I was asked this question last week about whether or not scholarships are negotiable so I thought it was a good topic to address to those who may be curious about this question. I have faced it numerous times working with families as they make their final decision and it can certainly be a sensitive subject on both sides of the equation. Many instances of dishonesty have occurred, but if handled correctly, it can be a beneficial experience for both the family and the coach.
The ultimate answer to the question is that “yes” athletic scholarships can be negotiable if a full ride is not offered, however, as with many parts of the recruiting process, it does depend on the situation (my favorite two words, “it depends”). There are some cases where the amount of money being offered is truly the maximum amount that a coach has available for a student-athlete. All of their scholarships may be tied up in current players and committed recruits. If this is the case, then you can ask what the possibility is that your scholarship could increase after your freshman year and if that would be based on performance or guaranteed.
Keep in mind that not all programs are fully funded with the allowed scholarships. For DI women’s golf programs they are allowed a max of 6, for DII programs a max of 5.4, for NAIA a max of 5, for JuCo a max of 8 and DIII is academic money only. These are the maximum “allowed” scholarships but not all institutions fully fund all of their athletic programs. A DI coach may only be working with 1 or 2 scholarships among all players on the team. And in other cases, a program may be fully funded but the coach only gives out 6 full rides instead of dividing them up among 6+ players. There are many different ways that scholarships are offered and divided up. During your visit, you can ask these general questions to get an idea of how the coach handles their scholarships, just don’t get too far ahead of yourself and assume you are going to be a scholarship player.
One of the main reasons I encourage players to contact a lot of coaches, take a lot of visits and keep their options open is that it helps to provide some leverage when they are given offers. I highly discourage any player from wasting a coach’s time if they genuinely aren’t interested in the program, but when you do have several offers at schools you like then it gives you more leverage to possibly negotiate a better scholarship offer to your top choice.
If you do have multiple offers and you want to negotiate a better offer at your top choice just remember to do this honestly. Coaches talk to each other!! Let me repeat, coaches talk to each other!! I have heard numerous stories of a family claiming an untrue offer amount at one school in order to get a better offer at another, not realizing those two coaches were in communication with each other. So just be honest when approaching this situation.
If you don’t have any other offers then your negotiating powers are a tad limited but you can still ask the coach what else may be available, even suggesting options for academic or need-based aid. If the money factor really is an issue and you aren’t just trying to get a better offer then be genuine and hopefully the coach will do what they can to make it work.
If a coach feels that you are simply trying to negotiate a better “deal” for the sake of the appearance of the offer then you may lead them to rescind their offer. Most coaches understand the financial situation of a family and the excitement of earning scholarship money, but at the end of the day, they want you to make it about the right fit and not about where you are getting the best scholarship deal.