As an aspiring NCAA athlete, your journey starts at a very young age. For some, the culmination of that journey is a National Letter of Intent. Still, NCAA recruiting facts show that few ever receive that honor.
Every athlete has their own journey, but the successful ones all share one thing — they take preparation seriously.
And to help you prepare, we made this guide about the ins and outs of NCAA recruiting and everything you need to know to keep things in perspective.
Let’s jump right into some key statistics and facts.
NCAA Recruiting Facts and Stats
The NCAA is an excellent pathway to scholarship opportunities and even a potential professional sports career. But how many high school athletes actually make it through to that level?
Let’s find out.
1. College sports recruitment figures show that only about 7% of high school student-athletes end up competing in the NCAA.
The latest data shows that from 7,200,000 high school athletes from all NCAA sports, just under 500,000 make it to the NCAA.
And if you think that’s low, only about 2% of that 7% make it into the professional arena.
2. On average, only 1 in 23 students at an NCAA Division 1 school is an athlete.
As the most competitive, Division 1 is accessible to only the best young athletes in the nation. In contrast, 1 in 10 students at Division 2 school are athletes, and 1 in 6 at Division 3 schools are athletes.
3. Only 3.5% of male high school basketball players go on to become NCAA basketball recruits.
A smaller percentage of men’s basketball athletes make the jump into NCAA teams than for any other sport. Additionally, only 1.2% of those go on to have a significant professional sports career.
4. 350 Division 1 schools had 182,681 student-athletes enrolled, according to stats on NCAA recruiting from 2020.
NCAA Division 1 schools invest the most into academic programs and scholarships out of all three divisions. However, more Division 3 student-athletes enrolled in 2020 (193,814) than in either of the other divisions.
5. Facts about college athletes indicate that 80% of Division 3 student-athletes receive some need-based financial aid or grant.
Division 3 student-athletes receive $17,000, on average, in institutional gift aid.
The majority of NCAA schools (40%) fall into Division 3, but they also have the lowest median undergraduate enrollment.
6. Only about 2% of high school athletes receive athletics NCAA scholarships.
Athletics scholarships are highly competitive and only available to a small portion of students. Full scholarships are even more uncommon; most athletics scholarships only cover a small part of student’s educational expenses.
7. The 302 NCAA Division 2 schools have the lowest total student participation.
Division 2 made up the smallest portion of schools (28%) and had the fewest enrolled student-athletes in 2020 (122,722).
8. Student-athletes at a Division 2 school in 2019 had an average academic success rate of 73%.
Division 2 student-athletes had the lowest academic success rates among NCAA schools. Meanwhile, Division 1 and 2 athletes had success rates of 88% and 87%, respectively.
9. NCAA baseball recruiting stats show the highest percentage of student-athletes who turn pro.
From the 7.5% of high school athletes who get recruited into an NCAA baseball team, almost 10% move on to have a significant professional career according to NCAA recruiting facts.
In turn, only 0.8% of women’s basketball NCAA student-athletes make the jump to a professional sports career.
10. Facts about student athletes from NCAA show that Division 1 athletes had a 90% graduation rate.
Graduation rate data from 2020 shows that nine out of ten Division 1 students who started school in 2013 managed to earn a degree.
Despite the challenge of balancing sports and academics, NCAA student-athletes graduate at a higher rate than their peers in the general student body.
11. NCAA football recruiting had more draftees than any other sport in 2020.
Out of around a million high school student-athletes, NCAA teams recruited 73,700 of them in 2020. That’s more than all the students recruited by NCAA baseball and basketball teams combined in the same period.
12. NCAA Division 3 schools have 28 national championships, more than either of the other divisions.
Even though Division 3 schools tend to have the smallest athletics budgets, the sheer number of athletes results in more championships. There are 26 national Division 1 NCAA championships and 25 national Division 2 championships.
13. 12.3% of men’s ice hockey players in high school move on to compete in any division, according to NCAA hockey recruiting stats.
NCAA recruiting facts show that not only are ice hockey players the most likely to make it into the NCAA, but it’s also the sport with the second-highest percentage of players who turn pro. 7.4% make the jump from NCAA competition to a major professional league.
14. The 2021 NCAA First Four games attracted 7.6 million viewers across all platforms.
The NCAA has always been a powerhouse in the sports world, but recent years have only seen it get stronger. The 2021 First Four was the most-watched ever since the series started in 2011.
NCAA Eligibility Rules
The low recruitment percentage of high school athletes into NCAA athletics programs is no coincidence. Students need to show exceptional athletic ability but also meet rigorous academic standards to be eligible.
Academic NCAA Requirements for Division 1
To compete in the NCAA at a Division 1 school, student-athletes will need to:
- Complete a minimum of 16 NCAA-approved core courses
- Complete ten core courses before starting their seventh semester
- Achieve a minimum 2.3 GPA in core courses
- Achieve an SAT or ACT combined score that matches their GPA on the Division 1 sliding scale.
If you achieve at least a 2.0 GPA, you will be classified as an Academic Redshirt. NCAA recruiting rules allow Redshirts to practice during their first college terms and receive athletic scholarships.
