Athletes Hoping For Last Chance? A Scholarship Awaits At NSI

There is not always an explicit understanding of what it means to be recruited in track and field. 

Here's an example. 

When a college coach is attending an indoor or outdoor meet during the NCAA contact period, there isn't always an idea of what the intention is from that coach. Will they offer a scholarship? Are they researching leads? Are they focusing on one or two athletes? Do my performances matter? 

Scholarships are tricky. At the NCAA Division I and II level, the allowable limit is 12.6 for men's programs and 18 for women. At the Division II level, it's 12.6 and 12.6. In NCAA Division III, it's 0 and in NAIA, it's 12 and 12. 

But for most universities across the U.S., track and field teams are typically fielded by an upwards of 30 to 40 athletes. And so, not all scholarships are created equal. Most prospective athletes have little idea where to start. 

For years, Hassaan Stamps, the Director of Track and Field at Warner University -- a NAIA program out of Lake Wales, Florida -- was underwhelmed by the process. 

At least until he had his aha moment. 

His solution was to build a meet connecting those two ideas together: An athlete in search of a scholarship and a college coach in the market for a prospective athlete. 

However, it wasn't until his former teammate at the University of Tennessee, Justin Gatlin, joined forces with him this year that things finally came together. After two stops-and-starts over the past two years, The National Scholarship Invitational is nearing its debut on Saturday in Sarasota, Florida.

"As I talked to other colleagues in the coaching landscape, I realized there was an amazing need, especially with the development of the transfer portal, and a space for underserved young people to provide them with an opportunity," Stamps said. 

High school athletes from ninth grade to 12th are among those scheduled to attend the meet held at IMG Academy this weekend. Stamps says he has committed athletes from Arizona, New York, Georgia and Illinois, along with small contingents from the Bahamas and Mexico. 

"This meet has been about 10 years in the making," Stamps said. 

A former standout hurdler and sprinter at Tennessee, Stamps, 42, now leads the NAIA program Warner University in Florida, after spells at programs like Cal State, Los Angeles, Miami, Florida International, Vermont and even the Saudi Arabian national team.

In college, however, he was a partial scholarship athlete who enrolled with a 56-percent ride. 

"This event would have been something really, really good for me because I would have been exposed to other people," said Stamps, who later earned his full ride. 

Stamps has experience in meet management operations. Years earlier, he said, he helped orchestrate meets at Eastern Tennessee and later at the AAU National Championships, events with varying numbers -- the latter sometimes ballooning over 10,000 participants. 

"There are tons of high school meets that go on where a kid will see a college coach and then try to shoot their shot," Stamps said. "But then the coach is always in this space and has to say, 'I can't talk to you until (this or that period)."

But for the National Scholarship Invitational, his vision was focused.

Two years ago, he explored it for the first time. With gears winding up toward the first installment, he put the pieces together for its debut. But fate intervened. A big storm forced a cancellation of the meet, he said. 

A year later, he tried again. This time, the meet moved indoors to the Gately Center in Chicago, though the idea became such a force that over 1,000 athletes registered. Stamps said he wasn't prepared for the enrollment and again had to cancel. 

By 2023, his third time hashing out the idea was an inflection point. And Stamps, who is a self-proclaimed straight shooter, doesn't dance around his words.  

"In the events world," he said, "you either put on a great event or you don't do it." 

By last year, Gatlin, the Olympic champion at 100 meters in 2004 and a multiple-time Olympic and World medalist, was retired and looking to transition to a different sector in the sport. Stamps, a long-time friend, approached. The two began to build. 

"I'm transitioning more of a helping the community, helping the younger athletes," Gatlin, 41, said. "Understand what it is to find the hierarchy of going from a high school realm to a college realm and hopefully also a professional realm." 

Gatlin provided ideas and resources, while Stamps hammered out the logistical ideas and fed more into the process. 

The end result on Saturday will certainly be a different kind of meet. Beyond the procedural identity of the event -- races featuring high school athletes hoping to earn scholarships -- Stamps said there will also be interceding promotions like "dash for cash" and other games featuring spectators. The entry fee was $85 per athlete for an unlimited number of events. 

One big idea, Stamps said, is a simple one. For all athletes competing, their bibs will reflect their recruiting journey. Red and blue bibs will denote freshmen and sophomores (no contact), while yellow and green bibs will signal junior and senior athletes. 

"There are tons of high school meets that go on where a kid will see a college coach and then try to shoot their shot," Stamps said. "But then the coach is always in this space and has to say, 'I can't talk to you until (this or that period)."

"If you know that on the front end," Stamps said, then the process of recruiting could ultimately yield more success. 

Another idea, Stamps said, was to connect coaches in a lounge where they could either talk with athletes, themselves or watch the meet and observe. He said he will have laptops and tablets on-hand and will have other integrations -- possibly QR codes, he said -- to help break down the process. 

Stamps says at least 25 coaches from the NCAA Division I, Division II,  Division III, JUCO and NAIA levels will be in attendance.

While Division III schools cannot offer athletic scholarships, need-based and academic aid is available. Knox College, a Division III program out of Illinois, is one such program that will be on the ground.

Stamps said a reported $750,000 worth of scholarship money is available this weekend for coaches from all four divisions. Stamps said Warner has a $45,000 allocation remaining for the men's and women's programs.

"On this day of June the third, if you do not have a scholarship opportunity, this is the meet to be at," Stamps said. 

Since the NCAA contact period ends on the last day of July, this meet presents last chance opportunities for unsigned athletes.

"We want to impact their future," he said of the event. "That's what we want to do. We want to give them an opportunity to be able to excel to the next level and that's what a great incentive (this) is to be able to take their future into their own hands and go out there and run and race for a real true scholarship." 




WHAT: National Scholarship Invitational

WHEN: June 3

WHERE: IMG Academy, Sarasota, Florida


THE SKINNY: While all high school track and field meets with professional timers act, in theory, as resources for athletes to secure personal records times and college scholarship opportunities, the National Scholarship Invitational differs in that it will explicitly connect college coaches to athletes on the ground level before and after competition. All college coaches who are attending, according to meet directors, have an allocation of potential money they are willing to spend on the right athlete. 

Additional information: Packet pick-up, shake-out runs and meet-and-greets will take place on Friday as athletes and coaches arrive. 


January 2 to July 31, 2023: Contact Period

Except: March 10-11, 2023: Dead period

Except: June 7-10, 2023: Dead period


Last date an athlete can sign his/her National Letter of Intent before the new cycle begins: Aug. 1, 2023