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. Technically all Ivy League sports players are walk-ons; while they may have been actively recruited, league rules prohibit member schools from offering athletically-related financial aid. This also applies to football players in the Pioneer Football League, football players in the Patriot League whose college careers began before 2013, and all NCAA Division III athletes.
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 their team in one of several ways.
- Due to scholarship limits instituted by the NCAA, many football teams do not offer scholarships to their punters, long snappers and kickers until they've become established producers.
- Sometimes injury and/or outside issues can ravage the depth chart of a particular position, resulting in the elevation of a walk-on to a featured player.
- In other situations, a walk-on may impress the coaching staff with their play on the scout team and in practice that they are rewarded with a scholarship and made a part of the regular depth chart. Often it is the players who achieve success in this manner that are the inspiration for future walk-ons.
- Finally, there are times where a walk-on will be a dependable member of the team's practice and scout teams for several years, and if a team has an extra scholarship it may reward the player as a token of their hard work and devotion to the team, although the player may never actually play in a game.
The reasons athletes choose to pursue the path of a walk-on are numerous. Here are several more common reasons:
- The athlete is already receiving praise, but the school they are particularly interested in does not share the level of interest. This target team could either be considered more athletically prestigious, it may already be saturated at that position or the athlete chooses that school for purely academic reasons over others. The walk-on will join the team to try to win the coaches over.
- The athlete may be a scion of a notable former player, alumnus or coach of the school. Often these players do not strive to be placed in a starting position, rather carry on the tradition of being a part of a particular team.
- In the case of punters and kickers, there may not be a scholarship available, but the coaches may have encouraged or invited them to join the team without offering an athletic scholarship.
- An athlete may have just been homeschooled during high school and was unable to play on a team, and therefore, not receive any attention from scouts.
- Athletes also walk-on after playing at small high schools, which also limits the attention paid by college scouts.
- In some instances, a college coach/recruiter may designate an athlete as a "preferred walk-on" during the scouting process. In this situation, the athlete is assured a spot on the team, but the coach is unable or unwilling to offer a scholarship.
- ↑ "What is the Ivy League". Ivy League Sports. Ivy League. http://www.ivyleaguesports.com/whatisivy/index.asp. Retrieved August 4, 2010.[dead link]