Everything College Sports

For those interested in all things college sports

Football Scholarships

I know I said that my next post would be about recruiting, but I need to switch gears a bit because I have yet to hear a good answer to one simple college football question.

Why does Division I FBS have 85 football scholarships?

Someone PLEASE explain it to me.

Just for the record, the Division IFCS scholarship limit is 63 and the Division II scholarship limit is 36. Teams are limited to 105 on the roster in FBS and 90 in FCS (NCAA Bylaw 2 and

Here are the NFL rules as I understand them. Rosters are limited to 53. Of the 53, 47 are dressed for any given game, which means six don’t play. Expansion teams are sometimes given exceptions as they get their team going.

I am a huge college football fan, but I have never ever been able to understand why there is a need for 85 scholarships. I can argue that teams need depth to allow for injuries, but players in the NFL get hurt at a greater rate than college players right?  What about opportunities to compete? Well, with 105 players, many do not get to play. What about revenue generation? Would schools make less money (even though most are running in the red currently) with a few less scholarships?

This question is important to me in a time where many college sport programs (men’s track and field, men’s swimming, wrestling) are facing elimination due to the huge cost to run athletic programs (especially football costs). So, I’m hoping someone can clue me in as to why 85 scholarships?

Here is a chart on the average scholarship awarded by sport compiled by the New York Times, but be careful when interpreting it because it combines DI and DII and does not take into account average cost of the schools offering the sport.

December 28, 2008 - Posted by | BCS, Football | ,


  1. Makes no sense to me. 105 people on a roster and 85 scholarships is absurdly excessive. I mean, sure its nice to stockpile 15 wide receivers, 8 of which may never see action besides an occasional special teams play, but realistically- it’s just another way the NCAA is broken. The higher-ups need to reexamine their priorities and the way programs/divisions are run.

    I like your blog though. We’re looking for thoughtful, rational college sports bloggers at http://www.collegefanz.com, the largest college sports site on the net.


    Comment by Mike Gleeson | December 30, 2008 | Reply

  2. I disagree with the number of scholarships being excessive. It is true that NFL active rosters only carry 53 players, but that does account for practice squad players. These people could be though of as essentially making up for the difference between the 53 of an NFL team and 85 a college football team. It is also important to note that colleges can not just sign extra players when people get hurt like professional teams. As to why they chose the number 85 scholarships I can’t really explain that.

    Comment by Mike Rose | January 1, 2009 | Reply

  3. There are only 8 practice squad players for a total of 61 – still way short of 85. Even during preseason teams only carry 80. Someone could look up the total players on a typical NFL team during a season, accounting for mid-season signings, but I’m sure that still doesn’t come anywhere close to 85.

    The need for more than 53 players to account for practice and injuries still doesn’t explain the need to have 85 SCHOLARSHIPS (as opposed to a roster size of 85, or 105. Otherwise, FCS, DII and DIII teams wouldn’t be able to function without 85 scholarships (or high school teams for that matter). Obviously, DI FBS teams COULD function with far fewer scholarships, then fill out a roster with non-scholarship players. But Heather’s question was rhetorical anyway, and I’m sure there won’t be a logical argument for the NEED for 85 scholarships.

    Comment by Aaron Wright | January 1, 2009 | Reply

  4. I was actually kind of hoping there was some sort of rational reason for NEEDING 85 that I had been missing….still hoping someone comes up with it so I can feel better about my college football fandom.

    Actually, another question just came to mind. Why does football need to be a head count sport (i.e. not able to divide by percent amongst more than one player a scholarship)? They could retain financial support of 85 student-athletes without having to give 85 full scholarships. The way it works now is that a school could give less than a full ride to a player, but it still counts as “1” scholarship. In equivalency sports 1 scholarship can be divided between athlete A (20%), athlete B (40%), and athlete C (40%) to equal “1” scholarship of the maximum allowed.

    So, reducing the FBS scholarship limit to 60, but changing it to an equivalency sport could save a significant amount of money on scholarships. Of course, schools still have a carrying cost associated with all the players (i.e. gear, medical, academic support, coaches time) but it might be a step in the right direction that would be easier to swallow for some. Thoughts??

