What Is a PWO In College Football?

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Charlotte running back Calvin Camp in action against Maryland during an NCAA college football game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.
(AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
Chase Kiddy @chaseakiddy Dec 20, 2023, 12:33 PM

In college football, PWO stands for preferred walk-on. A PWO is a player who is specifically invited to try out for the team without a scholarship, with no guarantees attached.  

In FBS college football, each program is allowed to extend 85 scholarship offers to its players at a time. And unlike FCS football, scholarships can’t be split. FBS players are either on a full ride or not on an athletic scholarship.

Around the margins, though, there are still some players left without a scholarship that could provide value to a team on the depth chart or on special teams. Coaches invite these players to try out for the team as a PWO.

As a preferred walk-on, a player is invited to a guaranteed spot during preseason camp but can be cut from the team before Week 1 if they aren’t good enough to contribute in a substantial way. Like any other player, they can be dismissed in-season at any time. They must enroll in the school as a regular student. 

This is a tenuous position to be in for PWOs, but it’s still better than what typical walk-ons, who show up with no recognition at all and must earn the attention of the players and coaching staff.

Many second-rate high school players must decide if they’d rather accept a scholarship offer at a lower-level school or a PWO offer at an FBS/P5 program.

PWO Offer Example

A three-star high school long snapper from Ohio might get scholarship offers to Northwestern, Cincinnati, Western Michigan, and Youngstown State. He might also receive a PWO offer from Ohio State.

That long snapper might prefer to play for his home-state Buckeyes – especially if he grew up as an Ohio State fan – over taking the scholarship offers from other schools.

Ohio State likely wouldn’t guarantee the long snapper anything other than a solid spot through the end of training camp. 

However, if the player remains off scholarship, there’s little incentive for the team to actually cut depth at long snapper unless they’re unusually loaded at a specialist position. The only thing a walk-on like that would cost is food, materials, and other team resources, which are usually abundant at major programs.

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About the Author

Chase Kiddy

Read More @chaseakiddy

Chase Kiddy is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of The Lion's Edge, an NFL and college football podcast available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and everywhere else. He has also written for a number of print and online outlets, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, Daily News-Record, and HERO Sports. His first novel, Cave Paintings, is in development.

Chase Kiddy is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of The Lion's Edge, an NFL and college football podcast available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and everywhere else. He has also written for a number of print and online outlets, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, Daily News-Record, and HERO Sports. His first novel, Cave Paintings, is in development.