Walk-On / Recruited Walk-On / Preferred Walk-On
The term “walk on” means an athlete will not receive athletic scholarship money from the school they will be attending. This is an opportunity for the athlete to compete for an opportunity to be a member of the program. For example a high level NCAA D1 Men's Basketball program might have 13 athletes on a full athletic scholarship and then have two athletes who will be walk-ons and receive no athletic aid. A misconception of the term is to confuse walk-on with a recruited or non-recruited athlete. Coaches have invented terms like 'recruited walk-on' or 'preferred walk-on' to describe how they intend to use their non-athletic scholarship athletes or even to entice them to come to their school. The media and public often exaggerate stories of walk-ons moving up to receive athletic scholarship money. This does in fact happen but its not as frequent or as easy as some may believe. There is no guarantee that a walk on will make the team let alone eventually work their way into being a scholarship worthy athlete for the program. Before accepting a walk-on opportunity be sure to fully understand what to expect.
Red-shirt can be a really tricky term to understand. Essentially what it means is that the athlete will practice with the team and be a part of the program but not participate in any of the games thus saving a year of athletic eligibility. An athlete has four years to play college sports, so assuming an athlete was going to go to college for five years, they could red-shirt their freshman season and participate in the games in season 2-5. In theory the athlete would be better off with a year to develop athletically and academically. A “Medical Red-shirt” can also be granted to an athlete who gets injured and can qualify for a medical red shirt which allows that athlete to not lose that year of eligibility due to them being injured and not being able to play. Medical redshirts must be granted and approved by the NCAA.
Verbal Offer / Verbal Commitment
A verbal commitment is used to describe a college-bound student-athlete's commitment to a school before he or she is able to sign a National Letter of Intent. A college can make a verbal offer and a college-bound student-athlete can announce a verbal commitment at any time. While verbal offers and commitments have become popular, they are NOT binding on either the student-athlete or the school. It is not uncommon for coaches to verbally offer more athletes than scholarship spots they have available. As the coaches know not all of the athletes they offered will commit to their program. It is also just as common for athletes to back out of verbal offers they make when a better offer comes along.
Official Visit / Unofficial Visit
The biggest difference between the two is that during an official visit the college can pay for transportation to and from the college, room and meals while visiting. and reasonable entertainment expenses. A recruit may take a maximum of five official visits to five different NCAA D1 or D2 schools. These visits will occur only during their Senior Year and only after they have been registered with the NCAA Eligibility Center. An unofficial visit includes any visit that is not an official visit. An athlete can visit any school any number of times unofficially. However, there may be times (Dead Periods) where the college coach may not be able to speak with the athlete while on campus. Unofficial visits are scheduled by coaches and some levels of college can even pay for your meals, lodging, and entertainment on campus during an unofficial visit. In fact, college coaches often make verbal or written scholarship offers while you are on an unofficial visit.
National Letter of Intent (NLI)
A National Letter of Intent is the document a student athlete signs when he or she agrees to attend the designated NCAA D1 or D2 College or University for one academic year. The NAIA also has a separate Letter of Intent program. There are instances where an athletes or school can get out of the agreement, but in most cases it is a binding legal agreement both ways. The NLI will outline the amount of athletic aid, but sometimes will not include potential academic or need based aid. NCAA D3 schools do not participate in the NLI program. Additionally, many athletes who play at the NCAA D1 and D2 levels will never sign an NLI. All athletic scholarships are one year contracts renewable by the coach of the program.
Contact Period / Evaluation Period / Dead Period
College coaches in different sports and at different levels of the NCAA have rules limiting when and how they can have contact with student athletes. These rules are lengthy, difficult to understand, difficult to enforce, vary by sport and the age of the athlete, and change almost every year. The good news is that you really don't have to worry about them at all. These are rules for the coaches to follow and for the schools to worry about. There really is nothing you can do to break these rules. You can always call a coach, write a coach, and even talk to them in person. This type of contact is encouraged by the coaches and your reaching out to them is completely legal according to the NCAA. It is up to the coach to tell you when, how, or if they can communicate back to you.