Sureya Alex, a junior, interviewed three experts on athletic scholarships: Jon Huizinga, Timothy Christian’s Director of College and Career, Jack LeGrand, Director of Timothy Christian Athletics, and Bill DeRuiter, Head Women’s Basketball Coach at Trinity Christian College. Here are their thoughts and advice.
What are the levels of Collegiate Athletics?
HUIZINGA: There are two different collegiate organizations. The larger one is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), covering around 460,000 athletes, 1,200 schools, and 24 sports. It is split into 3 divisions (Division I, II, III). The National Association of Intercollegiate Sports (NAIA) is the other organization. This consists of 2 divisions, around 65,000 students, and 250 schools. The skill level of the NAIA divisions are comparable to NCAA’s Division II and III.
What is the difference between playing NCAA Division I and III?
HUIZINGA: Division I has larger, more-populated schools and offers the most athletic scholarships. Division III has the largest amount of schools out of the three, with 444 schools, and has the highest percentage of their student body participating in athletics at 26%. You should not turn away from Division III just because it is a lower level. All of these divisions are the best of the best. For men’s basketball, Division I, II, and III take around 1.0% of high school athletes each. That means that Division I is the top 1.0%, and even though Division III is lower, it is still the top 3.5% of high school men’s basketball players in the country.
What are some important details and information about scholarship money for the NCAA or NAIA?
DeRUITER: Institutions have their own rules. For NAIA, some have limits on how many full tuition scholarships they can offer, and others have a certain amount of money — almost like a pot of money — that is split between the players you offer scholarships to. Trinity Christian College, for example, can offer whatever amount the coaches see necessary, depending on academic or other scholarships that the players have received.
HUIZINGA: You can not assume that all scholarships fit under one umbrella, even for ones as specific as athletic or academic. There are rules for each college, division, and organization. The NCAA is generally more strict for handing them out. Division I offers the most athletic scholarships out of the three. However, Ivy League schools (Division I) do not offer them. Division III is not allowed to hand out athletic scholarships either, but they can provide financial aid for certain circumstances.
Should student athletes choose their college based solely on athletics or school size?
HUIZINGA: It would be beneficial to look at a wide variety of schools. It is important for students to base their decisions on academics and student life, knowing that it is the right fit for them in all aspects. If injury occurs or you want to quit playing, a main priority is that you enjoy the school itself.
LeGRAND: The big thing today is that everyone wants to play at the biggest schools. You can not simply assume that you are ready for the highest level of competition if coaches have not reached out to you first. If you are set on playing in college, you have to be open-minded to looking at schools that you have not considered or heard of before. There are a lot of good colleges that are not the largest in the country. Find the place that suits you academically, spiritually, and athletically, it all has to be a good fit — that is the hardest part. If you have the option to compete in multiple schools’ athletics, you have to take the differences into account. You have to decide if you want to play at a well-known, big school and possibly play less. Or you can join a smaller school, play more, and enjoy a more academically-involved college experience. It is all preference.
DeRUITER: The experiences will be different between larger and smaller schools. For recruits who are looking at bigger universities and colleges, we always tell them what smaller schools can offer — fewer students per class, personal relationships, strong community, and less travelling for games. Physically, larger schools can not do some of those things that we can. However, if you are looking to travel around the country, compete in exposure and televised events, and have your life revolve around your sports, then a big school is the best option for you.
How do colleges provide academic support for the athletes?
DeRUITER: It all depends on the college. Some provide personal tutors for the athletes, and others simply recommend them for free. Students are also able to attend classes more frequently with less traveling.
What are colleges looking for in student athletes?
DeRUITER: The first thing is making sure that academics are part of the equation — good GPA, test scores, and working hard in the classroom. If you do not work in school and keep up your grades, you are ineligible to play. Those same traits carry into athletics, too. If you are not motivated in academics, you probably act the same for other aspects in your life. Secondly, I look at the intangibles on the court — leadership, reaction to a bad call, how you are as a teammate, and attitude type. It gives me an idea of the type of player you are and how you will represent our school. Lastly, skill. I personally like athletes that can play multiple positions.
LeGRAND: If a college scout sees you at any game, they can walk out of the door if you have a bad mindset. You have to play positively and act like coaches are always watching.
What are some ways that players can get in front of a coach?
HUIZINGA: It is important that you involve your high school coaches, so they can notify college coaches about you. Before or after you work with your high school coaches, right when you start playing varsity sports, and as you begin the college process, try to personally email the coaches of the schools that you are interested in. Every college team has an interest form where you can fill out your basic information — GPA, ACT, school information, and more. Lastly, when you go on regular college visits — usually only Division II or III schools will do this — you should notify the admissions office and try to meet with the coach.
Do you have any recommended recruitment websites that athletes should look at?
HUIZINGA: Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) is a great recruiting program. You have to create an account. Based on your profile and stats, the website will contact coaches.
DeRUITER: Field Level does a good job of getting information out to college coaches. It is both a website and an app.
Any last advice?
HUIZINGA: Keep it simple, do not overwhelm yourself. Put time and effort in. Go on college visits, email college coaches, and involve your high school coaches. Always play with a positive mindset. Scouts, coaches, and fans are looking for strong, optimistic athletes.
LeGRAND: One misconception people have is that you must stick to one sport or you won’t make it. Many multisport athletes make up the world of college sports.
Make sure that you keep your grades up and have good worth ethic. Carry yourself on and off the field, court, track — wherever you play. People see your social media, be careful of how you present yourself at all times. Keep working on skills, use those to your advantage. When a coach reaches out to you, respond in a respectful manner. Don’t burn a bridge. Research and visit a lot. Watch deadlines. Lastly, and most importantly, pray for a good fit, where does God want you to go? Listen to Him and let Him guide you as your college journey begins.