Spencer Fischer of Santa Clara University gives you the low down on the NCAA and the pros and cons of US collegiate running

Competitive running has seen a huge spike in popularity since the start of the pandemic. More and more runners are looking to take the next step in their athletic careers. For many young athletes, both American and international, the NCAA provides an amazing opportunity to do.

There’s a lot to consider before committing to four (or five or six) years as a runner in the NCAA. I’ll attempt to give an unbiased account of the pros and cons of collegiate running in America. As an NCAA runner myself, this breakdown will likely carry my bias, so take it with a grain of salt.

The Pros

Incredibly competitive and well-funded running circuit – As many pros have attested, the NCAA is the most well-funded and competitive circuit outside of pro running. The NCAA provides more opportunities for competition than does any other running circuit in the world.

From Scottish athlete Neil Gourley:

“The NCAA ended up being that great middle-ground, or sort of bridge, where I could focus on the sport for a few years and get big opportunities that are there and some great coaching. It only made sense to go there and take the sport a level further. . . It’s the best breeding ground and people get so much better there”(Sweat Elite).

The NCAA seems to be the best avenue to level up your running. You get out of running what you put in. The NCAA provides the foundation to give as much of yourself to the sport as you want.

It’s a lot of fun

This one speaks for itself. It’s an absolute blast to be able to train day in and day out with your best friends. There are high highs and low lows in this sport, but going through that journey in community is an incredibly fun experience. At no other point in your life will you have the opportunity to spend as much time running and training as you do in college. I feel so grateful to have been able to do so.

Earn a degree at the same time

Not only are you able to pursue the sport further, but you’re able to further your education as well. It’s also possible to earn a scholarship that can pay for a signifcant portion of your tuition. However, not every university awards scholarships, and even at the ones that do, receiving a scholarship isn’t guaranteed. That being said, college running can provide the opportunity to earn an advanced degree and get some, or all of it paid for.

Form friendships

All of my best friends are on my team. There’s something about suffering through a session together that deepens the bond between people. Not only have I formed amazing friendships with teammates, but I’ve also developed fruitful relationships with other runners in the community and my coaches. If you’re worried about finding people to relate to abroad, it’s a safe bet that you will quickly find community on your team.

Experience nature

The U.S. boasts beautiful scenery in every state. Many of our weekend runs take us to state parks along the coastline, through dense forests, or up mountains. Running through nature and soaking in the outdoors is a special experience.

State of the art training facilities

Your school will be dedicated to making you the best runner that you can be, and this includes providing advanced rehab programs, strength training sessions, athletic trainers, nutrition advice, sports therapy, and sports medicine.

Exposure to different running philosophies

The NCAA running community is a medley of runners from all over the country and the world, all with different philosophies and perspectives on the sport. You’re able to engage in conversations with other athletes, absorb what is useful, and discard what is not. Through trial and error and exposure to varying training philosophies, you come to form your own approach and discover what works for you.

Community to hold you accountable

Not only is running alongside teammates more fun, it helps hold you accountable for maintaining a high standard of dedication and work ethic. When you train by yourself, it’s often easier to slack on mileage or the extra 1 percenters (core, nutrition, mobility, stability, etc.) that make us all better. But when you see your teammates grinding out the miles and putting in that extra effort, it’s much easier to stay motivated and hold yourself to a higher standard.

The Cons


College in the US is expensive. Notwithstanding an academic or athletic scholarship, it can be hard to find an affordable option. It’s worth reaching out to a lot of coaches to see where you can get the best scholarship.

Finding the right fit

With all the factors determining your college experience, (team, coach, location, weather, academics, majors offered, affordability, etc.) it requires dedicated searching to find the right fit. If, however, you find yourself regretting your initial decision, transferring to another university can be a good option, but it’s a complicated process.

Disagreements with your coach

It’s never guaranteed that you and your coach are going to see eye to eye. It’s possible that you’ll train similarly as in high school; it’s also possible that you’ll train quite differently. Some coaches will listen to your input and alter your training; others will hold fast to their methodology and not allow any deviation. As you’re being recruited, make sure you talk to each coach to get an idea of their training philosophy and how well the two of you would mesh.

Far from home

For some, this will be the biggest drawback to running in the NCAA. You’re leaving your family and friends, coming to a new country with a different culture, and hoping you made the right decision. Especially with international travel becoming more difficult since the start of COVID, it can be hard to know when you’ll be able to return home.

Must attend school

If you’re hoping there’s a way to run in the NCAA without attending school, you’re out of luck. University isn’t for everyone, but it’s a must if you want to run collegiately. If you’re hoping to evade as much school work as possible, you can always apply to less rigorous colleges.

Loyalty to school’s brand

If your school is Nike sponsored, you’re given Nike gear and have to race in Nike spikes. If you can only train well in Brooks or Asics, you’ll have to purchase them on your own because your university won’t get them for you.

Risk of losing a scholarship

Injuries are unfortunately all too common and with them comes the risk of losing your scholarship. However, it’s usually only in extreme cases, such as a multi-year injury, when scholarships are revoked. Short to mid-length injuries are most often part of the process and a good coach will understand that.

Reach out to Spencer Fischer at sfischer@scu.edu with questions or if you want to chat. I love talking about this stuff so get in touch!