More than any other sport, college scholarships for distance runners are a confusing setup to grasp.
Since college cross country is tied closely with track and field at some levels--but separate from it in others--it's often unclear how many scholarships are out there for promising endurance runners. In many instances, it's up to the track and field coach at each college to hand out what they feel is fair. In the NCAA, for example, distance runners get lumped in with pole vaulters, hurdlers and sprinters for scholarship purposes, even though distance runners usually compete in cross country during the fall as well.
The good news is financial aid is available at every level--from Division I to the junior-college ranks--for endurance runners. It's hard to say how much--it can be a fluctuating amount that depends on each coach's tastes and how much money is already tied up with established athletes.
With that in mind, versatility is a critical element a distance runner can have. In addition to running cross country, work just as hard in track events like the 3,200 meters. If you show you're versatile enough to be valuable in all three seasons--cross country, indoor track and outdoor track--a coach will be much more likely to lure you in with a scholarship offer.
Let's break down the scholarship situation--from top to bottom--for distance runners aspiring to compete in college:
NCAA DIVISION I
How Many Schools: For men, 301 schools sponsor cross country, 244 do indoor track and 269 do outdoor track. Oregon and Colorado are two schools with great distance programs. For women, there are 327 cross country programs, 293 indoor track programs and 306 outdoor track programs. Stanford and Colorado have strong women's distance programs.
Scholarship Count: At the Division I level, cross country and track and field are generally lumped together for scholarship purposes. In that case, men's squads are allowed 12.6 total scholarships, while women's programs get 18 grants. Those scholarships can go toward sprinters, jumpers, throwers, hurdlers and distance runners (who generally run both cross country and track) and are divided up at the coach's discretion.
Scholarship Breakdown: If a Division I school sponsors cross country but not track and field, the NCAA allows for five men's scholarships and six women's scholarships. Cross country and track-and-field scholarships often are partial rides because of large roster sizes.
NCAA DIVISION II
How Many Schools: On the men's side, 241 schools have cross country, 113 have indoor track and 162 have outdoor track. For women, there are 325 cross country programs, 153 indoor track programs and 199 outdoor track programs.
Scholarship Count: Like Division I, Division II schools lump cross country and track and field together for scholarship purposes. Both men's and women's programs at the Division II level have 12.6 total scholarships for all track and cross country.
Scholarship Breakdown: If a Division II school sponsors cross country but not track and field, it is allowed five scholarships for the men's program and six for the women's program.