Many football players grow up dreaming of earning a scholarship to play football. One often forgotten group that awards scholarships for football players are the U.S. service academies. Three academies compete at the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I Football Bowl Subdivision level, which is the highest level of college football. The other two schools play at the NCAA Division III level, but all players on the team are still on scholarship.
NCAA Division I Service Academies
Three service academy football teams compete at the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision level in college football. They are the United States Military Academy, known as Army, the United States Naval Academy, or Navy, and the United States Air Force Academy, or Air Force. Army and Navy compete as independents, meaning they are not a member of a Football Bowl Subdivision conference. Air Force plays in the Mountain West Conference, where it competed against several nonmilitary colleges. Navy football coach Ken Niumatalolo notes that service academies are not saddled with the scholarship limits of 25 per season and 85 per team that other Division I programs follow. In fact, the Division I service academy teams usually carry well over 100 to 120 players each. Niumatalolo notes that all players who are admitted to the academies receive a full scholarship.
NCAA Division III Service Academies
The United States Merchant Marine Academy and the United States Coast Guard Academy both award full scholarships to all students who are admitted, including football players. Merchant Marine and the Coast Guard compete at the NCAA Division III level against schools that do not offer scholarships to football players. The Division III level is the lowest level of college football as all players are considered to be non-scholarship players. This is not really true for the two academies because players for both have all tuition, fees, room and board paid for by the government just as regular students do.
Academics and Admission
Admission to service academies is a little different than admission to standard colleges. According to Navy football coach Ken Niumatalolo, service academies are closer to the high academic programs in college football and players must be far above the minimum in terms of grades and standardized test scores. There are no set numbers as the academy looks at a variety of recommendations, extracurricular activities and grade point average, but usually players will need to score more than 1,000 on the SAT or at least a 21 on the ACT. In addition, Niumatalolo notes that players must pass a military physical and receive a letter of recommendation from a local congressman or senator.
Military Service Requirements
All of the military academies have requirements that students must serve in a particular branch of the military after graduating from the school. These requirements deter a lot of potential athletes from even considering playing for a service academy. According to the Western Pennsylvania All Service Academies, Marine Merchant Academy graduates have an eight-year military commitment if they choose to be in the military reserves, though some graduates can choose to make a five-year active duty commitment instead. Graduates from the other four service academies are required to make a five-year active duty military commitment upon graduation. WPASA notes that in addition, graduates of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps have an additional three-year reserve commitment for a total of eight years of military service after college.