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Differences between D1, NAIA, D3

01/24/2012, 12:00am PST

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 "I'm an 'elite' player and NCAA Division's 2 & 3 (and NAIA) are just not competitive enough, because they are not D1".

Not true. 

Based on numerous experiences/conversations and stories over the past 20 years, and when talking with players and parents about the 'next level' (college soccer) there exists a most unfortunate but quite understandable confusion between the numerical division's in NCAA soccer leagues (D1,2 & 3) and the quality of their respective soccer/sports programs.

Colleges are in one of the 3 NCAA Divisions, because they either are, or are not, able to field a minimum number of teams in both men's & women's intercollegiate sports. There is no promotion or relegation between divisions, unless a college changes it's number of intercollegiate teams. There seems to be a disconnect between the realities of aspiring young soccer players (parents included) and their choice of colleges. And the anxiety caused by the pursuit of 'D1' sports is often misplaced and without foundation and often based on perceived status rather than reality. 

One of the ways in which youth soccer coaches can and should help, is by directly 'educating' young players or at the very least, encouraging them (and parents) to research the differences that exist even with the NCAA's own Divisional structure. Either youth soccer coaches themselves do not know enough about the NCAA & NAIA or the same youth coaches fail to educate, because the result is that so many players are conditioned to be recruited exclusively to a top D1 school.

This pressure often amounts to much anxiety & disappointment and has reached a new zenith among young players & parents in the US. The culmination of which is countless hours and cost of tournament play across the country in an effort to 'be seen' instead of productively improving and developing their skills.

Players really just want to continue to play the game they have been playing all their life. So, why not explore the many legitimate options that do exist at college level, rather than focus singularly on one? 

After all is said and done colleges are primarily academic institutions whereby 99.9% of the student body attend college to get an education first and foremost. For the majority it is logical to decide on a college of preference for its academics and location/environment first, and then evaluate the soccer team at that institution. Soccer can and does help you get into school and has been hugely influential for many soccer players who otherwise may not have had an opportunity to attend their school of choice. 

What is the difference between the Divisions in level of play, Div. I, II, III, etc.?

Without getting too deep about the comparative level of play between the 3 NCAA divisions, it can best be understood in the following way. 

The D1 schools, having more funding because of the sheer size of the program, are simply more visible. But, there are plenty of D2 & D3 schools whose soccer programs are much smaller in terms of their financial muscle and remain very competitive.

The top D2 & D3 soccer teams in both mens and women's soccer, are easily capable of playing head to head with the best D1 schools. A good number of D1 school soccer teams are equivalent to D3 or NAIA schools. 

When looking at schools, don't rule out D2 or D3 or NAIA. You may even be able to attend a Juniro College and transfer to a 4 year institution.  You could end up playing every minute in your freshman year and enjoying great soccer instead of sitting on the bench with a huge roster, waiting for a junior or senior to graduate.

Quick Facts (based on information from 2008) 

In the NCAA, there are 335 D1 Colleges, 288 D2 Colleges & 432 D3 Colleges.

D1 requires at least 14 sports teams, D2 requires at least 10, and D3 is even fewer.
There are more NCAA 'regulated' financial aid opportunities in D1, fewer in D2, and still fewer if any in D3, but, most of these schools are 'creative' when it comes to helping figure out 'aid packages'.

Another interesting perspective when looking at schools, is that the percentage of public v private schools makes a complete turnaround from D1 through D3. For example: At D1, the percentage is public 66% - 34%. At D2 it is public 53% - private 47% and at D3 it is private 80% - public 20%.

The text below is from the NCAA's own website. It clearly explains the differences between 'Divisions' and states:

To be a 'Division 1 College', the college must have a number of 'required sports':

* Division I members must offer at least 14 sports (at least seven for men and seven for women, or six for men and eight for women).

* The institution must sponsor at least two team sports (for example, football, basketball or volleyball) for each gender.

* The school also must have participating male and female teams or participants in the fall, winter and spring seasons.

* Colleges and universities determine the level at which they will compete, and new members must petition to join the division they choose.