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Top 10: The Tour’s must-see tournaments

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This is the time of year when I sneak out of my hole, see my shadow, and get a serious case of Spring Fever.  As a viewer, I simply can’t wait to see the calendar flip from winter to spring; from March to April; from the Puerto Rico Open to the Masters.  I am sure that I am not the only one to go on “Masters Watch” as we enter the Florida Swing phase of the PGA Tour calendar. Although I enjoy many of the Texas tournaments — heck with Fantasy Golf I love all tournaments! — there isn’t really a “can’t-miss” tournament coming up until April rolls around.

This anticipation for the first major of the year got me thinking: what tournaments do I plan my calendar around?  Do I have to see every swing in, say, the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship?  The Players Championship?  The Playoffs for the FedExCup? Come to think of it, what is my favorite, must-watch, can’t miss tournament every year?  Well, that’s easy…but what is second?  It’s not as obvious as you think. With all of that said, I present to you my “Top-10 list of Must Watch Golf Tournaments.”  This list is the order I would set if I were prioritizing my DVR list on January 1st.  I encourage your feedback to say where I’m crazy, what I got right and what you would switch around. So, without further adieu, here we go.

(Writer’s note: I would typically go No. 10 down to No. 1 to build the suspense. But, since there can simply be no drama about what is No. 1, I would rather front load the list. The drama appears right after No. 1. Let the debate begin!)

1. The Masters

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Come on? What else could possibly be here? I believe that what makes a tournament like the Masters a “must-see” is a combination of elements: First, it has a familiarity where the conditions, sights and sounds are consistent year after year.  I would go so far as to say that I know the back nine at Augusta National as well as I know my home course here in Southern California.  This is true despite the fact that I have never stepped foot in the state of Georgia, let alone the hallowed grounds of Augusta National. I don’t just watch the telecast, I study it. One more thing: yes, I know there are courses that are deemed “more exclusive” than Augusta National, an example being Cypress Point.  But, if you gave me a choice of playing any course anywhere in the world, there is no doubt whatsoever that Augusta National is my choice.  And no, there’s not even a close second.

2. The Ryder Cup

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Every two years we are treated with what always seems to be simply riveting television. There is nothing like seeing the cheering, screaming, fist-pumping, high-fiving, crowd chanting ole! ole! ole!, and all of the craziness (like Cigar Guy) that comes along with the Ryder Cup. Every other year, we see some poor, unsuspecting pro get put into a position of turning into an unlikely goat, while others suddenly rise to hero status. This is a place where legends are made — and all for no purse. No moohlah; just pride of country and the chance to have their name associated on a teeny, tiny little trophy; which just may be the most recognizable cup in all of golf.  As a side-note: I am sometimes struck at how important it seems to be for Europe to beat the U.S. and show that they are just as good, if not better than the Americans. It has the feeling of one of those “one-way” rivalries where one side thinks there is a rivalry while the other side is unaware that it even exists (see: Trailblazers vs. Lakers or Devil Rays vs. Yankees or Cardinals vs. Cowboys). Up to now, I do not believe the Americans have shown the same level of reciprocal intensity towards Europe. But, after watching the European surge and subsequent collapse by the U.S. in 2012, I suspect that will change for good next time ’round.

3. The U.S. Open

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Arguably the toughest conditions combined with what I believe is year-in, year-out the best field in all of golf, the U.S. Open has it all. There have been times where the conditions have almost cruelly brutal, but you know what?  “The rain falls on the just and unjust,” so fair or unfair, it is the same for everyone out there. It’s refreshing to watch the pros struggle to break par. My feeling is that at the highest level of tournament golf, the winner should be the one who breaks par. How cool is it when 2-under wins a major?  Whoever enters the weekend with the most fortitude takes the whole shebang. It’s also great to see guys begin to carve out there legacies by competing on the toughest stage in golf.  And it’s only getting better as over just the past three years we have seen some of the new breed of dominant players — Rory McIlroy , Graeme McDowell and Webb Simpson have all captured the title of U.S. Open Champion with more majors likely to come between them.

4. The British Open

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What do you get when you combine soccer chants, the Road Hole, backward shots hit off of stone walls, bunkers so deep that you have to hit backwards to get out and wind-blown conditions that don’t even look fun on the best of days? My biggest gripe with this event is that the coverage, due to restrictions created by the physics of the Earth, happens just too early for me to actually watch. As a DVR guy, I try to record my shows, black out the news, and then watch when I get home. The problem with the Open Championship is that the event is so big, blocking out the news is nearly impossible! But, nothing diminishes the drama of the event and it’s clear that this is the title coveted by probably the most golfers in the world.