    Comment by Heather Lawrence | January 1, 2009 | Reply

  5. I know my comment will be a little off topic but still somewhat related. I still cannot comprehend as to why when athletic departments go over budget, the obvious excess number of scholarships for football are never touched but other sports are reduced or cut entirely. Yes, the argument can be made that the sports cut do not produce revenue. I would counter that and say that when fans attend football games, they are almost certainly not paying to see the last 20 guys on the roster.

    I am all for giving student-athletes the opportunity to play and more importantly learn, so maybe a combined scholarship system could be implemented. Perhaps one where 55-60 on all full scholarships and done as headcounts and then the rest are counted as equivalents. I am not very familiar with the bylaws so I am not sure if this is even possible, but at some point the NCAA and the universities need to recognize that the current system isn’t working.

    Comment by Alex Vitanye | January 8, 2009 | Reply

  6. Mike–that argument is old, and there would be plenty of players without 85 scholarships–in fact–60-65 equivalency grants would make more sense as it could be spread amongst players. It does not hold water to say colleges cannot go and sign another player when they can go three deep with 60 head count schollys and even deeper with equivs. Plus all college teams I know of have twice as many players as a pro team–plenty for backups and a practice squad. This is an argument by coaches that was used when schollys were cut from unlimited to 105. They simply want to stockpile talent and win games. It has nothing to do with education or opportunity. To save college sports and enable Title IX compliance–college teams should be restricted to 80-85 total players–period and 60 equiv. schollys. What would happen? Parity and a better product (something the BCS fears), more money for other sports and budget line items. It is so obvious it makes me sick.

    Now–let’s move on to why in the world a team would have to stay in a hotel the night before a home game??

    Comment by ridpath696 | January 12, 2009 | Reply

  7. “We don’t NEED 85 full scholarships in football. . . but we WANT them.” This is a direct quote from a former Big Ten Athletics Director during Title IX meetings with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, NCAA staffers, and collegiate representatives present. The general gist is that the powerhouse colleges would rather stockpile and keep as benchwarmers the top tier athletes rather than allowing their competitors to have these folks to compete against them.

    In short, decreasing the number of football scholarship results in increased competitive parity. The colleges lower on the totem pole competitively would have most to gain, whereas those at the top would have most to lose.

    Those colleges lower on the totem pole have no power to affect change such as adopting legislation to decrease football scholarships. In fact, the powerhouses have continued to put the folks lower on the totem pole on the defensive as witnessed by adopting exclusionary legislation (e.g., legislation requiring football stadium expansion — even when not needed — or be kicked out of the division).

    Comment by Dr. Y | January 17, 2009 | Reply

  8. I completely agree with the majority of the comments above. It is beyond obvious that 85 scholarships is excessive. However, I believe the real issue doesn’t arise with teams in BCS conferences but with teams smaller mid-major conferences.

    I believe the excessive number of scholarships allowed for Football entices those smaller schools to use all of the scholarships available. Unfortunately, the mid-major schools don’t have the same kind of funding available as the BCS schools do. The result of the lack of funding is to cut other sports and blame title IX.

    Recently James Madison cut several athletic programs because they want to become a Football powerhouse and need more funding to make it happen. The excessive scholarships allowed by the NCAA encourages cases like James Madison and forces athletes in other sports to suffer.

    When will we decided that giving a top tier Track and Field athlete or Baseball player an opportunity to compete is more important than giving a sixth string wide receiver that will never see the field an opportunity to go to college for free.

    Comment by Garrett Munro | January 21, 2009 | Reply

  9. This is great discussion… I wanted to add a quick fact clarification though: The 105 roster limit only applies to preseason practices. On the 1st day of classes and throughout the season, BCS teams are no longer limited to 105 and may roster as many players as they want. While the NCAA does not limit roster sizes during the season, some conferences do limit the number of players member institutions are allowed to travel with and/or suit up for home games.

    Comment by Jackie Wallgren | February 24, 2009 | Reply

  10. Cut Football a big waste a money.
    Defiant crudity and anti-intellectualism of football booster culture become dominant on campus.


    Comment by Tex | July 28, 2009 | Reply

Leave a Reply to Dr. Y Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: