What Determines College Division?

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the leading students’ athletic organization founded in 1906. It is a non-profit organization and is authorized to sanction most inter-college sports competitions. The system to divide college teams into different groups got adopted in 1973. This decision was taken so that schools that are smaller and have limited resources can also compete for the championship. Let us know What Determines College Division?

What Determines College Division?

It can happen for several reasons. For example, they might want a usual college experience without having to bear all the responsibilities of being a D1 athlete or want to get enrolled in their specific school of choice.

Divisions And Associations

There are currently three divisions: Division I, Division II, and Division III. Other than NCAA, there are two other college sports associations: the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).

Whereas NJCAA has three divisions as well, NAIA has only two divisions. So, naturally, each division has its own rules for eligibility, scholarships, and resource distribution. They get set by the NCAA(in the case of D1 and D2) or by the school(in the case of D3).

Division I

NCAA Division I has some of the most prominent and most distinguished universities from around the country. There are currently 350 schools playing in Division I. Although being a D1 athlete has its perks, such as traveling across the country for competitions, performing in front of vast crowds in events broadcasted on television, or attaining a considerable scholarship amount, it also comes with a price.

D1 athletes have to give all their time and attention to the championship, which means they have to train hard, whether off-season or on the weekend. As a result, there will hardly be any time left for the athletes to participate in other activities such as looking for internships or focusing on studies, or even having much of their time looking for part-time jobs or taking vacations.

Despite all that, there is rarely any athlete who switches divisions for that particular reason. To compete in Division I, a university must cover the cost of at least seven men’s and women’s games or six men’s and eight women’s games.

Few of the universities that are currently playing in NCAA Division I are:

  • Arizona State University
  • Campbell University
  • Harvard University
  • Michigan State University
  • Princeton University

Division II

Division II also provides competitions that are of high level but within smaller budgets than that of Division I. There are currently 310 schools playing in Division II, in conclusion, this means that Division II has the lowest number of universities in contrast to Division I and Division II.

They offer partial scholarships with the topmost financial aid for each sport. Division II mostly only takes part in provincial competitions unlike Division I. D2 athletes also have a more balanced schedule than D1 athletes. Even though they do have to train hard for competitions, it is not as fierce as that of Division I.

To compete in Division II, a university is required to cover the costs of at least five men’s and women’s games or four men’s and six women’s games.

Few of the universities that play in NCAA Division II are:

  • Albany State University
  • California State University
  • Florida Institute of Technology
  • Georgia College and State University
  • Indiana University of Pennsylvania  

Division III

Division III is the biggest division with over four hundred schools and approx. 194,000 athletes competing in D3 among which around 80% of the schools are private. Even though Division III does not offer scholarships like Division I and Division II, it still offers other forms of financial aid such as academic-based or need-based.

Unlike in Division I and Division II, the eligibility rules are set by the school itself. In addition to that, D3 student-athletes can equally invest in their academic and social life along with training for competitions.

Universities that play in Division III are:

  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Illinois Wesleyan University
  • John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  • The University of Maine at Farmington
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology

National Junior College Athletic Association(NJCAA)

The NJCAA only organizes programs for junior colleges and community colleges. Like NCAA, they too have three divisions and each division offers different types of financial aid:

  • Division I may cover full tuitions, boarding, and academic supplies.
  • Division II may cover only tuition and academic supplies.
  • Division III does not cover any financial aid.

National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes(NIAI)

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes houses 249 colleges and universities. The NAIA is not as competent as NCAA but it has thrived over the years. The associate only consists of two divisions: Division I and Division II. Even though the organization is small, they do provide scholarships to its athletes.

Universities playing under NAIA Divisions are

  • Arizona Christian University
  • Cardinal Stritch University
  • The Evergreen State College
  • Ohio Valley University
  • St. Thomas University


Both private and public schools can compete in any of the three divisions that they are eligible for. An important point to note is that it is mostly a strategic decision rather than a talent-based one in choosing the division that the school wants to play in. While D1 offers high-level competitions with big-budget resources, there are students who although eligible to play as a D1 athlete but opt for D2 or D3 school. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How many conferences are there in total in each of the divisions?

  •  There are a total of sixty-three conferences in Division I, forty-three conferences in Division II, and seventy-three conferences in Division III. 

2. How much scholarship amount does NAIA provide to student-athletes every year? 

  •   Every year, the NAIA offers around $500 million worth of athletic scholarships.

3. How many sports categories are there in NAIA and NJCAA?

  • There are twenty-two sports in NAIA and twenty-five sports in NJCAA I, twenty-one sports in NJCAA II, and seventeen sports in NJCAA III.     

4. Can a school change divisions?

  • Yes, a school can change divisions provided they follow a transition period.