Life As An NCAA Student-Athlete Isn’t As Easy As It Looks

Athletes | 9/11/19

For many students entering college, it is a time of newfound freedom and excitement. They are away from their parents for the first time and looking forward to studying hard, maybe taking on a job and, of course, doing plenty of partying.

College athletes, though, play by an entirely different set of rules. Not only do they have to spend most of their time in on the practice field or in the weight room, but they also have to keep their grades up in order to stay eligible. Here is everything you need to know about what life as a student-athlete is really like!

A Full Ride Doesn’t Mean Everything Is Covered

student athlete scholarship full ride
Ray Chavez/Media News Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images
Ray Chavez/Media News Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

Most student-athletes who receive scholarship offers aren’t aware that the offer covers just one year at a time. Each year, the scholarship must be renewed at the coach’s discretion. The player can receive a maximum of five year’s tuition covered.

And while the scholarship will cover many of the costs of going to school, it doesn’t always cover all of them. Most big-time football and basketball schools cover all costs, but with many other sports, the scholarship will only cover a portion of the bill.

Division III May Offer The Most Money

division iii scholarships offer the most money
Jack Dempsey/NCAA Photos via Getty Images
Jack Dempsey/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Often when people think of college scholarships, they think of one’s that cover the entire tuition. This isn’t a reality for many college athletes who play outside of the major sports. They rely on the schools to pick up a portion of the tuition.

This means that some private schools, often found in Division III, can offer better scholarship packages to their students. The universities may use merit awards which can sometimes cover more money than the average scholarship.

Internships May Not Be Possible

student athletes dont have enough time for internships
Ole Spata/picture alliance via Getty Images
Ole Spata/picture alliance via Getty Images

Some college athletes will go on to play professional sports, but the vast majority of players will not. Those students who have a career in mind may also want to take on an internship in their chosen field.

If they are participating in college-level sports, though, this may not be a reality. The time required of a full-time student and a full-time athlete is significant. Though the student may want to take on an internship, they may not have the time to do so.

Your Coach May Not Always Follow The Rules

ncaa college coaches break rules
John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Coaches will be important figures for any athletes participating in college sports. And most coaches will want only what’s best for their players and will follow all of the rules. But that doesn’t mean that the team leader always will.

Coaches can break rules in a number of different ways. Some will violate the rules of how often a team could practice. Others will have inappropriate with boosters. And others still, have had improper relationships with athletes of the opposite gender.

Transferring To Another School Isn’t Easy

its hard for student athletes to transfer to new schools
Brett Deering/Getty Images
Brett Deering/Getty Images

When a student accepts an athletic scholarship from a school, the athlete and the team are both making a commitment to each other. With that being said, the NCAA makes it difficult for that commitment to be easily broken when the athlete wants to transfer to another school.

Many athletes will have to sit out for an entire season before being eligible to play for their new school. In some sports, the previous coaches can even dictate which schools the player can transfer to.

Playing Baseball Offers The Best Shot At Going Pro

college baseball is the best student athlete career path
Peter Aiken/Getty Images
Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Many student-athletes begin at their school hoping to one day play in a professional league. This is a total pipe dream for many of these athletes. Of all sports, baseball will offer aspiring professionals the best opportunity.

That is partly because baseball has, by far, the largest professional league in all of sports. Each season, there are between tens of thousands of players combined in the minor and major leagues. If a college athlete has a choice of which sport to play, baseball may be their best chance at going pro.

Graduation Isn’t Guaranteed

student athletes dont always graduate
Silas Stein/picture alliance via Getty Images
Silas Stein/picture alliance via Getty Images

Every student-athlete enters their college career excited at the prospect of playing sports. Many, though, will forget that they are also there to attend college. And the lower graduation rate of athletes compared to normal students reflects this.

There are fair reasons behind this that don’t really have anything to do with an athlete’s academic ability. Student-athletes are awash in responsibility with long practices, extensive weight training and little time left for studying.

Maintain Your Amateur Status

student athletes must maintain their amateur status
Johntex
Johntex

It is no secret to college athletes that they must retain their amateur status. What might not be known to these players, though, is that this may be more complicated than initially anticipated.

Of course, players know they can’t accept any kind of payment, but there are other thorny issues that can occur as well. Students who plan on playing sports in college must be able to present an amateurism certificate. The NCAA will also be making sure that players have not signed a professional contract or unwittingly participated in a professional sport.

Stay Away From Drugs

dexter lawrence from clemson received a suspension from the NCAA for testing positive for drugs
Lance King/Getty Images
Lance King/Getty Images

This one should be self-explanatory, but every year, a number of student-athletes violate this rule. College is a place of experimentation and drugs can easily be found. It’s not hard for any students, including athletes to imbibe the wrong thing.

And the opportunity to use drugs has become more widespread as many states have allowed for the sale of recreational marijuana. The NCAA, though, still looks down on the use of illegal drugs and students who break the rule can lose their eligibility and their scholarships.

California Offers Athletes Expanded Rights

the ncaa is in a legal battle with california
Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images
Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

When athletes sign their scholarships and join their teams they give up significant rights. One of these rights they lose is the ability to use their own likeness. For many years, players have been commoditized without receiving any pay for their troubles.

