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2 Hour Research Project -- NCAA Athletic Scholarships: Part 1

May 29, 2015
I have said before that just about any high school softball player can play softball in college IF she is willing to play anywhere. I have heard plenty of misconceptions about college sports and even held a few myself. So, I decided to do some digging. Disclaimer: I am not an expert. I did not play one on TV. I did not sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night. I did, however, spend two hours on the internet … and here are the results. While I didn’t find sport-specific numbers, this article will look at NCAA athletics in general and serve as a springboard to begin your education.

“My little Suzy spent three hours with her pitching coach this week. Her competitive softball team practices six hours each week. They play a 120+ game schedule in the summer at the most elite of venues. She has multiple coaches looking at her for a college scholarship, even though she is just in fourth grade now!” -- Anonymous softball parent

There are over 1,000 colleges and universities who participate in NCAA athletics(1). There are another 250+ schools who compete in NAIA athletics(2). That is around 1,300 options before you add in junior colleges competing in NJCAA sports. Earning an athletic scholarship for playing a sport has much smaller odds though. About 2% of high school athletes will earn any athletic scholarship money in college(3). Yes, somebody is going to get that money, so get out there and work your butt off! Before you do that … do you even know what you are competing for?

Let’s start with learning about the three divisions of NCAA athletics, commonly called D1, D2, and D3. Do you know the differences? Many people mistakenly associate these with the level of play the school takes part in or the amount of time players spend on the sport. The correct answer has to do with money, but not the amount of money your daughter can earn for having a big bat or a killer riseball. NCAA classifications are determined by the number of sports offered by the school and who they play against(4).

  • Division 1 schools offer at least 7 sports for each gender (or 6 men’s and 8 women’s) with at least 2 team sports for each gender. They must play a minimum number of games against other D1 schools with limitations on the number of games that can be played against non-D1 schools. There are minimum and maximum athletic financial aid award requirements. If the school has football, there are additional requirements involving attendance of football games. Financially, the athletic programs operate independently of the school’s academic/operating budget.
  • Division 2 schools offer at least 5 sports for each gender (or 4 men’s sports and 6 women’s sports) with at least 2 team sports for each gender. Only basketball and football have opponent requirements against other D2 schools. All other sports do not have any scheduling requirements, though schedules typically feature regional opponents. Athletic financial aid is capped, but does not have a minimum. Athletic programs are budgeted as part of the school’s operations/academic budgets.
  • Division 3 schools must offer 5 sports for each gender, with at least 2 team sports for each gender. There are minimum scheduling and team size requirements. Scheduling is typically against regional or conference opponents. There is no student financial aid tied to athletic performance. The focus of D3 athletic programs is on the student athlete, not on generating fans and attendance to fund the program.
  • NAIA schools are more akin to NCAA D2 and D3 programs, but often operate on smaller budgets. Schedules are more regional with the focus of the athletic program being on the student-athlete’s entire college experience, not just their sports experience.

    Coming soon: Part 2 - How big is the pie?

1. NCAA Our Three Divisions. http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/media-center/ncaa-101/our-three-divisions

2. NAIA https://www.naia.org/landing/index

3. NCAA 2019-2020 Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete. http://fs.ncaa.org/Docs/eligibility_center/Student_Resources/CBSA.pdf

4. NCAA Divisional Differences and the History of Multidivision Classification. http://www.ncaa.org/about/who-we-ar...nces-and-history-multidivision-classification

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