How Much Debt Are Student-Athletes Leaving With?

December 5th, 2016 | by Francis Giknis
How Much Debt Are Student-Athletes Leaving With?


There is a constant conversation surrounding whether student-athletes should be paid to play for their universities or if room and board in addition to tuition coverage are enough to justify the time and effort scholarship athletes expend. That dialogue gets ample play in media circles, and this article will not pose an opinion regarding that topic.

Instead, I thought it might be informative to aggregate some statistics and provide some informative links regarding the solvency of student-athletes when they graduate. This idea is partially the result of an article on which explored the debt of various NFL players who graduated from smaller schools and had to take loans to make ends meet.

To start, per the NCAA, “More than 150,000 student-athletes receive $2.4 billion in athletic scholarships each year from NCAA member colleges and universities.” That works out to approximately $16,000 per student athlete, which falls quite short of the College Board’s estimated costs of tuition. Tuition for a public college for the 2015–2016 academic year averaged $23,890 for out-of-staters, $32,410 for private.

Knowing that many student-athletes do have full tuition coverage indicates that, just looking at these initial numbers, many others receive little-to-no scholarship assistance. The most obvious of these are NCAA and NJCAA D-III student-athletes, who receive no athletic scholarships whatsoever. Moreover, there is a substantial difference in the amount of support between sports within the same schools. For example, in 2015, baseball scholarships averaged $13,220, while football (at the FBS level) nearly tripled that at $36,070. An interesting side note, per website, in 2015 women’s ice hockey topped all others in terms of greatest average amount awarded with $41,693.

So, knowing that there are clearly haves and have-nots in the world of athletic scholarships, what are the actual numbers for how the student-athletes makes-out? Well, according to research done by the National College Players Association, the average football or men’s basketball player graduates owing more than $12,000. Don’t forget, also, that FBS football and men’s basketball offer the most in terms of average athletic scholarships among men’s sports. As you can imagine, if the sports providing the most in terms of scholarship money still leave their athletes wanting, then it is pretty bleak for the other programs (and smaller schools in lower classifications) with less money to award.

Fortunately, there are other means of getting student-athletes money to help offset the costs of their schooling. For example, while there are no athletic scholarships for D-III student-athletes, they can still qualify for academic scholarships and financial aid. In fact, D-III schools gave out $3.4 billion in academic and financial aid money in 2015, which undoubtedly assisted some athletes. This is true at all levels of athletic competition.

Paying athletes is a complicated topic that deserves the degree of discussion it is generating. Regardless of side, it is relevant to remember that contrary to much popular thought, the idea that student-athletes, even those “on scholarship,” receive a debt-free trip to college is erroneous. Even the highest-profile student-athletes, on average, wind-up accruing over $3,000 per year in debt, with the costs being much higher for most other athletes who may not receive even partial tuition coverage.


About Francis Giknis
Francis Giknis joins College AD as a contributor after seven years of teaching and coaching throughout the east coast. Prior to writing for College AD, Francis earned an English degree from the College of William and Mary and his masters at Columbia University. Raised in a cable television-free household, he remembers binge-watching ESPN while on vacations away from home, much to the chagrin of his parents.

Leave a Reply

A Briefing Of The Day's College Athletics News
To Your Inbox Tonight.

* indicates required