As we move from women’s scholarships to men’s, it bears repeating that these are two completely different worlds. A large number of young women can transition directly from high school cross country/track and field into the college arena with an athletic scholarship in hand. Very few young men get that opportunity.
Collegiate track and field programs invite a lot of walk-ons. At many programs, being an invited walk-on is really rather prestigious. If you were good enough in high school to be an invited walk-on at a Wisconsin, a Colorado, or an Oregon, you were a very good high school athlete. And, those invited walk-ons who produce often are elevated in subsequent years to the status of scholarship athlete.
College track and field programs are very much about recruiting top-tier male athletes; there simply isn’t much money in the pot to do it with. Adding to the scarcity of scholarships is the fact that many of the available track and field scholarships are awarded to international athletes (more so than with women, though the phenomenon is certainly not rare with women).
Top-tier programs recruit top-tier athletes. While it’s fair to say that many top-tier state schools look within their own borders for recruits, their eyes are constantly roaming beyond the borders of their own states as well. It’s not the same for all state schools, but a look at the current rosters of some state schools will show you how different it can be.
Take, for example, a look at the men’s rosters of Adams State College and Western State College, two Division II powerhouses within the state of Colorado. You will find that Western State brings in a higher percentage of in-state athletes than Adams State does. While the rosters may not necessarily reflect the actual allocation of scholarships, this example should serve to illustrate the point that it’s not a given that any two given state schools will recruit with equal urgency from inside their own borders.
Schools that aren’t as elite as Adams State and Western State generally tend to recruit more extensively within their own states. Frequently, local athletes will enter these programs with smaller track and field scholarship awards. The combined forces of high out-of-state tuition and the lack of a program that, in and of itself, will draw athletes from afar tend to force these schools to concentrate their scholarship awards on more local athletes.
So, who gets the 12.6 scholarships per team that the NCAA allows men’s programs?
About the simplest possible answer to that question is that those scholarships go to young men who are deemed capable of scoring at the school’s conference meet. Sometimes those individuals are incoming freshmen. Sometimes they are juniors and seniors who’ve demonstrated a year or two of success within the program.
I’ll let Jay comment further on this topic, but it’s my observation that a higher percentage of men’s scholarships than women’s are awarded to athletes already in the program who entered the program as walk-ons. They are awarded to those who have made substantial contributions as freshmen and sophomores.
So, if you’re a high school senior male looking for some sort of barometer of how scholarship-worthy you are, go to the cross country/track and field web sites for the schools you are interested in attending. Find the conference meet results and ask yourself, “What is the likelihood that a college coach would look at me and say that I could score points in the conference meet one or two or, maybe, three years down the road?”
To be sure, very few current high school athletes have posted the kind of marks in high school that would place in a college conference meet, especially a Division I conference meet. There is a lot of athletic maturity that takes place between age 17 and age 20. College coaches, however, are fully aware of that maturity factor and are generally pretty sharp at identifying those who can make the cut.
It is entirely possible that the top performer in the state in a particular year and event won’t get a Division I scholarship offer. That would rarely, if ever, be true of athletes from Texas and California, but it could easily be true of athletes from any of several smaller states.
Athletes like Mason Finley (a Divison I All-American in the shot put and discus at Kansas as a true freshman in 2010) are no-brainers. Hand the young man the biggest scholarship you can offer. Most top-tier high school athletes, however, don’t begin the scratch the surface of the kind of potential that Mason Finley demonstrated in high school.
Another important difference between men’s and women’s scholarships is that men are more likely than women to choose a college or university based on its recent history in cross country or track and field. That tends to drive up the standards necessary for getting a scholarship at the top cross country/track and field programs. More so than women, men tend to disdain being part of a program that is moribund in the lower echelons of their conference.
That’s not to say that available scholarships at lower-tier programs don’t get awarded. It simply says that the top-tier programs definitely get the first pick of the athletes. And so the top schools tend to stay on top. There are very few overnight reversals in the fortunes of men’s cross country or track and field programs.