However, you won’t be able to compete during your first year as an Academic Redshirt.
Academic NCAA Requirements for Division 2
Division 2 eligibility requirements are very similar to Division 1. The primary difference is a reduced GPA requirement of 2.2.
Naturally, the lower GPA also reduces the SAT and ACT score requirements according to the NCAA sliding scale.
NCAA recruiting guidelines also allow student-athletes who don’t qualify based on academic standards to practice and receive athletic scholarships as a partial qualifier. Like Academic Redshirts, you won’t be able to compete during your first year as a partial qualifier.
NCAA Division 3 Eligibility Requirements
There are no national standards established by the NCAA Eligibility Center for Division 3 schools. You are free to enroll in and attend a Division 3 school without registering with the Eligibility Center.
Division 3 schools set their own admissions standards but generally try to balance academic achievement with athletic success.
However, Division 3 schools don’t offer athletic scholarships.
NCAA Eligibility Rules for Graduate Students
Should you complete a bachelor’s degree before your athletics eligibility ends, you can compete as a graduate student for another school.
As long as you meet enrollment criteria and receive a waiver from the NCAA, you may transfer to another school to continue competing.
NCAA Recruiting Rules and Covid Impact
The NCAA instated the academic eligibility rules above in light of the impact COVID-19 had on the student body. They’re valid for students who enroll during the 2021–2022 academic year.
23% of Division 1 schools will also adopt test-optional policies for at least one year, and 19% have permanent test-optional policies. Only around 37% of schools still require SAT or ACT scores for eligibility purposes.
Perhaps most importantly, distance learning programs no longer need to receive special reviews according to new NCAA recruiting rules.
The NCAA stated that it is continuing to monitor the impact of COVID-19 and any changes that the recruiting calendar may require.
In 2019, the NCAA decided not to put e-sports gaming under its governance. But there is some indication that the decision could be overturned in light of recent events.
NCAA College Athletic Scholarships Facts
NCAA schools award billions of dollars every year to student-athletes. However, the NCAA also offers over $10 million in student-athlete awards, grants, and scholarships.
These NCAA scholarships are available to students who are not eligible for other forms of athletics-related financial aid:
- The Jim McKay Graduate Scholarship awards one male and one female student every year with a one-time $10,000 scholarship.
- The Walter Byers Graduate Scholarship awards one male and one female student $24,000 for outstanding academic achievement.
- The Ethnic Minority and Women’s Enhancement Graduate Scholarship awards 13 students from ethnic minorities and 13 female graduate students $10,000 each year.
- The NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship awards a non-renewable one-time scholarship three times a year to 21 men and women for use in an accredited graduate program.
- The NCAA Division I Degree Completion Award provides financial aid to students who don’t complete their education during the NCAA’s five-year eligibility period.
- The Division II Degree Completion Award provides financial support to students at Division 2 schools to complete their first baccalaureate degree.
To learn more facts about college athletic scholarships from the NCAA, contact the NCAA directly. There are many more academic scholarship programs, diversity, and research grants available to qualifying student-athletes.
NCAA Rules For Recruiting
Most official contact between the NCAA and student-athletes starts at or around September 1 of the student’s junior year. Prior to that, NCAA recruiters can send non-athletic promotional material from the institution to students but not much else.
A typical recruitment path involves these steps:
- A contact is any face-to-face discussion between a college coach and a college-bound athlete that involves more than a greeting.
- Evaluations happen whenever a college coach watches you practice or compete. That includes any off-campus activity that assesses either your academic or athletic ability.
- A verbal commitment happens when you agree to play for a college but before you sign a National Letter of Intent.
- NCAA letters of intent are usually the final step before enrolling in the Division 1 or 2 school. Once you sign one, you commit to attending the school for one academic year. All other institutions will cease athletics contact with you and your family, and you are required to do the same.
You’re not required to sign a Letter of Intent to participate in sports or receive any financial aid.
NCAA Recruiting Calendar
Every NCAA sport has a different recruiting calendar that varies based on that sport’s season and other factors. However, they all share four periods.
- Contact or recruiting period: During the contact, college coaches can contact you and your family directly, as well as watch you compete or visit your high school.
- Evaluation period: Coaches can watch you compete and contact you or your family via phone or in writing. However, no face-to-face contact is allowed.
- Quiet period: Coaches can only contact you or your family by phone or in writing during the quiet period. Coaches can watch you compete only if a competition happens on your college campus.
- Dead period: During the NCAA recruiting dead period, coaches may not have face-to-face contact with you or your family or watch you compete but can contact you by phone or in writing.
Men’s NCAA Basketball Recruiting Calendar
The recruitment period for NCAA men’s basketball that started on November 31, 2020, ended on March 31, 2021.
