Student-Athlete Scholarships During COVID-19 (Current and Future)

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 9/03/20

The novel coronavirus is affecting colleges across the country. College scholarships have no less been affected. From how students apply for financial aid to how funds are awarded to student-athletes, COVID-19 has caused postsecondary institutions to review their processes and requirements. 

That has also meant considering financial aspects and fairness to college athletes, primarily those whose sports seasons were cut short or canceled. 

Look at how student-athlete scholarships have been affected by COVID-19 and how you can secure more dollars toward your higher education. 

How Has COVID-19 Affected Student-Athlete Scholarships? 

Notably, many student-athletes have been unable to play their respective sports or train with others. Many schools and coaches have encouraged students to continue training at home or outdoors while following proper social distancing protocol. Other teams have conducted live virtual training and have looked into meeting and practice alternatives like Zoom or using VR technology

However, high school senior athletes may have a more difficult time picking up college scholarships. In normal times, coaches build their team by watching players and reading stats. They hand-pick their participants based on in-action talent. But without a sports season to prove their athletic ability, earning and awarding new athletes funds has proven difficult. 

Because of this, many coaches say they expect a higher number of walk-on athletes to whom scholarships can be awarded later. However, in most cases, there is much unknown. Student-athletes are waiting to take visits and be signed to schools, while coaches look toward more innovative approaches to building their teams.

Who Awards Student-Athlete Scholarships?

With Division I and II schools, all public athletic scholarship regulations are put forth by the National College Athletic Association, or NCAA. The NCAA voted to help current athletes and add clarity to the growing pandemic in light of federal restrictions and the shortening/canceling of many spring sports seasons.

Student-Athletes Receive Extra Scholarship Eligibility 

To help account for seasons shortened by COVID-19, the NCAA extended student-athletes’ season an extra year for spring sports. Therefore, students can still play for four full seasons of their respective sport before maxing out their eligibility status. 

Financial aid updates were also made, allowing teams to have a larger roster of players within a season. This is to account for incoming student-athletes who are entering college while still obtaining previous awardees who would have otherwise expired their eligibility. Previous awardees do not have to earn the same level of scholarship as their previous school year. 

Schools that will increase or reduce a student-athlete’s scholarship amount must notify the awardee by July 1, 2020. 

Student-athletes can choose if they wish to re-enroll and use their additional season. 

The same protocol has been put forth by the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), allowing student-athletes to play two spring seasons of their respective sport. 

In addition, schools will be able to use the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund (SAF), which accounts for nonschool expenses, like utilities or food. 

Important changes to student-athlete scholarships:

  • Students playing spring sports will receive an additional year of eligibility within NCAA or NJCAA.
  • Sports that have limited roster space are granted extra slots.
  • A one-time, per-athlete grant was given to eligible NCAA schools within Divisions I and II.
  • Those grant funds require NCAA approval on spend, and schools must use the money toward specific expenses.

More Funds Available for Student-Athletes Via SAF

The NCAA announced an additional $200 million was added to its Division I Student Assistance Fund (SAF) account to pay for additional student-athletes’ eligibility. This total is on top of their normal budget of $560 million for Division I student-athletes. 

To gain access to the funds, each school must submit a budget and spend plan that will then be approved (or rejected) by the NCAA’s national office within three months of receiving the funds. 

The additional student-athlete funding is awarded based on the number of full athletic scholarships, at $3,291 apiece. 

Schools can spend the additional SAF funds on 24 approved services, including:

  • Academic support
  • Life skills and career success
  • Diversity and inclusion programs
  • Health and well-being

How Will This Affect College Athletes in Future Seasons?

To date, the eligibility extension has only been granted to students who were affected in the 2020 spring sports season. Incoming athletes will not be given this same extension. Changes will be made, if necessary, in light of how college sports continue in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The extra funds awarded to Division I athletes are considered a one-time deposit by the NCAA. Additional funds will not be available in upcoming years or future sports seasons.  

Time will tell if future adjustments will be made toward available sports scholarships. Most notably, these will be determined by the outcome of fall sports for the 2020 season. The NCAA has yet to release a plan for fall sports schedules. 

This is also true for the recruiting process. It’s possible that new tactics learned through the COVID-19 ordeal will affect the way that future recruiting processes occur. 

Professional leagues have announced a plan to test players for coronavirus daily if and when the regular season has returned, but this protocol has yet to make it to the college level. 

The onset of COVID-19 has also drawn attention to the college scholarship program, spurring a lawsuit in San Francisco. A federal appeals court ruled that the NCAA cannot limit scholarship funds for Division I football and Division I and II basketball for men and women. 

The new ruling would allow expenses such as computers, science or art supplies, and musical instruments to be funded by scholarship funds. The board voted that college-related expenses be expanded, while attempts to increase the amount of funds awarded for living expenses were denied. 

Applying for Athletic Scholarships During COVID-19

The U.S. passed its biggest relief package to date in March of 2020, and while federal funding did not directly affect athletic scholarships, additional funds were awarded at an association level. Colleges with athletic programs could receive more money to help students with living expenses, coping devices, and health-related programs. 

Students looking to apply to athletic scholarships during COVID-19 can still do so. The logistical side — filling out paperwork — largely has remained unchanged (other than remaining strictly online). However, the approval process and understanding of how funds are awarded and when has changed with the pandemic. 

Many schools are encouraging students to stay in touch through virtual communication, especially if they’ve already been in contact with a coach. 

However, due to ongoing uncertainty as to when seasons will start back up, not all scholarships are being awarded. While early recruits who were already signed will still receive their awards, scholarships that were not yet assigned are being tabled until a more definitive plan is in place. 

This varies from school to school, and most schools have not yet announced detailed plans for awarding athletic funds. However, most schools have stated that all scholarships will be assigned. 

The Impact of College Athlete Scholarships

Annually, NCAA schools award nearly $3 billion in athletic-based scholarships for Division I and Division II colleges. More than 150,000 incoming students are awarded these funds each school year. This accounts for 2% of high school graduates. 

College athlete scholarships allow thousands of students to receive higher education each year, and for a small percentage, it serves as a stepping-stone to professional sports. Athletic school funding helps ease the burden of tuition fees, academic materials, and living expenses.

Learn more about your athletic scholarship opportunities with the help of We know that COVID-19 has caused concern, especially regarding college finances, and we’re here to help ease that burden. 

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