5. Pebble Beach Pro-Am

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As mentioned above in the Masters, I am a firm believer that what makes for great golf viewing is familiarity with famous holes on famous courses. There is no course that features more familiar holes to the avid golf viewer than Pebble Beach, with the lone exception of Augusta National. Who among us is not familiar with the 18th at Pebble?  Or the par-3 17th?  Heck, I would go so far as to say that we know the FRONT of Pebble Beach better than we know the front of Augusta National simply because many of us raised on golf viewing ever even saw the front nine at Augusta until about a decade ago when the coverage expanded. In 2012, I finally got the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing Pebble Beach for the first time: it actually felt like I was playing it again.

6. The Players Championship

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You have no idea how close I came to putting this one spot behind. I’m not saying that The Players Championship is ahead of the PGA Championship in importance. But ask yourself, “Which event is simply more fun to watch?”  With the sheer drama of watching the pros deposit ball after ball into the water that surrounds the Island Green, The Players is must-see TV at its best. Then, just to twist the knife, Pete Dye created No. 18, and we get to see our heroes face two of the most intimidating shots in golf; a true test of fire.

7. PGA Championship

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Come on, admit it: you are with me on this. There is something about the 4th major that just doesn’t feel as “major” as the majors, you know what I mean?  It is a great event for stat-filling and when counting career majors for the pros. Yes, it still gets a spot on this top 10 list by virtue of being a major, but I have always felt that this one just seems to lack the personality and character that each of the other majors inherently possess.

8. Northern Trust (LA) Open

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Hogan’s Alley — The Northern Trust Open has one of the longest-standing tour event on the PGA schedule.  This is another famed track where many of the holes have a personality all their own, like the par-3 6th featuring the signature bunker square in the middle of a severely-sloped green and the drivable par-4 tenth hole. Who among us is not familiar with the sweeping vistas showing the famed clubhouse sitting high on the hill visible from every hole on the course.  This course is a true test; so true that Tiger here won there and gave up trying. It took John Merrick’s gritty performance to pull off the victory this year.

9. The Presidents Cup

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This is the poor man’s version of the Ryder Cup occurring in the every-other year format on the year when the Ryder Cup is NOT taking place.  The difference is that this time it’s the U.S. versus the World, umm, minus Europe. Okay.  The format is similar to the Ryder Cup and always fun to watch. It lacks the same must-win atmosphere but it’s certainly worth watching anytime you get the world’s best going head-to-head purely for pride of country (or in this case pride of country vs. pride against the other guys’ country!). How can you not tune in?

10. WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship

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Okay, there is a chance, albeit slight, that this tournament makes the list simply because it just wrapped up as I type. But, in it’s defense: it is a break from tradition. As I was watching the Accenture Match Play get snowed out on day 1, it got me to thinking how I love this quirky tournament!  Match play is flat-out fun to watch simply because it always seems to break away from what I am used to seeing as “normal golf.”   I find that I can settle into the drama of each match while watching how pros respond to pressure-filled situations.  If it’s not the rash of wild upsets that occur every year, like seeing Rory and Tiger get knocked out by guys I couldn’t find with a hard-copy of Wikipedia, then it’s just the sight of seeing things I never see like snow-covered cacti.  Whatever it is, I love the Accenture Match Play and am always sure to set my DVR to watch every stroke they show.

Like the list? Disagree with Chris’ choices? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Chris Hibler is an avid golfer, writer and golf gear junkie. If he's not practicing his game with his kids, he's scouring the GolfWRX classifieds looking for a score.

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Florence Turner

    Mar 4, 2013 at 5:23 am

    I’ve been following some of those tournaments on live television but I never really had a chance to watch the action in first hand. I love golf. It is a game of skills and talents. Hope I can watch the pros play live someday.

  2. LL

    Mar 3, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    This is an awesome article! I’ve been watching golf on TV for years and have been really afraid to actually try it myself. My only real “golf” experience was with an ex-boyfriend years ago where I was left to drag a rickety golf bag around all day in sweltering 100 degree heat at Burbank golf course ;-(( Meh…Years later, I finally got up the nerve to take my 1st then 2nd golf lesson and I’m loving it!! This “What to watch” article is helpful to newbies like me who need guidance on what Tourneys to TiVo/Watch. Thank You!!!!

  3. Chris

    Feb 28, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Northern Trust Open over The Memorial? My sister could put a better list together.

