How to Walk-on to an NCAA Division 1 Track Team

A guide from a former University of Oregon walk-on

Aaron Smet
4 min readOct 20, 2020
Photo by Sam Hughes

Good news! If you weren’t recruited, never qualified for state, and didn’t make varsity until your senior year in high school (like me), you can still go D1. Here is everything you need to know to walk-on.

Step one: Pretty obvious. Transfer to an NCAA Division 1 school.

Step two: Tryout.

What Does Walking-On Entail?

Walking on simply means that you are joining the team and receiving some benefits but not receiving a dime for your efforts.

Some benefits

What Are Your Chances?

A Division I men’s track and cross country program only offers 12.69 scholarships. Yeah, it’s a crazy low number! That’s why walking-on is a real possibility.

When Are Tryouts?

Ensure you find all the details on when and where the tryout will be held. Tryout dates are not always posted. Think of it as a secret meeting you need to inquire about. You can do so by asking someone on the team or emailing a coach. Oregon’s tryout happens in October.

What Sprint Tests Will They Have Me Do?

Oregon had me do two tests. Each on a separate day. The first test is called a 30-meter fly. The sole purpose of this test is to measure your top-end speed. This test will be done indoors for accurate results. Here is an image of what it looks like:

Source: topendsports.com

Two trials are allowed, and the best time is recorded to the nearest two decimal places. The timing starts when the athlete’s torso passes through the first timing gate or by stopwatch when they pass the 30m cone and finish at the 60m cone marker. The flying 30m times can predict 100m sprint times.

3.30 = 11.99

3.20 = 11.67

3.10 = 11.34

3.00 = 11.00

2.95 = 10.84

2.90 = 10.67

2.85 = 10.50

2.80 = 10.34

2.75 = 10.17

2.70 = 10.00

2.65 = 9.84

The second test is a 120-meter standing start outdoor trial, timed using a stopwatch, where the runner begins on the curve of the track and sprints to the finish line. Here is a video of what it looks like:

Team Worthy Test Results

The 30m fly must be under 3 seconds and the 120m standing start must be under 13 seconds. Hit below those marks and you have a good chance of making a Division 1 track team.

Will I Get a Scholarship?

Possibly, it depends on the team’s roster and what school you go to. In collegiate track and field, supremely gifted athletes outgrow their small schools and are always transferring to powerhouse track and field programs. If you find yourself walking onto one of these powerhouse programs you will constantly be fighting a new influx of talent each year.

If you do happen to prove yourself, coaches will often reward you for your efforts with some sort of financial assistance. However, from what I’ve seen, the financial aid packages are only rewarded if you perform well at conference meets and championships. It’s not unheard of for athletes to start as walk-ons and finish their careers with full scholarships.

Thank the Coach

If a coach does give you the opportunity to join the team, make sure you let the coach know how much you appreciate the opportunity. The expectation is that you will be able to keep up with the team workouts regardless of the prior lack of conditioning.

What Happens If You Don’t Make It?

Don’t be discouraged. They will most likely tell you to continue to work and try out again next year. Coaches are always looking to add depth and competition. Coaches remember faces and might give you a chance if they see you improve.

Parting Message

One thing I want to emphasize before concluding this article is that I don’t advise placing all your hopes and dreams solely on making the team. I’ll be the first to tell you that luck plays a role — as it does in any pursuit in life. The approach I adopted was to strive to become the best athletic version of myself. Undoubtedly, making the team was surreal, but the most fulfilling aspect was putting in the work and surpassing personal records.

Hopefully, this article has demonstrated that it’s never too late to pursue a D1 opportunity and has provided a roadmap on how to achieve it. I wish you the best of luck!

P.S. When I joined The University of Oregon track team, there was one exercise in particular that we focused on extensively, which I believe greatly improved my sprinting capabilities.

If you’re interested, check it out for free on Gumroad.

--

--