I remember being in my high school’s library when I signed my cross-country scholarship. My parents, my future college coach, a reporter, the school athletic director, and the principal were all present for the signing and photo opportunity. I am from a small town in the Midwest, so it was a big deal for someone to get a scholarship like that. My parents were so proud, and I was happy. Everything was fine, but then, the contract was placed before me.
I guess I was expected to simply pick up the pen and sign. I did not do that because I was staring at several pages of dense legal print. I glanced around, smiled, and started reading. People shuffled their feet, made small talk, and did about anything possible to kill the time while I tried to wrap my mind around what was being said in the contract.
It all boils down to this: an athletic scholarship is good for one year at best, and the coach can choose to terminate it for any reason. I have heard rumors of very elite athletes receiving four year scholarships up front, but I do not know the veracity of these claims. Every athlete I have ever spoken to had a one-year contract. If the coach chooses to renew your scholarship, he or she will let you know toward the end of the year.
Understanding the contract is of primary importance, but understanding what years of collegiate athletic training mean is equally important. College is not like high school. I cannot stress this enough: college is not like high school. Your teammates, for better or worse, will become your family. They can annoy you like only an irritating family member can, but they can also be a source of support that is only rivaled by the most tightly knit nuclear families. Furthermore, the training involved in collegiate sports is far more intense than in high school. People think they understand this, but they do not. Nine elite runners were recruited my freshmen year; three years later, two are still here, including me. Finally, if you are fortunate enough to have your scholarship renewed every year, you have to consider the length of time you will be playing your sport. Do you really want to wake up at 6:00 a.m. and go to practice every day for the next four years? Do you really want to take long bus rides to stay in cheap motels to play your sport? I am not trying to be discouraging; I am trying to present things as they really are.
Competing at the collegiate level can be one of the most rewarding experience of your life. You will meet amazing people, see new things, and have more fun than you can imagine. However, you may end up with an injury that puts you on the sideline and sends you home with your bags packed. Taking an athletic scholarship is a gamble. You gamble in regard to keeping your body healthy to keep your scholarship. You gamble in regard to being able to cope with the limited amount of time you will have to do other things (hopefully like studying), and you gamble in regard to your maintaining a passion for the sport you play.