    • Chris

      Feb 28, 2013 at 8:59 am

      That was a little bit playful banter but…The Pebble Beach Pro Am is awful, altho it’s played on Pebble so I watch it. For me — all 4 majors and the Ryder Cup are 1-5. The Masters is not only the best golf event of the year, it’s arguably up there with The Superbowl and The World Series and The Stanley Cup for all of sport. And Chris, what’s the justification of The Northern Trust over The Memorial? The course and feild are better at Jack’s event no?

  4. Joe C

    Feb 27, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    1 – The Masters
    2 – British Open
    3 – The Players
    4 – Pebble Beach pro am
    5 – Quail Hollow
    6 – Harbor Town
    7/8 – US Open/PGA depending on the courses
    9 – Colonial
    10 – Phoenix

  5. LaterOn61

    Feb 27, 2013 at 12:14 am

    I have thought Pebble to be one of the worst events of the year. I am also not a fan of the British and the PGA is when I am chasing the sun on the course myself.

    I love Phoenix, Match Play, Bay Hill, and the FedEx playoff tourney outside Boston.

  6. Nathan W

    Feb 26, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    I really don’t see why Pheonix is not on the list.

    • Nathan W

      Feb 26, 2013 at 5:58 pm

      Going with the list the writer used, I would definitely take off the Presidents cup. Pebble beach is only a shoe in because of the course and the PGA because its a Major (imo it’s not up there with the other 3). You throw in Pheonix, Tour Championship, and/or Firestone. Those are better Tournaments imo. Doral is a great course,but they don’t draw a good field.

  7. Clown

    Feb 26, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    Here’s a list from a European perspective:

    1. Ryder Cup
    2. British Open
    3. Masters
    4. US Open
    5. British PGA
    6. PGA Championship
    7. The Players
    8. WGC Matchplay
    9. Euro Matchplay
    10. Alfred Dunhill Links Championship
    11. Scottish Open
    12. Waste Management Phoenix Open

  8. Chris Hibler

    Feb 26, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Tim + Marcus- agree with you on the Waste(d) Management Open (like nickname, too!). I love the energy there.

    Good lists and great feedback! Keep ‘me coming!

  9. Marcus Dyer

    Feb 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    1. The Masters (Bubba’s SW, Rory’s collapse etc)
    2. Ryder Cup (guaranteed to have most of the best in the game)
    3. US Open (Nice to see some big numbers, makes you feel good)
    4. British Open (Windy, Rainy, colder…perfect)
    5. The Players (Tough Field, 17 for nerves)
    6. PGA Championship (Tought field & conditions)
    7. Presidents Cup (cool, but not ryder cup level)
    8. Firestone
    9. Memorial
    10. Wasted Managment Open

  10. Tim

    Feb 26, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    I agree about Pebble Beach. Unless the US Open is held there it is one tournament I hardly ever watch anymore. Memorial is high on my list, but I am more along the lines of the Europeans and rate The Open higher right behind the Masters. I love match play but agree that once the top seeds are gone it is hard to watch. I like the Phoenix one due #16 and #17. The PGA may slip depending on venue.

    1. Masters
    2. British Open
    3. US Open
    4. Ryder Cup
    5. PGA Championship
    6. The Players Championship
    7. Memorial
    8. Firestone
    9. Presidents Cup
    10. Phoenix

  11. JASON

    Feb 26, 2013 at 11:29 am

    The Ryder Cup is definitely there as a top 10 tournament, but since it’s only held every other year, i didn’t list it for 2013. I agree it would be the 2nd tournament behind the Masters in 2014 though.

  12. JASON

    Feb 26, 2013 at 9:07 am

    No offense, but this list is dreadful. Hardly anyone cares about watching Pebble Beach and being subjected to Chris Berman’s swing. The WGC Match play may have some 1st and 2nd day hype, but after all the top seeds get knocked off no one really cares. The Northern Trust makes this list but Memorial, Players, and Quail Hollow don’t? Those fields are twice as good as the Northern Trust and fall right smack dab in the heart of the season.

    1. Masters
    2. US Open
    3. PGA Championship
    4. British Open
    5. The Players Championship
    6. Memorial
    7. Presidents Cup
    8. Memorial
    9. Firestone
    10. Doral

    • JASON

      Feb 26, 2013 at 9:08 am

      ^^^^meant to put Quail Hollow @ 8

      • Zak Kozuchowski

        Feb 26, 2013 at 9:30 am

        The Players Championship is ranked No. 6 by Chris.

        • JASON

          Feb 26, 2013 at 11:31 am

          I’m an idiot as i somehow completely glossed over it. I suppose i was still in shock he had Pebble Beach at #5!

