History of Sports Scholarships

Sports Scholarships: A Look Back at History

Sport’s scholarships have a long, strong history in our country.  College recruitment of student athletes started in the 1880s as college football started to transform from a fun leisure activity to a highly profitable and commercialized sport.  In the beginning, compensation for collegiate athletes usually meant assistance with employment, gifts, favors and usually free room and board at the home of a coach or a team supporter. Primarily funded by a school’s alumni and fraternities, incentives were offered to entice players to choose a specific school and to constantly improve on their performance.

By 1906 sport scholarships became more widespread and The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was established under the name “Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States.  In 1910 it was changed to the NCAA that still exists today. The NCAA was formed to protect young people in their pursuit of finding an ideal college program with funding that rewards their talents and abilities.

In 1952 the NCAA legalized the use of athletic scholarships for the purpose of attracting qualified student-athletes to their sports programs. Other athletic associations were later established and they, along with the NCAA, began to regulate national college athletic standards. These associations and school administrators have instituted rules and regulations to help protect the student-athlete from exploitation, as well as to clearly define how much compensation can be given and in what manner.

In 1973, the NCAA split its membership into three distinct divisions: Division I, Division II, and Division III. Under the NCAA rules, Division I and Division II schools can offer scholarships to athletes for playing a recognized sport. Division III schools however cannot offer any athletic scholarships. The general rule is that larger schools compete in Division I and the smaller schools are usually in Division II and III.

Scholarships are now highly regulated and only awarded to the most skilled athlete’s in America.  Currently more than $1.2 billion is awarded in athletic scholarships yearly to men and women in American colleges and universities. For many students, athletic scholarships are the only way they can afford a college education and it leads to many opportunities that were otherwise never experience.