Walk-on (sports)

The term walk-on is used in sports, particularly American college athletics, to describe an athlete who becomes part of a team without being actively recruited beforehand or awarded an athletic scholarship. This results in the differentiation between "walk-on" players and "scholarship" players.

Walk-ons have a particularly developed history in college football. Often these athletes are relegated to the scout team, and may not even be placed on the official depth chart or traveling team. However, there are occasions, sometimes well publicized, where a walk-on will become a noted member of his or her team in one of several ways.

The reasons athletes choose to pursue the path of a walk-on are numerous. Here are several more common reasons:

Many schools that do not provide athletic scholarships actively recruit student athletes, and these students can get admitted to a school with academic records that are below average for that school. The Ivy League, for example, does not permit athletic scholarships, but each school has a limited number of athletes it can recruit for each sport. Additionally, all prospective athletes are required to meet a minimum score on what the league calls the Academic Index (AI), a metric based largely on high school grade-point averages and SAT or ACT scores. The goal of the AI is to ensure that students who receive athletic admissions slots fall within one standard deviation of the credentials of the student body as a whole.[4]

Division III athletes cannot receive athletic scholarships, but frequently get an easier ride through admissions. Even though these students do not receive athletic scholarships and are not required to play to remain in school, they are not walk-ons, as they were actively recruited. Instead of being awarded an athletic scholarship, they were granted an athletic admissions slot to a school to which they ordinarily would not have been likely to have gained admission.


  1. Brown, C.L. (June 7, 2011). "Scholarship shift for Louisville basketball makes 3 returners walkons". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  2. Goodman, Jeff (July 2, 2013). "Grant Gibbs granted sixth year". ESPN.com. Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  3. O'Neil, Dana (December 11, 2014). "Meet Matt Stainbrook, Uber driver". ESPN.com. Retrieved March 27, 2015.
  4. Pennington, Bill (December 24, 2011). "Before Recruiting in Ivy League, Applying Some Math". The New York Times. Retrieved September 12, 2015.
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