If you’re interested in playing collegiate basketball and hope to get a scholarship, you’ll need to become familiar with the NCAA scholarship rules. The National Collegiate Athletic Association is an oversight body dedicated to the success of student athletes. Colleges follow the guidelines established by this organization, such as the NCAA eligibility rules for awarding scholarships and the standards related to participation in intercollegiate athletics. In 2018, 111 scholarships were offered for men and women playing basketball at the collegiate level. The number of scholarships varies by division, but the eligibility rules are consistent with just a few exceptions. If you’re interested in competing for a NCAA basketball scholarship, the first step is to meet the required academic standards.
NCAA Eligibility Rules
The NCAA has a variety of eligibility rules related to academic performance. As a new entering freshman, you’ll need to provide evidence of a 2.0 grade point average in 16 core classes during high school. This will allow you to practice with the team but not play. If you don’t play during your first year, you’ll be in an academic redshirt category. This year will not count toward your total years of eligibility. If you want to fully qualify to practice and play during your first year, you must complete 16 core classes with a 2.3 GPA, and 10 of those courses must be finished prior to your senior year of high school. Seven of the 10 courses must be in English, math or science. You’ll also have to provide an academic transcript that indicates that you graduated from high school. NCAA eligibility rules indicate that athletes have 10 semesters or four seasons to play at a Division II or III institution and five years or four seasons to play at a Division I school.
Division I Level
More than 175,000 students compete in the 347 Division I school athletic programs. How many scholarships are there for D1 basketball? The NCAA scholarship limits vary by division. Division I individual institutions can have a maximum of 13 scholarships for men’s basketball and 15 for women’s basketball. The average scholarship ranges from $14,000 to $15,000. The NCAA considers basketball a head-count sport, and this means that the scholarship number is absolute. In a sport that is not considered a head-count sport, the allowable amount for scholarships can be divided among several players. Instead of 15 full scholarships, an institution could award 30 partial scholarships. Most scholarships are awarded for one year at a time, but Division I schools have the latitude to award scholarships for more than one year to entice top players to commit to the institution.
Division II Level
Even though Division I is the most prestigious type of institution for athletic competition, top-performing athletes often make the decision to go to a Division II school. Accepting a scholarship at a Division II institution may increase the opportunity for you to play and allow you to be a natural stand-out on the team. Division II schools are limited to 10 basketball scholarships for both men and women. While not as prestigious as Division I institutions, Division II basketball championships are televised and are available to view online. This allows top-performing athletes to enjoy broad exposure and to even be sought for post-collegiate play. Division II basketball teams play regional teams. If you’re interested in competitive basketball but prefer less time on the road, Division II may be the ideal choice for you.
Division III Level
Division III is home to the largest number of institutions and athletes in the NCAA. You may be wondering if Division III colleges can offer scholarships. The answer is no. Since academic rigor is the primary focus of Division III schools, playing seasons are often shorter, and athletes are encouraged to focus on being a part of the academic community in addition to playing basketball. Many Division III schools try to provide opportunities to participate in athletics for all interested students. Most Division III schools offer scholarships for academic achievement, so athletes may still be awarded a scholarship for academics rather than athletics.
NCAA Transfer Rules
The NCAA transfer rules include a mandate to sit out for one year. If you want to transfer to a different college, you’ll need to follow a specific process prior to seeking a new college home. The first step in moving to a new college is to obtain a letter of permission from your current athletic director prior to applying to a different school. A college coach cannot speak to you, according to NCAA rules, unless you’ve received permission from your current school. Once you’ve decided to transfer, you won't be allowed to play basketball or any other sport for one year after transferring. This rule is in place to ensure that students are making college choices based on academics and to protect students from inappropriate recruiting efforts.
New Special Provision
Beginning in August 2019, basketball players who leave a Division I institution and return within 10 years are entitled to free tuition and reimbursement for related educational expenses. This provision is only applicable to those basketball players who had a scholarship for two or more years and have no other funding options. Eligible students must meet the academic requirements of the institution for enrollment. This new rule is to provide assistance for basketball players who are interested in finishing their degree but don’t have the necessary financial resources. The NCAA also provides similar assistance for other collegiate athletes with a program called the Degree Completion Award. This financial assistance is reserved for Division I athletes who have 30 hours or less of academic credits to finish prior to graduation.
Amateur Status Rules
The NCAA eligibility rules for scholarships are contingent upon athletes confirming amateur status. Before you can be considered for a scholarship, you must be registered with the NCAA Eligibility Center. This online process involves answering a series of questions that will confirm that you’re not and have never been a professional athlete. Professional athletes are paid for their performance or can earn money for related work. Endorsing a product, appearing in a commercial or being paid for anything related to your athletic status will void your opportunity to play and the opportunity to be awarded a collegiate athletic scholarship. It’s possible to be a professional in one sport and deemed an amateur in another and still remain eligible for a scholarship. For example, if you’re paid as a pro golfer but play basketball for a college, you would still be eligible for a college basketball scholarship. It’s important to check with your athletic director and NCAA compliance officer if you have a special circumstance or question related to amateur status.
Breach of Conduct Guidelines
Once you’ve signed a letter of intent, you cannot move to a different school within the first year that you’re involved in competitive play. Your scholarship is guaranteed for the year unless you violate the letter of intent that you signed. A letter of intent is like a contract. The institution can only cancel the scholarship during the first year in rare cases. For example, if you don’t maintain grades or are involved in committing fraud or misconduct, you can lose your scholarship. However, if the coach wants to award your scholarship to someone else, he will have to wait until the end of the term of the agreement that you signed.
Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years.