In September of 2019, the state of California looked to change that. The state voted to allow student-athletes to receive compensation when their likeness is used. The bill is sure to be challenged by the NCAA.

Steer Clear Of Boosters

ncaa players must stay away from boosters.
Andy Altenburger/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images
Andy Altenburger/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

For the vast majority of college athletes, boosters won’t be much of a problem. If the athlete, though, is a high-end football or basketball player, they may run into a booster who could hurt the team’s chances and the player’s eligibility.

Many players, coaches, and program have faced serious penalties for taking money or bribes from business people who support the program. A famous example of this is the USC Trojans who had National Titles stripped away after it was revealed that Reggie Bush has received improper benefits.

Score Well On ACTs or SATs

student athletes must submit test scores
Image by lecroitg from Pixabay
Image by lecroitg from Pixabay

The process of becoming a college athlete begins in high school. And that means doing well in the classroom as well as on the playing field. High school students who are planning on attending college must take either the SATs or ACTs.

Most colleges have some kind of minimum score you must achieve in order to enroll. This also stands for students who would like to play sports in college. If the student-athlete doesn’t make the minimum score, they may not be eligible to play.

Provide Transcripts To The College

student-athletes must provide transcripts to colleges
W. Wayne Marlow/Flickr
W. Wayne Marlow/Flickr

In addition to scoring well on standardized tests, student-athletes will also have to show their grades to their college as well. Prospective athletes are required to send at least four semesters worth of transcripts to their future school.

This whole ordeal could get a bit thornier if the student has attended more than one high school before graduating. There must be transcripts from all schools attended. Students who need help with this process can be aided by their guidance counselor.

Take The Right Kinds Of Courses

ncaa players must take their academics seriously
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Colleges want students to come into University prepared to tackle the kinds of work required. So in order to become a student-athlete, many NCAA schools want their prospective applicants to take courses that follow an educational core.

The courses that fall into this criteria are not difficult to figure out. Among them are English, Math, Science, Social Studies, some type of foreign language and Comparative Religion. Subjects that would not qualify as core courses would be Drivers Education, Art, Music or Physical Education.

Keep The Grade Point Average Up

ncaa players must keep their GPA up
Aaron Manning
Aaron Manning

Using the grade point average system allows Colleges to create a baseline of grades that they will accept from potential students. While many schools feature differing systems of calculating grades, the NCAA has a method of converting them to a standard GPA system.

Like with SAT and ACT scores, many schools will require an absolute minimum GPA to both attend the school and also be eligible to participate in athletics. Any student hoping to play sports in college needs to keep their grades up.

The Best Students Can Join Their Teams Early

student athletes with good grades can join their teams early
Photo by Mídia from Pexels
Photo by Mídia from Pexels

There are a number of different rules student must follow to be eligible for NCAA athletics. The students who best follow those rules, though, will have a leg up on the competition as they may become an Early Academic Qualifier.

Early Academic Qualifiers are students who have completed their core course minimums and have scored high enough on standardized tests. Athletes who qualify early are able to begin practicing with their teams before they even begin to formally take classes at their school of choice.

Be Careful With The Drinking

ncaa players must stay away from drinking as much as possible
Photo by Keegan Checks from Pexels
Photo by Keegan Checks from Pexels

The legal drinking age in the United States is 21 years old. More than half of the NCAA athletes are younger than 21. This will not stop most of them from imbibing once they are on campus, though.

While teams know that many of their student-athletes will be drinking, the penalty for acting up while drunk can be severe. So athletes, even those who are 21 years of age are older, have to make sure they don’t drink and drive or get into any other alcohol-related shenanigans.

Very Few NCAA Athletes Play Professional Sports

not many student athletes get the chance to go pro
Joe Glorioso/Flickr
Joe Glorioso/Flickr

It is no small feat to become a college athlete. It is even more of an amazing feat to go from being an NCAA athlete to a professional. The NCAA wants to make sure these players enjoy their time in college without focusing too much on going pro.

They take that stance because the odds of any athlete making it to the next level are extremely slim. There are over 480,000 students currently playing a sport in college. Of that number, only about 2% will move on to professional sports.

Players Have To Learn To Manage Their Time

ncaa students are required to study
Albert Herring
Albert Herring

Making the transition to college can be tough for any student who is moving on from high school. It is going to be much tougher for student athletes. Playing college sports requires a real skill at time management.

The classes that students have to take will entail lots of brain power and studying. For the athletes though, all of this studying and hard work has to be tailored around practice and training. Some players will also have to work around a heavy traveling schedule.

Protect Yourself Against Injury

for student athletes, learning how to train is like taking another class
Via Air Force Medicine
Via Air Force Medicine

Unfortunately, most student athletes will have to deal with an injury from time to time. And the hope is that when that injury happens, it isn’t one of a serious nature. Student athletes are encouraged to take steps to limit injury.

All players will go to a college that features a medical team that is dedicated to keeping them in the best shape possible. And these athletes will also be encouraged to engage in habits that will keep their body fit and ready to compete.