What Sport Gives The Most Scholarships?

Athletic scholarships are a major factor in the recruiting process and an incentive to explore different opportunities. Unfortunately, receiving a scholarship is rarer than most people think, and the money available is not distributed evenly across different programs. In fact, Division I and Division II are the only schools that offer athletic scholarships – Division III does not, and the most scholarship money is found in Division I. Further, athletic scholarship money can vary widely depending on the sport.

In Division I men’s sports, football gives the most scholarships, followed by ice hockey, basketball, track & field, lacrosse and baseball. For women, the most scholarships are offered in rowing, then track & field, ice hockey, and basketball.

This topic can be viewed in a few different ways, depending on how you look at the scholarship numbers relative to the number of athletes competing for that money. In other words, the sports that give the “most scholarships” do not always give athletes the best chance of receiving a scholarship. There are a number of reasons behind this and different things to consider with scholarships as a whole, but first let’s take a look at the breakdown of athletic scholarships by sport.

Athletic Scholarship Breakdown By Sport

The NCAA sets specific scholarship limits for each sport in both men’s and women’s programs. They do this by setting a maximum number of full scholarships that can be awarded to roster members in a given year. Below is a table breaking down the scholarship limits for various sports from the 2019-2020 year.

Men’s Division I Sport Scholarship Limit
Football – FBS 85
Football – FCS 63
Ice Hockey 18
Basketball 13
Track & Field 12.6
Lacrosse 12.6
Baseball 11.7
Wrestling 9.9
Swimming 9.9
Soccer 9.9
Women's Division I Sport Scholarship Limit
Rowing 20
Track & Field 18
Ice Hockey 18
Basketball 15
Equestrian 15
Soccer 14
Swimming 14
Lacrosse 12
Gymnastics 12
Volleyball 12

As you can see, the scholarship capacity can vary widely for each sport per NCAA regulations. Again, these figures represent the number of full-ride athletic scholarships that the team can distribute in a given year. However, not all of these numbers are applied to players in the same manner, because there are different distinctions of scholarship types based on the sport – head count sports and equivalency sports. Using men’s football (head count) and women’s rowing (equivalency), below you will see the difference between these types of scholarships and why these different categories exist.

Why Do Some Sports Give More Scholarships Than Others?

There are various reasons why discrepancies exist in the scholarship limits between different sports, so it’s important to understand how the numbers measure up with certain factors relative to other programs. First, let’s look at the top scholarship sports for men and women so you can understand what sets them apart and how it applies to scholarship availability.

Men’s Football: Football is a head count sport, which means that there is a set number of scholarships that can be awarded, and all of them will be full-ride scholarships. So in FBS football, for example, the coach will give out 85 full scholarships to players and no partial scholarships. Head count sports are those that produce a lot of revenue for the school, so there is generally more scholarship money available and more competition for those scholarships, so the players that do receive a scholarship get a full-ride, and everyone else on the roster is considered a walk-on. College football generates the most revenue of any other NCAA sport by a wide margin, so it’s understandable why these programs have such high scholarship limits relative to other sports. Additionally, college football rosters are very large, generally holding about 125 players. Even with so many roster spots and over 250 Division I football programs, the competition is extremely tight, with only about 3% of high school players advancing to this level. Between the popularity of the sport, the revenue it generates, and the attraction of top talent, it’s no surprise that football gives the most scholarships.

Women’s Rowing: Women’s rowing is an equivalency sport, which means that there is no restriction on the number of players that can be on scholarship. Instead, there is simply a limit on the amount of scholarship money available, so in the case of women’s rowing, Division I programs are allowed to distribute 20 full scholarships in any proportion they want. The average team size for women’s rowing is 63, so the coach can decide how to distribute the money from 20 full-ride scholarships among all or some of the 63 players on the roster. Given that roster sizes are relatively large, it makes sense why rowing is at the top of the list for scholarships in women’s collegiate sports. Additionally, there are only 88 universities with Division I women’s rowing programs, and a majority of these are large, reputable schools as a whole, so the funding is available for the larger scholarship capacity.

These examples serve as good benchmarks for the reasoning behind the discrepancies in scholarships per sport, and the factors that go into scholarships limitations are very similar for other sports. With this, it’s helpful to understand the key factors to consider in scholarship availability:

How much revenue does the sport generate for the school? How big is the audience for this sport? How many roster spots are there relative to the number of scholarships available? How many programs are there across the sport? What types of schools are they in terms of reputation, size, and prestige? What is the competition level to earn a roster spot on the team?

There are many things that influence the scholarship limitations for different sports, but as a general guideline, these factors remain consistent with the NCAA regulations. As mentioned earlier, a sport that gives more scholarships does not necessarily mean there is a higher chance of getting a scholarship by recruiting for that sport. Therefore, it’s important to consider the scholarship numbers relative to the competition and roster sizes to get a better understanding of how attainable these opportunities are.

Things To Keep In Mind

Why Sports Give Different Amounts Of Scholarships: Remember that there is always reasoning behind some sports giving more scholarships than others. In the case of football, it generates tons of revenue, attracts the top talent, has huge rosters, and the leagues are highly established with hundreds of participant schools. The money available for different sports depends highly on these factors as scholarships are a large expense as a whole, so it really comes down to the affordability.

Implications On Recruiting Opportunities: It’s important to consider that although some sports give more money than others, the opportunity to get a scholarship does not always follow this exact order. Football is a great example; it gives the most scholarships of any collegiate sport, but the competition to earn a roster spot (and a scholarship) is also greater than the majority other sports. If you want to measure scholarship numbers relative to recruiting opportunities, a good thing to look at is the percentage of high school players that advance to the college level, and then the percentage of those players that actually receive a scholarship.

Different Divisions And Scholarship Types: This article primarily refers to Division I as a guideline for scholarship opportunities in general. Division II programs also give athletic scholarships, but in much smaller amounts than most Division I programs. Also, there are different scholarship types within Division I as discussed with football vs. women’s rowing – head count sports and equivalency sports. These different distinctions impact how the scholarship money available is actually distributed among the roster, so it’s an important consideration across different sports.

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