What Does NCAA Division I, II or III Mean?

Alabama Crimson Tide Football. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Colleges that belong to the National Collegiate Athletic Association or NCAA designate themselves as Division I, II or III, according to NCAA guidelines about the number of teams, team size, game calendar and financial support. Within the world of college sports, Division I is the most intense and III the least. Students who enjoy sports but who do not qualify (or want) to play at that level might explore club sports and intramural options too.

NCAA Division I

Division I is the highest level of intercollegiate athletics overseen by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the U.S.  D-I schools comprise the major athletic powers in the college division, with larger budgets, more advanced facilities, and more athletic scholarships than Divisions II and III or smaller schools that are competitive in athletics.

In 2014, student athletes and the NCAA and debated whether they should be paid. The students said that their many hours devoted to their sport along with the money they brought it, justify their receipt of payment. In fact, Division I athletic programs generated $8.7 billion in revenue in 2009–2010. The NCAA turned down student-athletes' request for payment, but instead approved unlimited free meals and snacks.

Division I schools:

  • Offer at least 14 sports:seven for men and seven for women, or six for men and eight for women
  • Offer at least two team sports for men and two for women
  • Can guarantee an audience of specific size for football and basketball
  • Provide some athletic scholarships. Division, I schools have to meet minimum financial aid awards for their athletics program; in addition, there is a cap on financial aid awards for each sport that the school cannot exceed.
  • Have enough games to fit each sport's specific requirements
  • Students must maintain a certain GPA and take at least 16 core courses to be eligible.

NCAA Division II

Division II comprises more than 300 NCAA colleges. Their student-athletes may be just as skilled and competitive and those in Division I, but universities in Division II have fewer financial resources to devote to their athletics programs. Division II offers a partial scholarship for financial aid--students can cover their tuition through a mixture of athletics scholarships, need-based grants, academic aid and employment.

Division II is the only one that holds a National Championships Festivals--an Olympic type of event with competitions held over several days.

Division II schools:

  • Have a minimum of 10 sports
  • Offer five each or four men's and six women's plus two team sports each
  • Has enough games to fit each sport's specific requirements.
  • Students must maintain a 2.0 GPA and take at least 14 core courses to be eligible. (Note: Beginning in the fall of 2013, that number rises to 16 core courses.)

    Division III schools

    Division III schools do not offer scholarships, but they have at least five men's and five women's sports, including at least two team sports for each. There are 438 colleges in Division III.