Understand the Different College Divisions


Even for the most diehard sports fans, college football divisions can be a confusing topic. While most fans know the NCAA divides sports into three divisions, understanding what sets each apart can be tough.

In this post, we’ll discuss the different college football divisions and what makes each unique. 

Let’s dive in.

The NCAA’s College Football Divisions

Today, the NCAA divides most sports into three divisions: 


  1. Division 1 (D1)
  2. Division 2 (D2)
  3. Division 3 (D3)


In addition to helping divide college football, these divisions help level the playing field of college sports by ensuring similar-sized programs compete against one another. 


Today, the NCAA allows schools to choose the divisions they want to play in, although it does require them to meet strict NCAA division standards and (generally) to play in the same division for all sports. 


As it stands now, most athletes and sports lovers are familiar with D1 sports because they are typically televised. Still, only a fraction of high school athletes will play at the D1 level. In football, for example, only 1 in 100 high school players actually play D1 football. 


If you’re going through the college recruiting process, learning the differences between the college football divisions is critical. 


A Breakdown of College Football Divisions

Division I 

Division I schools have the largest student bodies, the healthiest athletic budgets, and the largest number of athletic scholarships. Currently, there are more than 350 NCAA Division I schools fielding more than 6,000 teams and providing opportunities to more than 170,0000 student-athletes. 


Additionally, all major sports conferences (including the SEC, Big 10, Pac 12, and ACC) are made up of Division I schools. While Ivy League schools are Division I, many do not offer athletic scholarships.

The NCAA’s Rules for Division I Schools

  • Division I schools must sponsor a minimum of 6 men’s sports and 8 women’s sports, with each gender represented during each playing season.  
  • Division I schools are required to play all contests against Division I opponents, except in football and basketball. 
  • Men's and women's basketball teams must play all but 2 games against Division I teams.
  • Men's basketball teams must play at least one-third of their games at their home arenas. 
  • Division I schools must offer a set number of financial aid options for their athletics program. 

FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision)

In collegiate football, FBS is the highest possible level. FBS schools play bowl games. In 2019, Forbes reported that the Texas A&M FBS team was worth $147 million.

FCS (Football Championship Subdivision)

After FBS, FCS is the next level in the college football world. FCS schools participate in NCAA-run championships. FCS teams are not required to meet minimum attendance requirements.

Division II

There are currently about 300 schools that are part of Division II athletics. Division II schools offer athletic scholarships, but generally have a smaller number of scholarships available than Division I schools. 


As a general rule, Division I schools offer full athletic scholarships, while partial athletic scholarships are more common among Division II schools. Although Division II schools travel to compete, regional rivalries dominate the schedules for Division II fans. 

NCAA Rules for Division II Schools

Division II schools must sponsor a minimum of 5 men’s sports and 5 women’s sports (alternately, that number can be 6 for women and 4 for men), with 2 team sports for each gender, and each gender represented during each playing season. 


Division II schools are not subject to attendance requirements for football or arena game requirements for basketball. There are financial aid requirements for each sport.

Division III

Division III is the NCAA’s largest division. Currently, there are 444 Division III Institutions with more than 170,000 student-athletes.


The biggest differentiation of Division III is that the division does not offer athletic scholarships. Still, many Division III athletes require some form of academic or need-based aid. Division III emphasizes competition, with less of a focus on generating revenue.

Rules for Division III Schools

Division III rules work to maintain gender equity and guarantee that schools provide ample opportunities to all athletes. NCAA rules require Division III schools to sponsor a minimum of 5 men’s sports and 5 women’s sports, with 2 team sports for each gender, and each gender represented during each season. 

Primary Differences Between College Football Divisions

  • Division I teams are widely regarded as the most prestigious. They also have the most money, and attract the most sought-after athletes. Division I schools also tend to be the largest. 
  • Division II offers scholarships less frequently. Additionally, Division II schools usually have fewer athletic department funds and fewer sports teams than Division I schools. 
  • Division III offers no athletic scholarships. Additionally, these schools tend to have the lowest competition level, but the most participants across divisions. 

Here at LUS, we help high school athletes get recruited to play college sports for the Division I, II, and III schools they dream of. Learn more or sign up now.