In the football recruiting process, there are some major differences between schools at the Division I-A level (BCS) and Division I-AA level (FCS). These differences are something to think about long and hard before trying to receive the scholarship offer that you are longing for. Schools at different levels offer at different times and their level of play factors in.
So first off, what is the biggest difference between Division I-A and I-AA? The answer is simply in the timing of scholarship offers. The Division I-A schools can basically offer whenever they want. The bigger the school, the earlier the offer and the less that they care if Rivals or Scout writes about it. Division I-AA schools on the other wait until later in the process. The earliest I have seen a school at this level offer a player is at their summer football camp. The reason is because the earlier that they offer, the greater chance a Division I-A school will offer them a scholarship.
In only one situation have I ever seen an athlete pick the Division I-AA school over the Division I-A program when location was similar. This was a unique situation where the player had committed to the Division I-A school. That program ended up changing their coaches and was not sold on the recruit. So they told the recruit that they would greyshirt and then redshirt him. He would also be making the move to the offensive line, which was much different than the tight end position he had grown up playing. It wasn’t a huge upset when he picked the Division I-AA school.
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Timing of visits
Most Division I-AA programs wait to hold their official visits in December or January. They usually bring in their most sought after recruits first in hopes of securing an early verbal. Division I-A schools don’t really care about the timing of official visits. Most do it in December or January but mix in the top rated recruits with potential walk-ons.
When a school like Alabama gets a commitment from an athlete, I am willing to bet that a “source” will leak the information to Rivals, Scout, and the newspaper. If a Division I-AA school gets a commitment, they would prefer no one knew until Signing Day. A Division I-A school could steal the recruit with a scholarship offer at any moment and it has happened in the past.
For football recruits, the Division I-A school has to offer athletes a full ride. The Division I-AA program can offer anywhere from 100% to 1%. In most situations, these Division I-AA only hold the full scholarship ride for their top rated recruits. They can also combine the scholarship with academics and help the athlete pay as little as possible for schooling.
Timing of offers
As talked about earlier, if a Division I-A school is sold on a prospect, they will offer them very early in the process. If a Division I-AA school loves an athlete, they likely will wait to offer. If word leaks out that a Division I-AA school offered a sophomore prospects, the Division I-A schools in the area will be all over this kid. Most of the Division I-AA schools end up offering the scholarship amount on the official visit for the athletes. They may formally extend an offer during the summer but the numbers are finalized before the visit.
Type of attention
If you are major Division I-A recruit, you will receive the full court press from schools across the country. They will send you all kinds of things to show you how interested they are in you. Division I-AA recruits stay in their area for the most part and receive limited interest because of the recruiting budgets at the school. I would be curious what the difference in recruiting budget is at Richmond versus Florida.