College sports in the United States is a lucrative, competitive and complicated system. Most sports recruits will recognize the NCAA, but what is the NAIA? What is the NCJAA? Knowing the difference between the various athletic associations is important sports trivia for both athletes and fans alike.
What is the NCAA?
The National Collegiate Athletic Association is a non-profit organization that regulates college sports at 1,268 different North American colleges. When people think of college sports, chances are they're thinking of the NCAA.
The NCAA consists of three divisions – Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3.
What does Division 1 mean?
NCAA Division 1 schools are typically the largest schools competing at the the highest, most competitive level of play. D1 teams typically play a national schedule and they offer full scholarships for many if not all of their sports, and have more rules from the NCAA to ensure that they remain at the highest levels of competitive play.
Ivy League schools are an exception in that they compete at the D1 level but do not offer scholarships. The Ivy League consists of Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale.
For football, Division 1 breaks down into two subdivisions. FBS and FCS, formerly known as Division 1a and Division 1aa.
FBS vs FCS
FBS stands for "Football Bowl Subdivision" and FCS stands for "Football Championship Division." The FBS level of college football consists of the biggest, most well-known teams in college sports. As massive as this division is, however, there is no formal NCAA champion declared. Instead championships are determined via national poll rankings determined after annual bowl games are played – hence the name "bowl" subdivision. The playoff at the FBS level of NCAA football is actually a series of contracts with bowl games to mimic a traditional NCAA playoff, but is not formally run or owned by the NCAA.
Conversely, FCS stands for the "Football Championship Division." This level of NCAA D1 Football has a formal NCAA managed playoff that determines an NCAA champion.
What does Division 2 mean?
Division 2 of the NCAA typically consists of smaller schools than Division 1. While many play teams nationally, at the D2 level most competition happens regionally. Partial athletic scholarships are more common at the D2 level.
The NCAA requirements for D2 are less than they are for D1. There are no minimum fan attendance requirements, they can play an easier schedule, and they can offer less sports (5 sports are required for D2 vs 6 for D1).
What does Division 3 mean?
While D3 is often considered the "smallest" of divisions, it's actually the largest in overall membership. The biggest difference between D3 and the other divisions is that there are no athletic scholarships available. It's important to note, however, that there are plenty of financial scholarships and academic scholarships available and offered to D3 athletes.
The emphasis at the D3 level is often on the value competing in sports at a high level offers the individual. It's very much a "for the love of the game" atmosphere that allows student athletes to contribute with perhaps less time commitments than the other two "higher" divisions might require. It's an opportunity to compete at what is still considered an extremely high level, while also earning an excellent degree from what usually is a smaller private college.
What is the NAIA?
NAIA stands for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. The NAIA consists of smaller colleges and universities and is much smaller in total membership than the NCAA. There are currently 249 organizations that compete within the NAIA.
The NAIA consists of two divisions, with their Division 1 being similar to Division 2 of the NCAA. The biggest difference with the NAIA overall is that it offers a much more flexible set of rules for its member institutions. Schools and individual leagues within the association can set their own rules and budgets instead of conforming to the highly regulated existence of an NCAA school.
Both the NCAA and NAIA exist to serve student athletes, and member institutions in both leagues offer tremendous opportunities to athletes in all sports.
What is the NJCAA?
NJCAA stands for the National Junior College Athletic Association. The NJCAA consists of schools that are community colleges and junior colleges, meaning the offer 2 year degrees. Transferring to a NCAA or NAIA institution to complete a 4 year education afterwards is common.
These "JuCo" schools often offer friendlier admission to athletes with lower GPAs and test scores. Sometimes foreign players attend a JuCo to work on their english skills before transferring to a NCAA or NAIA as well. Junior Colleges also offer a great way to continue developing athletic talents before "stepping up" to a more competitive level.
Many NJCAA institutions are able to offer scholarships and assist with financial requirements.
Alex Rudloff is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of GMTM.com. He believes that UCF would have beaten Alabama in 2017 and he'll die on that hill.