determine if a recruit is still wanted.

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I got an offer through social media—now what?

As of Aug. 1, 2016, the NCAA permitted college coaches to send out “official offers” via social media to high school juniors and seniors. It’s typically some kind of graphic or image letting you know that you have a scholarship offer from that school. This is great news, but remember: until you sign with that school, it’s still a non-legally binding verbal offer. You need to reach out to the coach immediately to discover what is included in the scholarship offer, where you’re at on the coach’s list of recruits and the coach’s deadline to receive your decision.

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“Buyer’s remorse” and decommitments 

Without camps and high school visits, college coaches have less recruiting information to work with before extending offers. According to Zcruit CEO Ben Weiss, there’s been more “copycat” recruiting so far in 2020 than most. Coaches are looking at what their competitors do as a primary way of finding new players to put on their radar. This is all contributing to early offers at the Division 1 level.

Part of this is because it is becoming more common for Division 1 recruits to commit to a college sight unseen, even if they only have tepid interest in a school. Visiting college campuses has become difficult and more recruits are accepting offers because they are unsure how many they will receive in this recruiting climate. They are feeling like they just want the uncertainty and the process to be over with.

Both colleges and prospects are making decisions with less time and information. “Without being able to see a lot of top targets on campus, schools are taking more risks in the evaluation process. Before, schools would wait to have confirmed measurables on recruits. Schools are now pulling the trigger and extending offers. As a result, there is likely to be an abnormal amount of buyer’s remorse (recruits going to schools above their playing level) and underrecruited gems that wind up at schools below their playing level,” says Weiss.

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