Preferred Walk-On: What Does It Mean?

During the college baseball recruiting process it is likely players will come across the term “preferred walk-on”. There are variations of a “walk-on” spot on college baseball teams, each one meaning something slightly different. The type of walk-on spot will determine if a player is guaranteed a spot on the roster or simply encouraged to try out for the team.

Players that receive a preferred walk-on spot are guaranteed a roster spot for the upcoming year. Preferred walk-ons do not receive any athletic scholarships, but are usually equally part of the team with the same opportunities.

In this article, we’ll discuss what a preferred walk-on spot looks like, and what a player can expect when they step foot on campus. We’ll also highlight the questions that players should ask during the recruiting process when they are offered a preferred walk-on spot.

Why Programs Offer Preferred Walk-On Spots

Due to the Student-Athlete

Preferred walk-on spots are most often given to players that the coaching staff might view as riskier players in terms of future performance. They may be on the border of fitting the criteria they are looking for in players and are not willing to dedicate scholarship funds to that player. A common scenario is college coaches may see a player they believe has a lot of potential but is not yet physically ready for college baseball. By offering that player a preferred walk-on spot, they can develop the player and see if their potential is reached while still having scholarships to offer players that may have a bigger impact on the program on day one.

Due to the School’s Available Scholarships

Due to the NCAA & NAIA rules, scholarships are limited to a certain amount and schools can not exceed this amount during the academic year. Sometimes if a school has a lot of players on the current roster who are receiving the majority of the scholarships, they will have little available for the next incoming class. Another scenario that frequently happens is schools do not have the funds to award all of their allotted scholarships and are forced to only offer incoming players a preferred walk-on spot.

Preferred Walk-On vs. Scholarship Player

The main difference between a preferred walk-on and other players that are on scholarship is just that, the scholarship. Preferred walk-on players do not receive any athletic scholarships. They may still apply and receive other financial aid, but will not receive any of the baseball program’s allotted amount of athletic scholarships.

Preferred walk-ons have a guaranteed spot on the roster and the same opportunities as any other player. They are a fully participating member of the team with the same access to facilities and resources. However, since they were not offered a scholarship, this typically means they are lower on the depth chart compared to players who did receive scholarships. At least to start the year. Some may mistake this for favoritism toward scholarship players, but college coaches want to win and their job depends on it. When the season comes along, they will be playing the athletes who give the team the best opportunity to win, it doesn’t matter how much of a scholarship, if any, they received.

The other main difference between preferred walk-ons and scholarship players is that preferred walk-ons don’t sign a National Letter of Intent. A National Letter of Intent is a signed contract by both the player and the school indicating the scholarship amount and commitment of both parties, which is good for one year. Since preferred walk-ons are not receiving any scholarship money, a National Letter of Intent is not required.

Preferred Walk-On vs. Walk-On

Unlike a preferred walk-on, a traditional walk-on is not guaranteed a roster spot. It is important to make the distinction and understand exactly which opportunity is being offered during the recruiting process. A common scenario in college baseball is the team might keep walk-on players for fall practice and use it as an extended tryout. However, the program has no obligation to keep the player for the season and can cut them at any point during the school year.

Pros and Cons of a Preferred Walk-On Roster Spot

Pros:

  • Guaranteed roster spot for the season
  • Full support and access to team facilities and resources
  • Opportunity to earn playing time and future scholarships

Cons:

  • No athletic scholarship
  • Typically at the bottom of the depth chart
  • Relying on the coaches word (no signed National Letter of Intent)

What Questions to ask if Offered a Preferred Walk-On Spot

It is very important that both the player and the college baseball program have a clear mutual understanding of what is being offered. Players should ask several questions to make sure they know what to expect when they arrive on campus. The following list is questions every player should ask during the recruiting process if a college program is offering them a preferred walk-on spot:

  • Confirm the offer is for a preferred walk-on spot and not a traditional walk-on spot
  • Confirm there is a guaranteed roster spot for the upcoming academic school year including the next season
  • Understand where they fall on the depth chart and the opportunities they will have for potential playing time
  • Ask if there is opportunity beyond one year and if a scholarship can be earned in the future
  • Confirm they will be participating in all team practices and training and if there will be any limitations to team facilities or resources
  • Ask the reason they are being offered a preferred walk-on spot and not a scholarship spot. Is it due to a lack of scholarships available or is it due to their athletic ability?