It’s National Signing Day.

Congratulations for all the athletes that will sign a National Letter of Intent, but what does “signing” really mean?

For players like McEachern’s Jamil Burroughs and Javon Baker, who are expected to sign with Alabama, and teammate Jordon Simmons, who is expected to head to Michigan State, it means a full ride.

Everything for those players will be paid for — tuition, books, room and board. They are truly some of the best of the 2% of high school athletes across the country who will be earning college scholarships. However, they are a few of the even smaller subset who will actually have earned that full ride.

The players who receive full-ride scholarships are the ones who play football, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics and tennis, and they are heading to a Division I program. That is not the case for all the other Division I athletic programs, and that certainly is not the case for athletes who will go to the Division II, Division III and NAIA levels, junior colleges or prep schools.

According to the NCAA, for athletes signing to continue their careers in college the average scholarship is worth $11,000, and that average includes the full-ride athletes.

The other athletes get partial scholarships. NCAA rules state how much money each program can spend on scholarships, and then it is up to the coach in how to divide it.

Usually, baseball programs will have 30-32 players on the roster, but they will have only 13 scholarships to split between them. The same can be said for lacrosse, golf, tennis, wrestling, etc.

Hence, athletes are not provided a whole lot of money.

Cobb County has been blessed in recent years. There are more student-athletes earning scholarships than ever before, but football parents I have talked to — especially those who have kids in middle school — see signing day and seem to think everyone who is signing — from the University of Georgia down to Shorter — is earning a full ride.

That is truly not the case.

Also, most college scholarships are year-to-year. Scholarships can be guaranteed for four years, but most are not. Coaches will generally renew scholarships each year as long as a student-athlete has no academic or conduct issues, but they don’t have to. A new coach at a program may not renew a scholarship of an underachieving player.

Also, parents need to be realistic.

There was only one Darren Sproles, a 5-foot-6 NFL running back, and one Muggsy Bogues, a 5-3 NBA player. Very few football players and basketball players under 6 feet and a certain weight are going to be recruited.

Players who play on the offensive line who top out a 5-8 are not going to be in the mix. A 5-6 quarterback who runs for 2,000 yards is still unlikely to get looks. Certainly, neither is going to end up in Athens playing between the hedges. However, if that player has a 4.0 grade-point average, has no off-the-field issues and is fundamentally sound, a small school might take a flier on him.

Here is what most of the student-athletes who will be signing Wednesday will receive — a chance to prove themselves at the next level.

That will be key for some of the players who are going to the smaller colleges, or those who are going to be preferred walk-ons. The better they perform, the more scholarship money the may receive. Those who are a preferred walk-on, if they join a program and win a starting job, they will then earn a scholarship, but nothing is guaranteed.

Here is one thing I can tell you about football players in Cobb County. With the level of coaching in the county, if a player has the grades, has done community service and is fundamentally sound, he may have an opportunity to prove himself at the next level.

The same can be said for our volleyball, softball and baseball players. Wrestlers, runners and golfers, too. But if parents think a college scholarship means everything will be paid for, they may want to adjust their expectations.

John Bednarowski is the sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal and former president of the Associated Press Sports Editors. He can be reached at sportseditor@mdjonline.com or on Twitter @jbednarowski.

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