What is the Difference in NCAA Divisions?

NCAAAnyone interested in collegiate athletics, either playing or watching them, might be interested to learn about the difference in NCAA divisions. The NCAA is the National Collegiate Athletic Association, a non-profit organization that helps to regulate athletic programs involving over 450,000 students who play college sports in the United States and Canada each year. Those universities and colleges that belong to the NCAA are divided into three main divisions, called Division I, II and III. The current division set up was originally adopted by the NCAA in 1973.

Division I Athletic Programs

People sometimes assume that the main difference between Divisions I, II and III is related to the size of the school. It is true that Division I schools tend to be larger colleges and universities. This, is because part of the criteria for being in Division I is that the school is able to sponsor at least seven sports each for men and women athletes, with at least two of those sports, for both men and women, being a team sport. The break down of numbers of sports can sometimes be divided into six sports for men and eight for women.

The NCAA also sets other criteria regarding minimum numbers of people who participate, either as athletes or spectators, in given sports over a specific time period. For example, there are different classifications of Division I football programs, and depending on a school’s classification, they might need to meet attendance requirements. Other important critiera include how games are scheduled, since Division I teams must generally play other Division I teams in a given number of games each year. How much financial aid may be awarded, at minimum and maximum, will also be different for Division I schools than it is for colleges in the other two divisions.

Division II and III Programs

Numbers of teams sponsored, athletic participation, scheduling issues and financial aid parameters all continue to be important distinctions for the further divisions of the NCAA, though generally attendance minimums are not part of the criteria, according to the NCAA. Division II programs must have at least five each of sports for men and women (or four and six). Scheduling requirements continue for football and basketball but not for other sports. Division III programs are also required to sponsor at least five sports for each gender, at least two of them team sports. Unlike Division I and II schools, however, Division III schools cannot provide athletic related financial aid to their students.

Related Resource: Alumni Scholarships

Student-athletes can have good experiences in any of the three NCAA divisions. Of the over 1,000 schools that are members of the NCAA, about 340 of them are in Division I. Given the specific requirements for competing as a Division I school, it’s no real surprise that Division I colleges and universities tend to be schools with higher enrollment, more athletic facilities and larger athletic budgets. Because of these and other differences, Division I schools are generally able to provide more athletic scholarships for their students. The distinctions mentioned here provide some of the main difference in NCAA divisions.