A lot of smoke billows and swirls around the great and powerful Wizard of Athletic Scholarships. Yet behind the smoke screen, behind the bells and whistles is an ordinary little piece of paper---and it's one that at least 45% of college softball players will never even see. Nonetheless, all families should understand the writing on that piece of paper and what it means for their athlete.
If your student is on an athletic scholarship at an NCAA school, certain things will be true. Scholarships almost always have to be renewed each year. Technically, Division I coaches are allowed to offer four-year or five-year guaranteed athletic scholarships. Where softball is concerned, however, most scholarships will be reviewed and renewed annually. In general, coaches will honor their commitment---e.g., they will renew a player's scholarship each year as long as she's doing what they ask her to do---but there is always the potential for it to be taken away.
Colleges occasionally drop a sports program, and if a player's school decides to drop softball when she's a sophomore, her family may have to pick up the tab from then on. (Some schools that drop programs will honor scholarships or will try to find alternate funding, but others will just cut the kids loose.)
A school might be forced to cut back scholarships due to a revenue shortage, or the Athletic Department could decide to take scholarships from better-funded sports to add scholarships to a sport that doesn't have any. An athlete might get caught in this crunch; and even if she doesn't have her scholarship completely taken away, it could be reduced.
There are also reasons why a coach might elect to revoke a scholarship. If an athlete consistently fails to meet the minimum academic requirements for eligibility, she may flunk out and lose her scholarship. Or if she has substance-abuse problems---e.g., drugs or alcohol---she runs the risk of having her scholarship taken away. Some coaches will cut a scholarship athlete if, in their opinion, she is a legitimate behavior problem---e.g., disrupts the team, doesn't follow rules, etc.
While it is rare that this happens, it is within a coach's rights to cut you or take money away at the end of the year because he or she has recruited a player to replace you. Most coaches try their best to recruit players honestly and fairly, and most coaches do everything they can to honor their commitments to their athletes. But if a coach recruits you expecting a certain level of performance and doesn't feel you live up to his expectations, you may lose your scholarship or have it reduced.
The NCAA requires schools to renew or cancel scholarships by July 1. Athletes must be notified and sent the appropriate paperwork. Most coaches have conferences with their athletes at the end of the season, and if the scholarship is not going to be renewed for some reason, the coach should let you know at that time.
When you are being recruited, you and your parents need to listen carefully to what a coach is telling you, and you should read the fine print carefully. Ask detailed questions about your scholarship---e.g., under what conditions it could be taken away; what happens if you're injured and can't play; and so on.
You also need to understand the difference between a scholarship offer and a financial aid package. Parents frequently tell other parents their player got a "full ride" when actually she’s getting very little softball money. Her aid package might cover nearly all of her expenses, but it cannot be call a full ride softball scholarship. In a situation like this, the softball coach might be giving the athlete, say $2000 in softball-based aid, while all the rest comes from grants, academic scholarships, loans, work-study, and so on.
When this player gets her National Letter of Intent to sign, it will reflect only the softball money---in this case $2000. The balance of her school costs---let's say $19000---would be reflected on the financial aid offer which she wouldn't receive until the spring of her senior year. One big advantage of receiving an aid package instead of or in addition to a scholarship is that if you stop playing ball, are cut from the team, or lose your softball scholarship due to circumstances beyond your control, you should still be able keep the non-athletic funding and stay in school.
When you are in the midst of recruiting, pay close attention to details. Make sure when you choose a school, it's because it's the right one for you and can meet your collegiate needs. Don't be blinded by dollar signs. And if you do accept a scholarship, be sure you know all the conditions attached and the circumstances that might cause these conditions to change. Forewarned is forearmed as the old saying goes!