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Waco freshman Annie Jaska trains 20 hours a week.
She wakes up early, controls her diet and runs 60 miles. If she ran those 60 miles in one stretch, she’d be in Killeen.
Because she’s a Baylor Cross Country walk-on, she doesn’t get the benefits of being a scholarship athlete. But if she were a scholarship athlete, she might get as much as a “full ride” to Baylor. Scholarship athletes are not paid, but they do receive scholarship money to go toward housing, board, tuition, and books.
Jaska does not receive scholarship money. As a walk-on, she doesn’t receive any of the monetary benefits. She does, however, get gear and uniforms for free.
Hill College volleyball head coach Jeremiah Tiffin said walk-on athletes are treated the same as athletes on scholarship. During practice, they receive the same workout gear and during games, the same coaching. Skill-levels affect playing time. Every walk-on has the opportunity to work toward becoming a scholarship athlete, Tiffin said.
Jaska spent last fall running the Bear Trail, a time she refers to as when she was a “regular college student.” She said she realized college athletics might be out of reach after head coach Todd Harbour said to “shave off time from her high school running times.”
She said she didn’t care about perks – she cared about running.
Garland junior Courtney Shaw, an acrobatics and tumbling walk-on, said she also cared about her craft.
“I was just doing it for fun, and if I didn’t like it, I could quit because I didn’t have anything keeping me obligated to stay,” Shaw said.
Tiffin said walk-ons “are essential to any program.” Tiffin added that without walk-ons, a team has no depth and can’t accomplish what needs to be done in practice – and any sport would be unable to reach its full potential.
“Walk-ons are not only good for increasing numbers at practice, but to increase the overall teams’ academic progress rate,” Tiffin said.
With a higher volume of athletes available to play during games, the team members can focus more on their grades verses playing time — their grades can increase the APR. The academic progress rate (APR) is a rating system that NCAA instituted in 2004 to measure student-athletes academic performance by term throughout the school year. It was enacted to foster high graduation rates in student-athletes, according to the NCAA guidelines for the academic progress rate.
“Walk-ons are free and boost APR. Yes, we want them,” Tiffin said.
In order for Jaska to become a walk-on, she joined Waco Striders, a local running club. Local runner Blake Schrader helped her. After completing a 5K run during Thanksgiving break last fall, she had the desired time and contacted coach Harbour.
She qualified and became an official walk-on for Baylor University. There were perks: early registration, workout clothes, access to state-of-the-art facilities, tutoring and physical trainers.
Players said walk-ons receive the same perks scholarship players receive, including sweats, per diem on trips and medical care. Per Diem is money each athlete receives when teams travel or have practice over a university holiday like spring break. Each athlete is responsible for purchasing food with that money, and once they receive the money, they sign a form saying they received it. They get a certain amount for each meal.
Jaska and Shaw said there’s another perk — a lot of friends. Jaska thought about becoming a Community Leader before joining the team in order to get more involved but loved running more. Jaska said that although many walk-ons don’t travel on road trips, the discipline gained is a lifelong skill.
“I want to develop habits I can take with me,” Jaska said.
The relationships gained while being a student-athlete in college are important according to Shaw.
“These girls are going to be lifelong friends. A couple of them will probably even be in my wedding,” Shaw said.
Jaska said her new training demands included two more workouts, and friendship helped since she received encouragement from her teammates.
Compliance Officer Keith Miller said the quality of walk-on student-athletes is becoming more important every year due to the tuition increases. It’s also possible that many quality athletes get passed up in the high school recruiting process, so this is their second chance.
“We are starting to rely on them more and more,” Miller said.
The rise of college tuition throughout the country affects the number of athletes who can be supported by the scholarship allotments provided by the NCAA, Miller said. According to the Huffington Post, college tuition and fees have increased 1,120 percent since records began in 1978. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of a four-year university degree in the U.S. has increased nearly 250 percent since 1980.
Miller said he wasn’t allowed to disclose scholarship amounts for individual teams or for individuals. Each sport and each player is different, and amounts vary based on skill and are left to the discretion of coaches.
Scholarships are based on a sport’s designation, Miller said. According to NCAA rules, there are two types of designations: one is an equivalency sport, and the other is a head-count sport.
For an equivalency sport, coaches have a total dollar amount in a “scholarship pot,” but can split up scholarships among multiple athletes. Equivalency sports can carry more athletes on partial scholarships, and this gives coaches the chance to develop more players. It’s harder to get a full scholarship in an equivalency sport due to the splitting of scholarships. For a head-count sport, each athlete on a scholarship counts toward the maximum number of athletes the school can have on scholarship. Whether a player is given a full athletic scholarship or given $1, the player is counted toward the head count for that sport.
Men’s head-count sports are basketball and football, and women’s head-count sports are basketball, gymnastics, tennis, and volleyball. All others are equivalency.
Title IX also affects scholarship disbursement. Baylor University has 17 sports, and 10 are women’s sports. Passed in 1972, Title IX requires gender equity for men and women in every educational program that receives federal funding.
“I wouldn’t have been able to come to Baylor without my athletic and academic scholarships,” junior acrobatics and tumbling athlete Lori Williamson said. Williamson emphasized the importance of her education, stating the 20-hour training weeks have allowed her opportunities she never thought possible.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but I really enjoy it. It’s a great opportunity. I’m really blessed,” Jaska said.
For Jaska, Shaw and Williamson, the love of the sport has conquered all obstacles. Despite being walk-ons, friendship and competing in a sport they love are enough.
Shaw said playing for Baylor made college “exciting and motivated me to be able to represent a university.”
Tiffin advocated being proactive for potential athletes who weren’t recruited.
“If your love for a sport is strong, and you are just an average student, contact the coach,” Tiffin said. “It starts with you.”