Walk-On / Recruited Walk-On / Preferred Walk-On:
Walk-on can be a really tricky term to understand. Essentially what it means is that the athlete will not receive athletic scholarship money from the school. For example a high level NCAA D1 Men's Basketball program might have 13 athletes on a full athletic scholarship and then have two athletes who will be walk-ons and receive no athletic aid. However, this term can get very cloudy at lower levels of play where there is little or no athletic scholarship money available, and that money is broken down randomly among the athletes on the team. One athlete may receive a higher academic scholarship than what they would get athletically so they might not receive any money for athletics and technically be a walk-on even though they might be the star of the team. Another athlete might be a reserve player on the Junior Varsity team but may be receiving a couple hundred dollars in athletic money to sweeten the admission deal so they technically would not be a walk-on. At the NCAA D3 level or in sports or colleges in the NCAA D1, D2, or NAIA that do not give athletic scholarships technically all the athletes are walk-ons. A misconception of the term is to confuse walk-on with a recruited or non-recruited athlete. Coaches have invented terms like 'recruited walk-on' or 'preferred walk-on' to describe how they intend to use their non-athletic scholarship athletes or even to entice them to come to their school. The media and public often exagerrate stories of walk-ons moving up to receive athletic scholarship money. Sure this happens, but typically it is an athlete who was highly recruited from the beginning and fell in a year when scholarship money was already spoken for. Most walk-ons will never play in a game or even make the team! From the coaches point a view, getting an athlete to walk-on is a bonus for them. If the athlete is better than they thought they can always keep them on the team or give them more athletic scholarship money to keep them the following year. If they don't work out there will always be another crop of walk-ons to take their place. Before accepting a walk-on opportunity be sure to fully understand what to expect. Tread lightly!
Red-Shirt / Grey-Shirt:
Red-shirt can be a really tricky term to understand. Essentially what it means is that the athlete will practice with the team and be a part of the program but not participate in any of the games thus saving a year of athletic eligibility. An athlete has four years to play college sports, so assuming an athlete was going to go to college for five years, they could red-shirt their freshman season and particpate in the games in season 2-5. In theory the athlete would be better off with a year to develop athleticall and academically. This makes perfect sense for an athlete on full-scholarship, and in those cases is often used for very high level athletes. If a college coach is going to use a full scholarship on an athlete that can't even play in their games then they must really believe in their future! However, this can get very cloudy at lower levels of play where there is little or no athletic scholarship money. In many cases at these levels coaches will use the term red-shirt (or make up terms like grey-shirt) to mean something totally different. This might mean they anticipate filling all of their spots with returning or other recruited athletes and the left over athletes are all red-shirts who wont dress for games but will still be a part of the practice team. They might sell the athlete on the ideas of coming to their school and spending a year getting stronger and ready to contribute as a Sophomore. Of course, when paying your own way (or even when on academic or need-based aid and no or little athletic scholarship money) you basically are nothing but a bonus to a coach. If you end up getting better then they get a good athlete the next year. If you don't they can just cut you loose after that red-shirt year or make you into a manager. Many schools use red-shirting somewhere in between these two examples, so you need to find out exactly what to expect when being asked to red-shirt at that specific school.
Verbal Offer / Verbal Commitment:
A verbal commitment is used to describe a college-bound STUDENTathlete's commitment to a school before he or she is able to sign a National Letter of Intent. A college can make a verbal offer and a college-bound STUDENTathlete can announce a verbal commitment at any time. While verbal offers and commitments have become popular, they are NOT binding on either the STUDENTathlete or the school. It is not uncommon for coaches to verbally offer more athletes than scholarship spots they have available, just as an airline might 'over-book' a flight assuming not everyone will show up. It is also just as common for athletes to back out of verbal offers they make when a better offer comes along. Tread lightly here!
Official Visit / Unofficial Visit:
The biggest difference between the two is that during an official visit the college can pay for transportation to and from the college, room and meals while visiting. and reasonable entertainment expenses. A recruit may take a maximum of five official visits to five different NCAA D1 or D2 schools. These visits will occur only during their Senior Year and only after they have been registered with the NCAA Eligibility Center. An unofficial visit includes any visit that is not an official visit. An athlete can visit any school any number of times unofficially. However, there may be times (Dead Periods) where the college coach may not be able to speak with the athlete while on campus. Unofficial visits are scheduled by coaches and some levels of college can even pay for your meals, lodging, and entertainment on campus during an unofficial visit. In fact, college coaches often make verbal or written scholarship offers while you are on an unofficial visit. One big misconception is that an official visit means the coach invited you and an unofficial visit means you showed up announced or booked the visit through the admission office. This is not true. If you want to play a sport in college, you should NEVER book a visit without going through the college coach first. Most athletes will never take an official visit, and most colleges do not even offer official visits.
National Letter of Intent (NLI):
A National Letter of Intent is the document a STUDENTathlete signs when he or she agrees to attend the designated NCAA D1 or D2 College or University for one academic year. The NAIA also has a separate Letter of Intent program. There are instances where an athletes or school can get out of the agreement, but in most cases it is a binding legal agreement both ways. The NLI will outline the amount of athletic aid, but sometimes will not include potential academic or need based aid. NCAA D3 schools do not participate in the NLI program. Additionally, many athletes who play at the NCAA D1 and D2 levels will never sign an NLI. All athletic scholarships are one year contracts renewable by the coach of the program.
Contact Period / Evaluation Period / Dead Period:
College coaches in different sports and at different levels of the NCAA have rules limiting when and how they can have contact with recruitable athletes. These rules are lenghty, difficult to understand, difficult to enforce, vary by sport and the age of the athlete, and change almost every year. The good news is that you really don't have to worry about them at all. These are rules for the coaches to follow and for the schools to worry about. There really is nothing you can do to break these rules. You can always call a coach, write a coach, and even talk to them in person. This type of contact is encouraged by the coaches and your reaching out to them is completely legal according to the NCAA. It is up to the coach to tell you when, how, or if they can communicate back to you. NCAA rules often scare athletes and prevent them from being pro-active in the recruiting process thinking that they will be deemed ineligible if they contact a coach. Of course, you can't take bags of cash from a college coach, but you should be pro-active in contacting them.