Levels of Competition

Which division should you compete in?  The Intercollegiate Athletics landscape can be divided into 4 different organizations.

  • National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
  • National Intercollegiate Athletics Association (NAIA)
  • National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA)
  • National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA)

There are approximately 600,000 college student-athletes in the United States.  The biggest and most popular is the NCAA.  The NCAA is divided into three divisions.

  • Division I
  • Division II
  • Division III

There are many differences between Division I, II, and III regarding the number of programs (teams) , athletic scholarships, and the playing and practice season.  Here is a quick overview of the differences between each level of play. 

Minimum Number of Programs

  • NCAA Division I Institutions must offer at least 14 sports,  7 for the men , and 7 for the women.
  • NCAA Division II Institutions must offer at least 10 sports, 5 for the men and 5 for the women. 
  • NCAA Division III Institutions must offer at least 10 sports, 5 for the men and 5 for the women

Athletic Scholarships – (See more about Financial Aid 101)

  • NCAA Division I Institutions do offer athletic scholarships. Each school must meet the minimum financial aid awards for their programs usually determined by the conference in which they compete.  Each NCAA sponsored sport has a maximum number of scholarships it may offer.  (e.g NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Program may offer up to 14 Scholarships to its entire roster)
  • NCAA Division II Institutions also offer athletic scholarships.  However, there are no minimum requirements that the school must meet.  But each sport, like division I has a maximum number of scholarships it may offer.   It is at the discretion of the school to determine how many athletic scholarships it would like to offer. 
  • NCAA Division III Institutions do not offer athletic scholarships.  Many DIII programs offer Merit Scholarships which are a combination of your academics and extracurricular activities combined into one financial package.

Athletic Funding/Operating Budgets

NCAA Division I has three segments

  • Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly DI-A)  – 125 Schools
    • Schools include Alabama, Duke, Penn State, Texas, and UCLA
  • Football Championship Subdivision (formerly DI-AA) 124 Schools
    • Schools include JMU, William & Mary, Villanova, Towson, and Harvard 
  • Non Football Schools – 98 Schools
    • Schools include St. John’s , Seton Hall, Marquette, and Gonzaga.

Division I programs may be funded differently base on which segment they fall under.  It has to do with the revenue the schools brings in from its revenue sports or its alumni giving.  The FBS schools which include the power 5 Conferences (ACC, BIG 10, BIG 12, PAC 12, and SEC) bring in millions and millions of dollars through their football and basketball programs which allows them to fund their non-revenue sports.    Many of these programs we would consider “fully funded.”   A program that can offer the maximum number of scholarships for a sport is considered fully funded.  

The Non-Football Schools don’t bring in the same amount of revenue as the FBS and FCS schools so it is harder for them to fully fund all of their programs.  However, there are many Non-Football Schools who have very strong basketball programs and very generous alumni that help fund those programs.

The way a an athletic program (team) is funded could effect the following:

  • Athletic Scholarships
  • Coaching Staff (Full Time, Part Time) / Assistant Coaches 
  • How a team travels (Vans, Bus, Plane, Chartered Flights)
  • College Apparel
  • Recruiting Budgets

*The amount of funding put towards athletics at the Division II and Division III level is at the discretion of each individual school.  There are DII schools that are considered fully funded, and there are are schools that may only have part time coaching staff.  You need to do your research to find out how well funded a program is that you are interested in and how important is that to you.

Playing and Practice Season

The NCAA has determined playing and practice season for all varsity sports.  The season is broken into two segments for all divisions.  There are certain time restrictions for each segment called Countable Hours Athletic Related Activity (CHARA).  CHARA activities include any mandatory team events including practice, conditioning, lifting, and film study.)  All involuntary workouts or captains practices do not count towards this.

  • Championship Season (e.g Football is August – December/January)
  • Non-Championship Season  (e.g Football Season ends – Last Day of Classes)

Division I and Division II

*Championship Season

  • Maximum 20 hours / week
  • Maximum 4 hours / day
  • Must have a minimum of 1 day off / week

#Non Championship Season

  • Maximum 8 hours / week 
  • Maximum 4 hours / day
  • 2 hours can be small group or skill instruction
  • Minimum 2 days off / week
  • Number of competitions varies by sport

*In the Championship Season for Division I, II, and III programs all have the same time restrictions in regards to their CHARA. 

#The Non Championship Rules are the same for Division II

Division III

Non Championship Season

  • Limited to 15 days of practice (Under the guidance of the coaching staff)
  • Allowed 1 day of competition