NCAA divisions offer different benefits for college student-athletes

By Alex Brown | Posted 2/24/2015

For aspiring college football players, it is vital to know the structure of college athletics and the differences between divisions in the NCAA.

The NCAA, which is made up of more than 460,000 student-athletes and 19,000 teams, is represented by three distinct divisions. According to the NCAA, only six percent of high school athletes become college football players. Out of that six percent, only two percent of those players continue playing at the next level. That equates to one-tenth of one percent of all high school football players reaching the NFL.

With those figures in mind, the driving force of a college decision should be centered on the school’s net worth as far as academic prestige, networking opportunities and campus life. College is a one-time experience for most, so why not make the most of it?

All three divisions have different academic requirements for athletes. The NCAA offers a clear, simple online course to determine if athletes qualify.

Here is a quick overview of the three NCAA divisions and what prospective football players can expect.

Division I

Division I football breaks down further into two divisions – the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). There were 128 FBS teams and 124 FCS teams competing during the 2014-15 season.

The average enrollment for Division I schools is 12,900 students. They include most of the state universities and larger private schools. Division I football teams have outstanding resources and facilities to develop athletes. These schools enroll the most students of the three divisions, operate the largest athletics budget and can offer more scholarships than the other divisions.

It is important to note though that not all FCS institutions offer football scholarships. Make sure you know the difference between athletic scholarship and financial aid when talking to recruiters.

Division II

About 56 percent of all Division II student-athletes receive athletic scholarships, which is slightly more than Division I schools offer on average.

Division II graduation rates for student-athletes are the lowest among NCAA institutions. By providing an educational opportunity and highly competitive football scene, Division II remains an option for prospective student-athletes.

Division III

The NCAA’s Division III include a larger pool of schools and the highest academic success rate among the three divisions (87 percent graduation rate).

Only Division I and Division II schools can give out athletic scholarships, but it is important to realize that Division III schools still can help athletes with financial aid. Division III schools provide 75 percent of all student-athletes some form of academic grant or need-based scholarship.

At the Division III level, there are 450 colleges and universities, and more than 180,000 student-athletes in competition. It is geared primarily toward developing student-athletes for life after sports, as evidenced by the academic success rate figures listed above.

Speaking with a number of former NCAA football athletes playing at different divisions, the common thread is time commitment. As one Division II player said, “Whatever the maximum amount of time allowed was by NCAA standards, that’s how much time we put in.” A Division III football player said that he would spend anywhere from five to eight hours each week working out, practicing, going to team meetings and watching film on his own.

According to the National Football Foundation, the number of NCAA schools playing football from 1978 to 2013 increased by 484. This past year, there were seven additions to the NCAA, and the 2015-16 season include eight additional members.

Be sure to visit NCAA’s home page at for additional information.