NCAA or NAIA?

One common question that most young athletes ask when considering College Sports is what are the differences in the divisions?

It is a massively misunderstood part of the process, but it is understandable why people are confused.

In most of the world Division 1 is better than Division 2…naturally.

This is not how it works in College Sports!

Each university offering college sports must apply for affiliation to a college sports division, the major ones being:

NCAA D1
(4 year Schools)
NCAA D2
(4 year Schools)
NCAA D3
(4 year Schools)
NAIA
(4 year Schools)
NJCAA
(2 year Schools)
# Universities/Colleges351308443250500
# Student-Athletes180,000122,000191,00065,00059,000
Athletic scholarshipYesYesNoYesYes

 

There is a lot of criteria considered when a university decides on what division it will compete in, like finances, location, and preference.

One major factor:

How many sports does the university offer?

  • Typically NCAA Division 1 teams have many sports and a larger American Football or Basketball Team
  • Universities with fewer teams or lack of American Football may opt for NCAA Division 2 or NAIA.

Therefore…

Whatever division the university decides to compete in normally ALL the other sports follow and compete in that division. Being in NCAA Division 1 does not automatically make the program better.

  • Just because a soccer team competes in NCAA Division 1, it does not automatically make them better than all NCAA Division 2 & 3 and NAIA programs.
  • Many of the best college golf teams are in NCAA Division 2 or NAIA
  • The top NAIA Tennis programs can have stronger players than a low-level NCAA Division 1

It is true that the elite NCAA Division 1 teams, due to the popularity of the sports programs lead by American Football and Basketball, tend to attract the top American sporting talents to their schools, which often means that the other sports at those schools are strong too.

But unless you are Olympic level- or youth international level athlete, who usually are recruited by the top 30-40 NCAA Division 1 teams, you must remember that there are many other factors than just the division to consider when evaluating a school.

Scholarships

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), are two separate governing bodies of college athletics. The NCAA is the governing body for around 1200 schools. It consists of three divisions (Division I, II, and III) and oversees 23 sports. Divisions I and II both offer athletic scholarships, with over 126,000 student-athletes receiving partial or full athletic scholarships. However, Division III student-athletes can only receive academic or non-athletic scholarships – no athletic scholarships are allowed. Each year, the NCAA hands out about $1 billion in athletic scholarships, with the rest coming from the individual school.

Conversely, the NAIA consists of 300 schools and 13 sports. The NAIA is a smaller association than the NCAA, with just over 60,000 students. It includes two divisions (Division I and II) and Division I in the NAIA is comparable to Division II in the NCAA. Over 90% of schools in the NAIA offer scholarships and NAIA athletes receive an average of $7,000 of financial aid. However, it is impossible to say how many athletes receive scholarships because the NAIA does not have a central database like the NCAA.

The amount and type of scholarship you receive will depend on, among other things, which association your school is affiliated with and which division within that association your school plays in. Generally speaking, eligibility requirements and scholarship rules for the NCAA are stricter than those of the NAIA. For athletes pursuing a college scholarship, being familiar with these requirements is very important.

When looking for an athletic scholarship, remember that there are options in both the NCAA and NAIA. Being educated and knowledgeable on these two associations will help you in your search to find the best college for you.

NCAA Division I

There are 198 men’s soccer programs, and 320 women’s soccer programs in Division I. The NCAA strictly regulates the number of scholarships that each school in Division I can offer. Women’s soccer programs are capped at 14 full-tuition scholarships, while men’s soccer programs are limited to 9. These are full-ride scholarships, and coaches may choose to divide them up however they wish. For example, if a coach has 14 full-ride scholarships to award in the women’s soccer program, they may choose to recruit 28 players, offering only a partial scholarship to each. In this way, Division I colleges can stretch their scholarship limitations to include a greater number of players.

NCAA Division II

Division II schools are comprised of smaller public universities and private colleges. There are 179 men’s programs and 227 women’s programs in Division II soccer. Each school is limited to 9 full-ride scholarships for both their men’s and women’s teams. Just like Division I programs, coaches can divide their allotment of full-ride scholarships into a greater number of partial tuition scholarships. This is a common practice amongst Division II schools, as it allows coaches greater flexibility when recruiting players.

NCAA Division III

Division III colleges are typically smaller than their Division I or Division II counterparts and as such place a greater emphasis on academics than on athletics. That being said, there are 410 men’s soccer programs and 424 women’s soccer programs in Division III. That’s an impressive number of soccer programs. However, NCAA regulations restrict Division III schools from offering soccer scholarships of any kind. That does not mean that Division III schools are not looking for exceptional soccer players. What it does mean, however, is that Division III schools are looking for talented soccer players with firm academic backgrounds.

Division III schools routinely offer general scholarships and grants to academically talented students who have excelled at high school soccer as an extracurricular activity. In this way, Division III schools can build successful soccer teams while bringing the best and brightest academics to their campuses.

NAIA Soccer

(NAIA) offers student-athletes an alternative to the larger NCAA colleges and universities. NAIA colleges may not have the high profile of NCAA schools, but they do offer a large number of scholarship opportunities for students who are as interested in academic pursuits as they are in athletics.

Like the NCAA, the NAIA closely regulates the availability of athletic scholarships at member schools. There are 218 men’s soccer programs and 223 women’s soccer programs in the NAIA. Each member school is restricted to 12 full-ride scholarships for both the men’s and women’s teams. Again, these scholarships can be divided up as the college and its coaching staff sees fit. Partial ride soccer scholarships are common at NAIA schools, as they allow coaches to recruit a wider range of players for the school’s teams.

NJCAA Soccer

(NJCAA) is the regulating body that oversees athletics programs at community colleges and junior colleges throughout the country. Many student-athletes fail to consider the scholarship opportunities that may be available to them from these two-year colleges. Junior colleges and community colleges offer an intermediary step for students who may not be prepared to go directly to a four-year college or university.

Many junior colleges offer soccer scholarships for talented students who are pursuing their education at the community college level.

There are 136 men’s soccer programs and 118 women’s soccer programs at the junior college level. The NJCAA restricts each member school to 18 full-ride scholarships for both their men’s and women’s teams. Again, these scholarships can be divided up as the college’s coaching team sees fit, and many junior colleges opt for partial soccer scholarships as a way of attracting more student-athletes to their campuses.