    • rikks

      Feb 26, 2013 at 10:38 am

      umm ryder cup jason? not to easy to construct a list that everyone likes, but i thought it was an excellent read

    • Chris Hibler

      Feb 26, 2013 at 11:19 am

      Jason – no Ryder Cup??? That’s tough to swallow. Firestone is solid.

    • JK

      Feb 26, 2013 at 12:34 pm

      The list isn’t that “dreadful.” I suppose he doesn’t like memorial as much as you, but who likes it so much that they put it twice? Just kidding.

      It seems obvious to me that the four majors would be on any “top 10 watch” list for golf. Maybe a list of the non-majors to watch would be more valuable? I agree memorial, quail hollow, firestone, and doral are all better than Pebble, Riviera, and Accenture, though.

  13. JK

    Feb 26, 2013 at 8:35 am

    Pebble Beach and the President’s Cup don’t belong on the list. The Northern Trust Open probably shouldn’t be on the list. The Accenture Match Play has been a bust each of the last two years. I find it odd that this list comes out right after Pebble, Riviera, and Accenture have JUST been played. For me, Bay Hill is always exciting and usually comes down to that last great hole over water. Memorial is usually good to watching. The John Deere is interesting for the mind-blowing numbers they’re shooting, even if the field isn’t always great. The St. Jude has been good for the last few years since Garrigus blew up on the 18th–great closing hole there. I’d take all of those over Pebble, Riviera, or Accenture in any given year.

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Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers to many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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Opinion & Analysis

Be Curious, Not Critical, of Tour Player Swings

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After a foul ball by a tour player, the talking heads on TV are often quick to analyze the “problem” with that swing. Fair enough, I suppose. Even the best players are human and our game has more failure than success. But I’d like to offer a different take on swings of the best players in the world.

First, let’s remember how good these guys and gals really are. If you met up with the lowest ranked player on any professional tour at a public course one day, I’ll bet that golfer would be the best golfer most of you have ever played with. You’d be telling your buddies in the 19th hole about him or her for a very long time. These players have reached a level of ball striking most people only dream about. That’s why I’m more curious than critical when it comes to a tour player’s swing. I’m not thinking about what he/she needs to do better; I’m thinking, “How do they do it so well?” In other words, I want to know how they put their successful move together. What part goes with the other parts? How did their pattern evolve? What are the compatible components of their swing?

Let’s use Jim Furyk as an example. Furyk has what we might call an “unconventional” move. It’s also a swing that has won nearly $70 million and shot 58 one day. But I’ll offer him as an example because his swing illustrates the point I’m making. From a double-overlapping grip, Furyk picks the golf club up to what might be the most vertical position one would ever see from a professional. Then in transition, he flattens the club and drops it well behind him. Now the club is so flat and inside, he has to open his body as quickly as he can to keep the club from getting “stuck.” Let’s call it an “up-and-under loop.”

Let’s take Matt Kuchar as a counter example. Kuchar’s signature hands-in, flat and very deep takeaway is pretty much the total opposite of Furyk. But he comes over that takeaway and gets the club back into a great position into impact. We’ll call that an “in-and-over” loop.

Both are two of the best and most consistent golfers in the world. Is one right and the other wrong? Of course not. They do have one thing in common, however, and it’s that they both balanced their golf swing equation.

What would happen if Kuchar did what Furyk does coming down? Well, he wouldn’t be on TV on the weekend. If he did, he’d be hitting drop kicks several inches behind. That doesn’t win The Players Championship. The point is that the Furyk downswing is incompatible with the Kuchar backswing, and vice versa, but I’m guessing they both know that.

How can this help you? My own personal belief and the basis of my teaching is this: your backswing is an option, but your downswing is a requirement. I had one student today dropping the arms and club well inside and another coming over the top, and they both felt better impact at the end of the lesson. I showed them how to balance their equation.

My job is solving swing puzzles, a new one very hour, and I’m glad it is. It would be mind-numbing boredom if I asked every golfer to do the same thing. It’s the teaching professional’s job to solve your puzzle, and I assure you that with the right guidance you can make your golf swing parts match. Are there universal truths, things that every golfer MUST do?  Yes, they are the following:

  1. Square the club face
  2. Come into the ball at a good angle
  3. Swing in the intended direction
  4. Hit the ball in the center of the face (method be damned!)

But here’s the funny part: Let Kuchar or Furyk get off base and watch every swing critic in the world blame some part of the quirkiness of their move that has led to their greatness. When players at their level get off their game, it’s generally due to poor timing or that they lost the sync/rhythm that connected their individual parts. The same holds true for all of us. We have to find the matching parts and the timing to connect them. You might not need new parts.

After all, weren’t those same parts doing the job when you shot your career low round?

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Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf

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If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

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