The rest of the calendar of NCAA recruiting for basketball 2021 is as follows:
- April 1–8, 2021: Dead period
- April 8–21, 2021: Recruitment period, except:
- April 9–11, 2021: Evaluation period for certified events
- April 12–15, 2021: Dead period
- April 22–July 5, 2021: Quiet period, except:
- April 23–25, 2021: Evaluation period for certified events
- April 26–29, 2021: Recruitment period
- May 20–28, 2021: Dead period
- NBA Draft Combine: Evaluation period for combine only
- June 18–20, 2021: Evaluation period for approved events
- June 25–27: Evaluation period for sanctioned events
- July 6–31, 2021: Dead period, except:
- July 8–11, 2021: Evaluation period for certified events
- July 20–25, 2021: Evaluation period for NCAA College Basketball Academy only
- July 26–31. 2021: Quiet period
NCAA Recruiting Football Calendar 2021
The remaining recruitment dates for NCAA football in 2021 are as follows:
- March 1–April 14, 2021: Quiet period
- April 15–May 31, 2021: Evaluation period, except:
- 168 evaluation days, excluding Memorial Day and Sundays at the discretion of NCAA member institutions.
- Any days not selected for evaluation: Quiet period
- June 1–July 31, 2021: Quiet period, except:
- June 28–July 24, 2021: Dead period.
This and other calendars may change suddenly since NCAA recruiting and COVID measures need to line up to benefit student-athletes. The latest information can only come from the NCAA directly.
When can colleges start recruiting?
The type of contact and the sport dictate when recruiters can start reaching out to athletes. The chart below shows when colleges can officially contact potential student-athletes as of May 1, 2019.
Early or excessive recruiting risks NCAA recruiting violations and can result in penalties for the institution.
|Sport||Official visit start date|
|Men’s basketball||August 1, prior to junior year|
|Women’s basketball||Thursday after Women’s Final Four of junior year|
|Football||April 1, junior year|
|Men’s ice hockey||August 1, prior to junior year|
|Lacrosse and softball||September 1 junior year|
|Baseball||September 1 junior year|
|Others||August 1, prior to junior year|
What is NCAA eligibility?
The NCAA Eligibility Center sets academic standards student-athletes must meet to compete in Division 1 and Division 2 athletics.
In addition to receiving an amateurism certification, aspiring NCAA competitors must:
- Graduate high school
- Finish at least 16 NCAA core courses
- Complete at least 10 core courses before their seventh high school semester (Div 1)
- Maintain a minimum GPA in core courses (2.3 Div 1)
- Receive qualifying SAT or ACT scores under the NCAA sliding scale
What are the new NCAA recruiting rules?
The NCAA’s new rules, which went into effect May 1, 2019, limit college coaches’ contact with students. The rules come as a response to the rise of early recruiting practices.
The new NCAA recruiting periods effectively prevent any communication between Division 1 coaches and student-athletes or their families before June 15 of the student’s sophomore year and vice versa.
Refer to the table above for sport-specific fates when official communications can start.
Can NCAA athletes get paid?
Student-athletes competing in the NCAA can only receive compensation in the form of educational scholarships.
However, the NCAA’s Board of Governors announced in 2020 that it supports a change to allow third-party endorsements for student-athletes. At the same time, the NCAA stressed that no school should pay student-athletes for activities related to their name, likeness, or image.
How many Division 1 schools are there?
There are currently 350 Division 1 schools in the NCAA. They make up 32% of member institutions and their median enrollment.
NCAA Division 1 requirements for schools include:
- Sponsoring at least seven sports for men and seven for women with two team sports for each
- Meeting participation and scheduling criteria for each sport
- Playing a minimum number of contests against Division 1 opponents for football and basketball
- Meeting minimum financial aid guidelines for their athletics programs
Currently, Alaska is the only state without a Division 1 college.
Do division 3 schools give athletic scholarships?
No, Division 3 schools don’t offer athletic scholarships. However, over 70% of Division 3 student-athletes receive merit- or need-based financial aid. Division 3 students don’t need to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center.
When can you commit to a college for sports?
Students can only officially make a commitment to a college during the signing period. Each sports National Signing Day and NCAA signing period are different. The signing dates for prospective student-athletes in 2020–2021 are below:
|Sport||Start Date||End Date|
|Div 1 basketball (early)||November 11, 2020||November 18, 2020|
|Div 1 basketball (regular)||April 14, 2021||August 1, 2021|
|Div 1 football (early)||December 16, 2020||December 18, 2020|
|Div 1 and 2 football (Midyear JC)||December 16, 2020||January 15, 2021|
|Div 1 and 2 football (regular)||February 3, 2021||Division I: August 1, 2021
Division II: August 1, 2021
|All others||November 11, 2020||August 1, 2021|
What do college recruiters look for in athletes?
Among other things, college coaches like to see athletes who show leadership potential and dedication to their sport. Student-athletes need to show commitment to improving their own performance, but they should also support and motivate their teammates.
Coaches also look for athletes that show potential. Athletes who improve constantly and are likely to continue improving are the most likely to stay on a recruiter’s radar.
The information here shows that only about 7% of high school student-athletes make the leap to NCAA competition. So, recruiters are only looking for the top players in every aspect of their sport.
If you’re a college-bound student-athlete, you’ve got a long and bumpy road ahead of you. Hopefully, NCAA recruiting facts here remove at least a few of those bumps and help you achieve your goals.
But knowledge is only half the battle; the rest is up to you. So get out there and show the world what you’ve got.