Walk-on basketball players are subject to the same NCAA standards as scholarship players in terms of academic eligibility, compliance with Association rules and transfer restrictions. As a walk-on, you also receive the same benefits as scholarship players with the exception of tuition, room, board and incidental expenses as allowed by the NCAA.
Core Classes for Incoming Freshman
Freshman walk-ons must meet the same NCAA academic standards as scholarship players. You need 16 hours of core high school classes, including four years of English, three years of math (Algebra 1 or higher), two years of natural of physical science (or one year if a lab is offered), one additional year of English, math or natural/physical science and two years of social science. In addition, you need four more years of any of those classes, foreign language or comparative religion or philosophy. These standards become even tougher when new rules take effect in 2016.
Sliding GPA and ACT/SAT Test Scores
Besides completing those core courses, basketball players must also satisfy the NCAA sliding scale that factors your grade point average in the 16 core classes and either your combined verbal and math SAT scores or the sum of your ACT section scores. At one end of the scale, if your GPA was 3.550 or higher for your core classes, then you need a combined 400 for verbal and math scores on the SAT or an ACT sum of 37. At the other end of the scale, a 2.0 GPA in the core classes requires an SAT verbal/math score 1010 and an ACT sum of 86 to be eligible. The academic standards get enough tougher starting in 2016.
Good Academic Standing
Some walk-ons have been at their school for a year or two. Such continuing students must meet the minimum NCAA academic standards for continuing students. According to NCAA regulations, "all Division I student-athletes must earn at least six credit hours each term to be eligible for the following term and must meet minimum grade-point average requirements that are related to an institution’s own GPA standards for graduation." Those GPA standards vary from school to school.
Walk-ons must complete the same compliance paperwork scholarship players complete, allowing the NCAA Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse to vet your academic credentials. "Preferred walk-ons" will register ahead of time because they already have a spot on the team. Some schools require tryout players to complete this paperwork before making their bid.
If you played at another four-year Division I school and transfer to a new four-year Division I school to play as a walk on, you follow the same rules as scholarship player transfers. In many cases you sit out a year before playing. You also will be subject to the same academic progress formula scholarship players adhere to. But in some cases, walk-ons are not subject to the same intraconference restrictions as scholarship players.
School Walk-On Requirements
Schools may have additional criteria for walk-ons to meet before they can try out, such as drug testing, proof of a recent physical exam, proof of insurance and various codes of conduct.
Walk-Ons Get to Eat!
Prior to a major NCAA rules change, walk-on players had to pay for their meals at the athletic training table. Then the NCAA lifted its meal restrictions and allowed teams to provide unlimited meals and snacks to its players. As part of that change, walk-ons no longer must pay for their meals at the training table.
Walking On from a Minor Sport
In some cases a walk-on basketball player will actually count against a school's scholarship limit of 13. If a scholarship track athlete walked on to the men's basketball team, for instance, his scholarship counts against the basketball limit. The NCAA created a sports hierarchy to prevent the major sports from stashing scholarship players in minor sports to skirt scholarship limits. Football is at the top of the list, followed by basketball. So if a scholarship football player walks on to the basketball team, his scholarship stays on the football team. But athletes from any other sport would count against basketball.