To Be or Not to Be – Recruited or Non-recruited?

Can it actually be better to be a non-recruited walk-on to an NCAA Division I baseball, basketball, or football team compared to a player who’s been actively recruited to join that team?

It can be when that athlete desires to transfer from one Division I program to another! 

As many of you know, in Division I baseball, basketball, and football, a transfer directly from one program to another is required to “sit out” (can practice but not play) a year at the second school before he can be eligible for competition.

There is an exception, however, for a player who was not on scholarship and was not recruited by the first school.  A player in that situation MAY transfer from one Division I program to another and be immediately eligible to play upon transfer (as long as they meet appropriate academic requirements).  This exception also applies for men’s ice hockey.

The requirement of this exception that trips up most players is how the term “recruited” is defined by the NCAA.  A “preferred walk-on” might not be “recruited” in NCAA terms.

A prospect is “recruited” by a particular school:

  • If they’ve been contacted off-campus by one of the coaching staff members,
  • If they’ve made an official visit to campus,
  • If they’ve signed a National Letter of Intent or athletic scholarship agreement, or
  • If the coaches have contacted the prospect by phone more than one time to recruit them to the program.

Another possible “advantage” to being a non-recruited walk-on can be found in situations in which a prospect receives a scholarship from, for example, their high school booster club or a local civic club, such as Kiwanis or Rotary.

If their athletic achievements are the primary reason that a prospect wins such a scholarship, a non-recruited walk-on can accept the scholarship with no consequences.

A recruited walk-on, however, would be considered a “counter” and the value of their outside scholarship may count against the baseball team’s limit of 11.7 scholarships.  This could result in the prospect being required to decline the scholarship so that its value does not cause the baseball team to exceed their scholarship limit.

Keep in mind that regardless of whether an athlete was recruited or not recruited:

  • If they desire to transfer from a Division I program to a Division I or II program, the athlete will still have to request permission from the first school to talk with other institutions about a transfer.
  • That request should be made in writing to the compliance office (after talking with the coach), especially in cases where you believe the coach may want to withhold or restrict that permission for contacting other schools.  The schools have deadlines within which they must provide an athlete with an answer to their request to contact other schools (Division I – 7 days, Division II – 14 days).

About Rick Allen

25+ years NCAA Rules Expertise, including Director of Compliance at 2 major DI schools

Former President of National Association for Athletic Compliance (NAAC)

Conducts compliance reviews and audits at NCAA Schools throughout the U.S.

Consulted with NAIA schools transitioning to NCAA membership status

Dad of a DI & DII student-athlete

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11 Responses to To Be or Not to Be – Recruited or Non-recruited?

  • Conner

    Hi! I am Conner’s mother. We have been lookng at schools and talking to scouts and I feel they are just out to get money to post Conner’s info foe us. He wants badly to play football and basketball on a college level and has a good GPA. What are your feelings on NCSA, Bescouted and these type of organizations? Do they really get results for these young people?
    Thank you
    Becky Hudgins

    • Hi Becky,

      I’m not a big fan of scouting services, especially those that charge hundreds or even thousands of dollars with promises of them connecting your son with a school and a scholarship. However, you do need to work at “marketing” your son, getting his info out to coaches through e-mails and video, and taking him to showcase camps and events to get him in front of college coaches.

      If you choose to use a scouting service to help you accomplish that, that is your decision, but I believe you can do most of that on your own if you have the time and determination to do so.


  • Jim

    Rick, my son is a DIII freshman football player. How can he see if a DI or DII team would be interested in him playing for them? I would assume they can’t contact him but is there a way for him to gauge their interest? Does he need to get his current coaches permission? Jim

    • Jim,

      You are correct. Other schools can’t contact your son. He’ll need to request “permission to contact” coaches at Div. I or II schools.


  • paula

    hi, my son would like to play d1 d2 football. is it to late to think about it this year since the signing of lfi is over?

    • Paula,

      No, it’s not too late. It might be late for a scholarship offer, but it’s not too late for an opportunity as a walk-on. He should talk to his HS coaches about helping him find a walk-on spot, or he should contact area JUCOs about walk-on opportunities or tryouts.


  • judy

    My son received an NLI from one school, but really wants to attend a different school that has a better academic program for what he wants to study but was not offered an NLI or athletic scholarship from them. He has met with the coach and the she told him that she wants him on the team and will be a recruited walk on. Should he tell the coach of the school he really wants to attend about the NLI he was offered from the other school?

    • Judy,

      He should definitely tell School B about the NLI and scholarship offer from School A. That is his bargaining chip. School B might come through with a scholarship if she knows that he has another offer.


      • judy

        That’s what I was thinking as well but wanted to ask your opinion. Thank you.

      • judy

        Any suggestions/ideas on how to present it in an email?

        • Judy,

          I suggest saying something along the lines of “I’m very interested in your program and your school, but another school has offered me an athletic scholarship, which I must seriously consider. Are you able to offer a partial scholarship for me to consider as I evaluate my options?”


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