In order to play football in college, players often must meet a certain ACT (or SAT) score. This score, of course, varies significantly from school to school, and limits may be softer for heavily recruited players. Considerations may also be made for underrepresented minority students, as well. The best way to find out what ACT scores football players are required to attain to go to a certain school is to email the coach and find out, but it is possible to get an idea of the requirements just by looking at some statistics about a school.
The most basic limit to playing football in college is approval by the NCAA clearinghouse. In order to play in Division II, student athletes must attain a summed score of 68 (this comes from the addition of English, mathematics, reading, and science scores). If players choose to take the SAT, they must achieve at least an 820 out of 1600; the writing section of the SAT is not included. Division I, on the other hand, uses a sliding scale to determine eligibility. This scale takes account of a student’s grade point average (GPA) in core courses. Students with a 3.0 GPA need a 52 summed score, while students with a 2.5 require a 68, and so on. The lower a student’s GPA, the higher score on the ACT he or she needs to qualify for the NCAA clearinghouse. The minimum GPA to play at a Division II school is a 2.0.
Individual schools often have higher requirements for their students than is required by the Clearinghouse; this is especially true for academically elite schools. Although athletes in big-money sports like football are certainly given some leeway, they may run into hard limits at some schools. For instance, Ivy League universities often rely on something called the Ivy League Academic Index to determine which athletes will be admitted. From this score, which anyone can determine from the previous link, applicants are split into four categories: High, medium, low, and low-low. A certain set number of athletes must be recruited from each category, and low-low athletes must be truly exceptional to be admitted.
On the other hand, many universities are much less strict with athletes. Recruits at schools in the Big 10 conference, for instance, average between 11 and 20 on the ACT (though Northwestern, which likely has the highest scores, did not report scores). Since this is an average score, some players were above and below the reported scores. In order to keep average scores acceptably high, coaches occasionally recruit players with higher ACT scores to offset stars with low scores. Offensive Linemen are often recruited in the higher score ranges for this reason.
Players who cannot qualify to play football in Division I or II can still play in different divisions. NCAA Division 3, for example, does not have set ACT requirements; the required score varies substantially from school to school. Many DIII scores have strong football programs. Elite institutions in DIII do have high score requirements, but other schools may be willing to work with players. Another option is the NAIA, which does not have set ACT limits. Finally, athletes may consider playing for a junior college or community college, which are usually easier to get into. After two years at the JC or CC, students can transfer to a Division 1 school based on their college grades rather than ACT scores. This is a common path for academically ineligible students who want to play football.
The NCAA Requirements for College Athletes
The Ivy League Academic Index
Big 10 ACT Scores