Recruiting is a never-ending process for the players and families that hope to play college softball. The harsh reality is that there are many more players than there are spots for on college rosters. Add in the fact that many players are looking at only a portion of the programs across the college landscape because they are not being a very smart shopper.
Division I, to may players and families, is the Holy Grail of destinations as they look at places to play college softball. Now there are some reasons why this is a good place to start looking but there is no reason to limit your search to these schools.
Yes, Division I schools play in the biggest conferences. They play on ESPN more often. They often have big time football and atmosphere to draw you in. And at a maximum of 12 scholarships they do have more scholarships per program (for fully funded programs) than other four year options. However, that means about 300 Division 1 programs have about 1,500 to 1,700 spots available each recruiting class and the vast majority of those scholarships are partial awards.
Division II schools do play real softball! There are many top D2 programs that are much stronger than a lot of D1 programs on the field of play. You can see the D2 teams compete against D1 teams during the fall exhibition season and it isn’t uncommon for the D2 teams to win.
Yes, Division 2 schools do not play in famous conferences. They do not have huge stadiums or big-time football programs. They rarely play on ESPN. But the 300ish D2 schools do offer about 1,700 scholarships per year which is in the exact same neighborhood as D1 programs offer. Again, most of these offers are partial awards but if a player is looking at both D1 and D2 programs they have doubled their opportunity to get recruited!
Division III schools are often undervalued in the recruiting world because they can’t offer athletic scholarships. Many of the D3 schools are highly academic and encourage players to pursue very demanding academic careers. A softball player who gets recruited by a DIII school will not get a “scholarship” but can often gain admission to a very selective school that might otherwise be outside their scope. They may also get a substantial financial aid package or performance awards to help offset the cost of school.
Division III schools do not play in big stadiums or have big time football. They do have great academics, which should be pretty important, and play very good softball. Just like the D1 versus D2 discussion, many of the top D3 programs can play with almost anyone. Most players who go watch D3 softball are blown away by the level of play. There are over 400 D3 schools that play softball and that means there are usually ab out 2,500 spots available in D3 every year!
NAIA has become a forgotten part of the discussion for many players and their families. Many of the schools playing in NAIA are smaller schools, sometimes affiliated with different religions, and at the highest level play really good softball. NAIA schools are limited to a 10 scholarship maximum but with almost 200 schools they offer about 1,000 spots per year.
Junior College is a sleeping giant when it comes to opportunities for kids to play college softball. Yes, it is a two-year program so a player who wants to play all 4 years will have to find another school after they complete their career but remember that it is a great opportunity to play ball, start on your collegiate athletic and academic careers, and potentially earn some scholarship help.
Many JUCO programs have many more scholarships to offer than any of their four year counterparts. There are currently over 525 JUCO softball programs which means that about 4,000 players a year could find a home on a JUCO roster. Oh, and by the way, They often play great softball. There are a couple of JUCO powerhouse programs that routinely play with and beat the very best D1 programs.
Players and parents, you can limit your search to Division I programs and fight for one of about 1,700 spots a year or you can open up your search to include all the “lower” level options where there are a total of over 8,400 potential places for a player to land. Be a smart shopper!