Is accepting a four in five year athletic scholarship a good deal for my family in the recruiting process?

Is accepting a four in five year athletic scholarship a good deal?Before going into this, let me explain what exactly is a four in five year scholarship.  The athlete is asked to walk on at the school and pay their own way the first year.  During that season, the player will be redshirted and have a chance to adjust to the college level.  Once that year is completed, the school then puts the recruit on scholarship.  They pay for year one then get the next four years on scholarship.

The reason why the coaches do this is that it allows them to help balance out their scholarships.  If they have a rather large class of freshmen currently in the program, it would be better for them to take a recruit and use this to distance two years between the large group and this recruit.  This method is used very frequently in basketball recruiting but I have also seen it used in football recruiting.  Sometimes schools also offer three in five years where the athlete pays the first two years of schooling and then the school pays for the last three.

The scariest thing about this deal is that there is no official paperwork that can be done.  It is illegal per NCAA rules to promise athletes scholarships unless they sign a National Letter of Intent.  If you are coming onto campus, you are dealing with a handshake and a wink from the coach.  And as I wrote a while back, college coaches are prone to lying so there is definitely nothing for sure.

The worst case scenario is what I saw this past recruiting period.  In the summer of 2012, a basketball recruit with a high profile AAU team was offered a four in five year basketball scholarship.  He accepted the scholarship offered by the school and took this handshake deal from the coaching staff.  Again, this recruited decided to end the recruiting process early on and cost himself a chance to really showcase himself throughout the AAU circuit (The time that I feel is most valuable for basketball recruiting).

It ended up that the recruit had a decent year but the college program blew up.  They had what was likely their best season ever and because it was a mid major school, the coach became a high commodity.  The coach ended up getting millions to sign with another school and the program had to bring in a new coach.  Because there was nothing guaranteed here, the recruit had to scramble to find a school.  In the end, he had to give up his Division I dream to play for a Division II school that was actually further away from home.

So if I am a recruit, why exactly should I take it?  The first reason is if it is a school that you really like.  It may be a program that you have dreamt about playing for and it is a favorite well above the other schools that are recruiting you.  This may be your only option to go to that school so take a serious look into it.  There was basketball recruit a few years back who had five scholarship offers but decided to take the four in five year scholarship simply because he liked one of the schools more.  Money not being an issue also helped.

It is important that the school is in-state and/or you have strong academics.  The reason that I bring this up is if you have scholarship offers on the table, it is going to be hard to pass them up to get yourself in student loan debt.  Your parents may be able to help you for that one year but it is going to be tough for them to do that.

What is the case against going this route?  The first reason is you have nothing guaranteed.  Even if a college coach decided to write out a contact and sign it, this would not be allowed by the NCAA.  It is illegal per NCAA rules and could actually get the coaching staff in trouble.  The coach may bring you on campus, realize you can’t play, and not honor the deal.  In their minds, the worst thing that will happen is that you will transfer after paying your own way in year one.

A big part of this just depends on how bad you want to go to that school.  If it a program that you have been dreaming about for a long time and you feel you can trust the coaches, then it may be worth doing.  It is never going to be an easy situation to turn down a guaranteed scholarship, especially if money is an issue (Which it is in most families considering how expensive college is).

So if you get this offer, make sure you have a good feel of the trust level between your family and the coaching staff, the chances that the coach will leave after the year, and a realistic view of how much school will cost in that first year.  You don’t want to accept it and be stuck with a jaw dropping bill.

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