Penn State Football: What Is a Scholarship Worth?

Not every college football player is getting an NIL deal worth $3 million and a beach house. Or a Lamborghini. Or even $500 for an autograph session.

But, the 11,135 college football players in the FBS who are getting a full ride – 131 schools x 85 scholarships – are still getting a great deal.

And, they are getting compensated. Quite well, I think.

I’m a full-blown advocate of NIL. But I also think the prize package that a major college football player receives in turn for playing a game is also a very good deal.

For a Penn State incoming freshman, who majors in Liberal Arts, stays for four years and attends classes in the summer, a scholarship is worth a healthy amount — even if he never makes an NIL nickel. The amount, according to my calculations:

$251,178 – for a Penn State football player from Pennsylvania.

$355,741 – for a Penn State football player from out-of-state.

That’s for tuition, room and board, books, fees and cash. That’s right, and cash.

Over the course of a Penn State freshman football player’s full four-year career – assuming he doesn’t hit the transfer portal or leave early for the NFL – he can make up to $43,032 in cash. Not from an NIL, but directly from PSU ICA.

Of that $43,032 four-year pay-out, $19,112 is for covering the hidden costs of attending college – i.e., supplies, incidentals, transportation, etc. Penn State football players currently receive $4,778 a year in Cost of Attendance money – to pay for those extra expenses that every college student faces. This COA was approved by the NCAA and implemented by all Power 5 schools in August 2015 and is perfectly legal. Penn State’s annual COA pay-out is among the highest in the nation.

The remaining $23,920 will begin later this year, at the rate of $5,980 per year. That’s the limit schools can pay their athletes for achieving academic success, one of the results of the Supreme Court’s 9-0 ruling in favor of athletes in the famous Alston case last summer. Schools get to determine what that level is, i.e., achieving a 3.0 or making academic progress. They will also determine if the full amount is paid each semester/year or if some portion is held until graduation, as an inducement for athletes to get their degrees.

Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics is on the cusp of announcing such a plan to pay Alston money to its athletes for academic success. Last week, a Penn State athletics spokesperson shared with me where PSU ICA is in the process: “We will be providing graduation/academic incentive payments. We are currently finalizing our plan and will announce it once it is finalized.”

Overall, a full scholarship – provided the athlete goes to class and graduates – is excellent foundational compensation for playing a sport. Or the cello. A college degree virtually guarantees a worker in America an additional million dollars in earnings over the course of a lifetime.

Here’s a breakdown of the dollars of a four-year full ride to Penn State for an incoming Nittany Lion football player, assuming 9-12 summer credits and an annual 2.5% increase in tuition and an annual 3.5% increase in room and board. (Fair assumptions, since Penn State increased room and board by 3.5% in 2022-23, and increased tuition by 2.5% in 2021-22; next academic year’s tuition is set in July.)


Tuition, Books, Fees Room & Board COA $ Alston $ Total
PA Resident $128,885 $79,261 $19,112 $23,920 $251,178
Out of State $233,448 $79,261 $19,112 $23,920 $355,741

In some cases, there is even more money. According to Penn State’s numbers submitted to the NCAA, about 28% of its football players receive Pell Grant financial assistance. These are stipends from the federal government to supplement other assistance, based on income, that must not be repaid.

With an average Pell payout of $4,964 per year, that’s another $19,856 which three out of 10 Penn State football players also receive. Four years of Pell Grants would push the compensation totals to $271,034 for a football player from Pennsylvania and $375,597 for a football player from out of state.

A GROWTH MARKET: 2010 vs. 2022

I first did this exercise in 2010, when I figured out what a four-year full scholarship was worth at that time. Over the past dozen years, the amount has exploded, thanks to inflation and the addition of COA and Alston payouts. Here are the numbers:

2010 2022 % / $ increase
PA Resident $144,389 $251,178 +74% / +$106,789
Out of State $212,340 $355,741 +67% / +$143,401


A full ride brings many other amenities and benefits – beyond what is outlined above. But, they are truly valuable. Especially if a player has his sights on the NFL. As I wrote last year, when doing my annual “what’s a scholarship worth” exercise:

Right now, a real dollar value is not put on a whole host of extra perks, support and services athletes receive. But, maybe it is time for college athletics administrators to show what their athletes are getting above and beyond tuition, books and room and board — and place a dollar amount on each of those items. This is what many employers do, by showing what their employees’ true overall compensation is, counting insurance, retirement contributions, etc.

You can certainly make a case that the average Power 5 football player on full scholarship – especially at schools like Penn State, Ohio State and Alabama — gets an array of services that over the course of four years would easily add another $100,000, and maybe even two or three times that, to the value of their education.

I have heard a number of coaches, past and present, say that perhaps scholarship athletes who are now profiting from NIL should be presented with a bill for services rendered, if only to give those athletes greater insight, and maybe appreciation, into what they are getting in terms of goods and services.

Here’s a list of such items, noting that the more complete the list and the higher the quality of services, the more likely that a football player will enhance his skills and be more marketable as a professional football player:

 • Team and personalized individual coaching and technique tutoring; mentoring, film study.

• Athletic training, expert medical support and facilities, rehab services, health insurance.

• Strength, speed, flexibility and performance training.

• Academic support: tutoring, one-on-one support; priority scheduling; career coaching.

• Training table, nutrition bar, snack, nutritionists.

• Travel, bowl experiences (and stipend).

• Preferred access to mental health professionals and sports performance psychologists.

• Apparel, workout clothing, laundry.

• Legal and compliance support, education and direction.

• Branding and marketing support, social media training, access to photos and videos, professional publicity promotion.

• Local, regional and national media exposure, including the Big Ten Conference’s own network, and each school’s social media network.

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