The 'D1 or Bust' Mentality

Updated: Jun 17, 2019

If you ask today’s high school athlete where s/he wants to go to college, a Who’s Who of major Division I universities might just be among their list of favorites.

And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Let’s face it, we are inundated with “big time” colleges, so it’s only logical that ourchildren would be enamored with the country’s elite, household-name schools.

But if we’re talking about being awarded the opportunity to play sports for one of these schools, then the conversation shifts a bit.

See, if my son has the academic credentials to attend a school like Notre Dame, for example, then he will apply and we will await the decision. And no matter how bad he wants the decision to be a favorable one, he still must be awarded the opportunity to attend. But at least we can measure ahead of time whether the goal is a realistic one. GPA and SAT/ACT scores provide us a fairly clear measuring stick of an applicant’s chances of gaining admission into a school.

With athletics – and specifically when it comes to the recruitment process – it’s not as measurable. Parents might hope their child is recruited by elite schools, however, do they really understand how elite an athlete must be – in the eyes of the decision-makers – to be awarded a Division I roster spot?

For many aspiring young men and women – from a college athletics standpoint – their list of “dream schools” is simply not a realistic list.

In fact, in many cases a student-athlete’s preliminary college list is completely disconnected from their true capabilities. Often times, this is a product of what they see on tv, in the media, and on their phones. Other times, mom and dad are planting the seeds.

As a parent, I aspire to be like most of you. I’m going to support my children 100%. I’m going to encourage them to dream big. I’m going to be at every game, every band concert, every play and every spelling bee. They’re going to know I care and that I’m their biggest fan.

But I’m also going to teach them about creating goals that are S.M.A.R.T. [Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Realistic. Time-Sensitive.]

And the fact is, playing Division I sports simply won’t be an option for MOST kids, no matter how gifted we believe our children to be.

How do we know this? Let’s start with the probability of playing at the Division I level. According to the NCAA, here are my child’s chances of going from high school athlete to Division I player:

Baseball: 2.1% Men’s Basketball: 1.0% Football: 2.5% Men’s Soccer: 1.4% Women’s Basketball: 1.1% Women’s Soccer: 2.4% Volleyball: 1.2% Softball: 1.6%

And this is only a partial list. But you get the picture. Translation: if your child is one of the top players in your entire state, then s/he has a chance to be courted by Division I programs. If not, then Division I is not likely an attainable goal.

Look, everyone dreams about the “big time,” and you should aim high until it’s clear the opportunity is out of reach. But when less than 2% of America’s varsity athletes will put on a Division I uniform next year, this is a loud wakeup call!

It’s time for us as parents to focus on what’s really best for our children; not on what sounds or looks the best to others.

Parents, here’s my message: There’s a strong chance your child is not a Division I prospect. Embrace it. Accept the possibility that the elite programs will ultimately pass on your child. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a fantastic college home out there.

I’m not the only person saying this either. Listen to what these Division I college coaches have to say…

“Parents must try to keep their expectations realistic for their children. Very few high school players have the physical tools and skill set to play at the highest level. However, there is a place for every high school player to fit in on the college level if they have the grades, standardized test scores and passion for the game.” ~Pete Lembo, University of Maryland

“High school players and their parents can get ‘caught up’ in lunch time and cocktail party talk of ‘where are you going’ rather than finding the best fit for the athlete.  (Athletes need to) choose a place that really wants you, and where you can become an All-Conference and All-American player. You need to find a fit, not a place that looks and sounds good when telling people where you’re going.” ~Dan O’Brien, Santa Clara University

“When making your college list, prioritize the top 5-6 things that are truly important to you and your family when coming out of a school. Not on the front end, but try to forecast what school will most likely benefit your future versus simply evaluating the short-term reasons to attend.” ~Brian Green, New Mexico State University

Here are 3 things many kids believe about D1 that simply are NOT true:

I am a failure if I don’t play Division I. Kids, please don’t believe this for a second. It’s an honor to play at the college level – any college level. Fewer than 7 out of 100 high school athletes get to play in college. If the perfect fit school is a Division II, III or NAIA program, then consider yourself in elite company. Because 93% of the athletes your age will never realize this dream.

A Division I scholarship is guaranteed for four years. If you receive a sports scholarship, don’t automatically assume it’s going to be for four years. Athletic scholarships must be renewed each year and that’s at the coach’s discretion. The pressure to maintain athletic scholarships can distract stressed students from what should be their main goal—earning a college degree.

I must specialize in ONE sport in order to secure a Division I scholarship. Nothing could be further from the truth. And any high school or club coach that insists you must play one sport year-round either doesn’t understand the process or cares little about your future – or both.

Ohio State recruits by Urban Meyer

Want proof? Take a look at Ohio State’s Urban Meyer’s recruiting philosophy. Who does he value more – the multi-sport athlete or the “specialist?”

Message: Go have fun, kids. Play as many sports as you want because this is likely the only time in your life you’ll be able to do it. It’s no longer feasible to play more than one sport in college, plus you have your whole life to focus on a single career/profession. For now, have a blast! College coaches will see your passion… and they’ll reward you for it.

For a full and updated NCAA probability chart, visit NCAA Estimated Probability of Competing in College Athletics.

Rex Grayner
Rex Grayner, SAS President

Rex Grayner

As a published author, public speaker and radio/television guest, Rex is widely considered among the nation’s premier authorities on college athletic recruiting.

Before founding Student-Athlete Showcase LLC in 2003, Rex served as a NCAA Division I Compliance Representative and VP of West Coast Operations for a large college recruiting firm. In 2008, Rex was honored with the prestigious “Forty Under 40” award by the Denver Business Journal.


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