SIGNIFICANCE Pre-participation physical evaluation and its vision screenings have been the mainstay of medical clearance for competitive play for decades. The ability of screening to address athlete's sports-specific vision needs is unknown. METHODS Fifty-eight intercollegiate football players consented to participate in a comprehensive, sports-specific eye examination in addition to the standard pre-participation vision screening. Sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values were determined for screening's ability to detect athletes whose vision might improve with correction, athletes who had significant ocular findings that impact safety, and either of the two conditions together. The effect no recent eye examination added to pre-participation vision screening results was evaluated for change in screening yield. Descriptive statistics of the cohort and associations with no recent comprehensive eye examination were generated. RESULTS The pre-participation vision screening was able to identify three athletes not meeting visual acuity requirements for medical clearance to play without a comprehensive assessment. A failed screening was poorly able to identify athletes who might benefit from improved acuity (sensitivity, 9.1%; specificity, 100%), have sports-specific significant ocular findings (sensitivity, 10.5%; specificity, 97.3%), or have either together (sensitivity, 7.5%; specificity, 100%). Sixty percent (33/55) of athletes reported never having a comprehensive examination or one within the last 10 years. Fifty-eight percent (34/58) had improved best-corrected visual acuity after comprehensive examination, and 81% (47/58) had improved acuity or a sports-specific significant finding. CONCLUSIONS The pre-participation vision screening was largely able to identify athletes meeting the minimum visual acuity requirement for athlete clearance. It poorly identified those who might benefit from improved vision with refractive correction and those in whom sport-specific significant eye findings were noted. Comprehensive eye care had a clear benefit for the majority of athletes tested. This benefit needs to be balanced with the potential added costs and time constraints to players and athletic department staff.