Do Walk-Ons Sign A National Letter Of Intent?

Many student-athletes will decide to be a walk-on player, which changes the recruiting process and college experience for these players. If you or your loved one has decided to pursue being a walk-on, you might be wondering, do walk-ons sign a National Letter of Intent?

Unlike scholarship athletes, walk-on players do not sign a National Letter of Intent on Signing Day. Walk-on players don’t receive financial aid from the university, so there would be no benefit to signing the National Letter of Intent for either party.

Walk-on players are an essential part of the team and vital to its success, so there may be a celebratory form that you can sign on Signing Day to have a similar experience to student-athletes committing to a higher division level. This letter would not be binding for any party, but it can give an inherent sense of commitment from the college coach. Feel free to ask your college coach for a Letter of Commitment if this is something you’re interested in.

Signing A National Letter of Intent

The National Letter of Intent is a legal, binding document that signals the end of the recruiting process for student-athletes. For walk-on players, the recruiting process is much different than for scholarship athletes. Some walk-on players are in contact with their college coaches, while others join the team after being admitted to a college. No matter what type of student-athlete you are, there are a few things you should understand about the National Letter of Intent program before starting the recruiting process.

Athletic Scholarship Agreement: The National Letter of Intent is essentially an athletic scholarship agreement. It is a legally binding document signed by both the student-athlete and their parent or guardian. Your signature signifies your intent to play for a university for at least one academic year. In contrast, the university promises to provide you with an athletic scholarship for one year. The National Letter of Intent is different from a financial aid package, and you will need to sign both documents to receive financial aid.

Potential For Walk-On Scholarship: Walk-on players may receive a partial scholarship if they’ve been on the team for a few years. At this point, you won’t sign a National Letter of Intent to receive an athletic scholarship. Once you’ve received your scholarship, your university is required to notify you if they will be renewing your scholarship in the next academic year. Still, college coaches generally invest their budgets in recruited players, so financial aid for walk-on players is limited.

Signing Day: Signing Day is a program where student-athletes sign the National Letter of Intent on a day specific to their sport and division. For more competitive sports, Signing Day will occur in early November of senior year, while less competitive sports are more likely to sign during the spring of the senior year. At this point in the recruiting process, you will be in contact with your potential college coach and have a good sense of whether or not you will be receiving an athletic scholarship. If you aren’t receiving an athletic scholarship, there is no need to sign a National Letter of Intent.

The National Letter of Intent program is a voluntary program that many, but not all, universities participate in. The document provides an official and legal record for college coaches, student-athletes and their parents for scholarship offers. Deciding to go the walk-on route will mean that you do not sign a National Letter of Intent. Still, there are some advantages to being a walk-on player, depending on your priorities for your college experience.

The Different Types Of Walk-Ons?

There are a few different types of walk-on offers. For example, a walk-on player may be in contact with their college coach during high school during the recruiting process, and the coach doesn’t have the budget to offer them a scholarship. Other walk-on players successfully impress a college coach at a tryout and secure a spot on the team. Below are a few of the different types of walk-on players:

Preferred Walk-On: Preferred walk-ons are players who the coach would like to have on the team, but are not offered any financial assistance for at least the first year. These players are guaranteed a spot on the team’s roster. They may be able to receive financial aid in their second year, but this is rare.

Recruited Walk-On: A recruited walk-on player has also been in contact with their college coach throughout the recruiting process in high school. However, there isn’t a guaranteed spot on the team for these players, as compared to preferred walk-on players.

Unrecruited Walk-On: A walk-on player that isn’t recruited, but still manages to secure a spot on the roster is the ultimate Cinderella story. Many student-athletes dream of simply walking into the tryouts for a significant program and catching the coach’s eye. The reality is that most student-athletes have been in contact with the college coach before trying out, and the coach is expecting them to try out.

These different types of walk-on players are all options that student-athletes may consider if they haven’t been able to receive a scholarship offer or have their eye on a specific school. The choice to be a walk-on player isn’t for everyone, but if you are set on going to a particular college, whether you can compete or not, it can be a great opportunity.

Why Can’t Coaches Offer Walk-On Players Scholarships?

Coaches can’t offer scholarships to walk-on players for multiple reasons. Here are a few of the most common ones:

Headcount Programs: More competitive sports have headcount scholarship programs, which means that the coaches can only give out full scholarships. For Division I football, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s tennis, women’s gymnastics and women’s volleyball, college coaches have to give their players a full-ride scholarship. When coaches hit their limit on the number of scholarships they can give out, they can only make offers to walk-on players.

Equivalency Programs: Equivalency programs allow college coaches a limited budget that they can distribute however they want. There may be fewer walk-on players with this type of program, as coaches can give out several partial scholarships and not just a few full-ride scholarships.

Limited Roster: Another reason why coaches can’t give out scholarship offers to walk-on players is that they have limited space on their roster. Once a coach fills their roster, they no longer need to recruit more players. If you get in contact with a coach later in the recruiting game, they may only have walk-on opportunities available at that point.

While a walk-on player won’t receive an athletic scholarship from a college because of limited roster space and limited budgets, it is still a viable option for many student-athletes. By working hard and playing your best at every practice, you can stand out from your teammates and competitors to prove yourself as an asset to the team.

Things To Keep In Mind

A walk-on player’s college experience is going to be different from a scholarship athlete, starting with not signing the National Letter of Intent. A good number of student-athletes walk on to a team - 46 percent of Division I players are walk-ons, while 39 percent of Division II players walk-on to a team. But there are a few other elements of the college process that may differ for walk-on players.

Priorities: Walk-on players may be more focused on college and academic opportunities than scholarship athletes. They are willing to work harder to have a chance to compete at a higher division level rather than having more playing time at a lower division level. It’s important to consider what your priorities are for your college experience before committing to a particular role on a team or specific offer from a college coach.

Travel: Walk-ons may or may not travel with the team; it depends on how much playing time you’re getting and how long you’ve been on the team. It can also depend on how extensive the program is and how many resources they have set aside to fund team travel.

Resources: You may have limited resources as a walk-on player. How many resources are available depends heavily on your coach and program, so be sure to do your research on how walk-ons are supported academically and athletically at the school you attend.

Keep Reading?

What Does A National Letter Of Intent Mean? When Do College Coaches Stop Recruiting? When Can College Coaches Make You An Offer?