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Division III (or DIII) is a division of the National Collegiate Athletic Association of the United States. The division consists of colleges and universities that choose not to offer athletically related financial aid (athletic scholarships) to their student-athletes.

It was formed in 1973 in a split of the College Division, the former second-tier division of NCAA member schools. The former College Division members that chose to offer athletic scholarships became Division II, while the non-scholarship members became Division III.


There are 449 member institutions (both full and provisional), making it the largest of the three divisions in the NCAA.

D-III schools range in size from fewer than 500 to over 20,000 students. D-III schools compete in athletics as a non-revenue-making, extracurricular activity for students; hence, they may not offer athletic scholarships, they may not redshirt freshmen,[1][2][3] and they may not use endowments or funds whose primary purpose is to benefit their athletic programs.[4] Also, under NCAA rules, D-III schools "shall not award financial aid to any student on the basis of athletics leadership, ability, participation or performance".[5] Financial aid given to athletes must be awarded under the same procedures as for the general student body, and the proportion of total financial aid given to athletes "shall be closely equivalent to the percentage of student-athletes within the student body."[6]

All Division III schools must field athletes in at least ten sports, with men's and women's competition in a given sport counting as two different sports. In 2012, coeducational schools with more than 1,000 undergraduates must field athletes in at least twelve sports, with at least six all-female teams and at least six teams that are either all-male or mixed-sex. Schools with fewer than 1,000 undergraduates must still field at least five sports in each category.[7][8] Single-sex schools need only field the required number of sports for the sex that they serve. For all schools regardless of enrollment, at least three sports for each sex must be team sports.[7]

Conferences competing in Division IIIEdit

* Conference sponsors football
† The MASCAC does not currently sponsor football, but has announced that it will begin sponsoring football in 2013.


Division III schools with Division I programsEdit

13 D-III schools currently play up to the Division I level in one or two sports (one for each gender maximum).

Seven of them are grandfathered schools that have traditionally competed at the highest level of a particular sport prior to the institution of the Division classifications in 1971. These schools are allowed to offer athletic scholarships in their Division I sports to remain competitive with their opponents.[9]

(State University of New York at Oneonta was previously grandfathered in men's soccer but moved totally to Division III in 2006.)

The other six schools choose to play up in one sport for men and optionally one sport for women, but they are not grandfathered and thus are not allowed to offer athletic scholarships. Academic-based and need-based financial aid is still available.

Football and basketball may not be grandfathered Division I programs because their revenue-enhancing potential would give them an unfair advantage over other Division III schools. In 1992, several Division I schools playing Division III in football, most notably Georgetown University, were forced to upgrade its football program to a Division I level.

In August 2007, the NCAA instituted a moratorium on all division moves, including play-ups.[10] That moratorium expired in August 2011, but the NCAA has indicated that play-ups will no longer be allowed as a general policy (though at least one exception has been made in women's hockey due to the lack of Division II competition in ice hockey).

Comparison to Division I athleticsEdit

General and Historical ConsiderationsEdit

The portion of college athletics most familiar to the American general public is NCAA Division I, and specifically only the portion of that Division which generates enough interest to get television coverage. Public awareness of the other NCAA Divisions is often limited, so it is natural for interested people to want to compare and contrast them with the most familiar Division as a means to learn about them. The comparisons made here, however, will be with Division I as a whole, not just the portion which obtains television coverage.

NCAA regulations require signatories to field so many sports programs that a substantial investment in athletics by any member college or university is a must. In any NCAA Division, most schools hire coaches whose job is to coach full-time. They hire people who specialize in developing talent. Further, college athletes are people who devote long hours to practice for their sports. Such a commitment is prone to produce exceptional prowess in those given sports. When coaching staffs which specialize in developing talent full-time are paired with athletes who devote many hours to practice and training for their sports, the result is a high level of athletics, regardless of affiliation.

As noted in the article about NCAA Division II, the second NCAA Division formed because many colleges and universities wanted an alternative to the expensive nature of Division I.[11] The goal of what was once called the College Division was for a college or university to be able to be highly competitive without needing to spend a lot of money; an athletic program no longer needed to be rich to have a strong chance at a postseason tournament or a winning record. Later, as noted above, the College Division split between schools which did want to offer athletics-based financial aid and schools which did not. The results were Division II and Division III.

With the creation of new NCAA Divisions, not every school was willing to switch even when a newer Division might be a better match with the nature of its athletic programs. For instance, some NCAA Division I programs do not do athletic scholarships, making them akin to Division III schools. Others invest money in their athletics programs at quantities similar to what is typical for Division II. Because what was originally called the University Division, now called Division I, holds more prestige and obtains more publicity, some college sports programs have remained in Division I even when they hold strong resemblance to programs in another Division.

The causes for the NCAA Divisions mean that they all differ in how they invest in their athletic programs. These differences affect recruiting of high school and other prospects. Division I programs typically have more money and more freedom to offer athletics-based financial aid to prospective athletes. They can offer more financial aid money to top prospects, offer to more top prospects, and appeal to the notoriety that their program receives as a Division I school. Division II schools offer less athletics-based money and must limit the quantity of beneficiaries per NCAA regulations. Division III schools do not offer athletics-based financial aid, and further, commonly have academic demands which would discourage many top prospects.

All this being said, college athletics programs recruit athletes who have devoted many long hours to practice in their sports, and have exceptional aptitude in their sports. Whether a college athletics programs gets the very best of high level athletes or the least of high level athletes still means the school gets high level athletes, regardless of NCAA Division.

Further, it should be remembered that college athletes are expected to be enrolled students in classes at that school. Whether a college or university affiliates with NCAA Division I, Division II, or Division III, the athletes on those teams are supposed to be involved in the academic studies in their schools. The amount the athlete is expected to expend in academic pursuits varies, but every athlete is supposed to be enrolled in college classes and making some level of academic progress.

Financial comparisonEdit

Division III institutions do not have the same access to scholarship money when it comes to the recruiting process. Division III sports offer non-athletic financial aid packages rather than athletically based support. Division I sports teams are able to provide aid more directly through athletic based scholarships.[12] Since there are fewer guidelines for athletic scholarships in Division III schools, these institutions have more choice in how they allocate their funds.[12] Not only is there more financial support that is specifically given to Division I athletes, but Division I teams and facilities receive more funding from the NCAA. The NCAA puts substantially more money towards Division I programs than it does Division III. Sixty percent of all NCAA revenue is given directly to Division I institutions alone.[13] From 2009–2010, 433 million dollars made up the NCAA's Division I expenses.[13] Only about three percent of the NCAA’s spending goes towards Division III programs.[14] The differences in financial support has been a major cause in further differences between both divisions.

Athletic and academic comparisonEdit

NCAA regulations in competition and time commitment have made Division III athletics seem less strenuous and binding when compared to Division I athletics. Each sport is subject to different regulations, but when comparing the same sports in Division I and Division III competition, there are differences. For example, Division III baseball limits the number of games to 40 per season[15] while Division I baseball sets the limit at 56 games per season.[16] According to a 2008 NCAA survey, participants admitted devoting more time to athletics than they did towards academic responsibilities. This survey found that the average "major" Division I athlete devotes 44.8 hours a week to athletic responsibilities in addition to a little less than 40 hours a week set aside for academic life.[17] This difference in time commitment can also be seen in the average number of classes missed. Twenty-one percent of Division I baseball players miss more than three classes per week compared to twelve percent of Division III baseball players.[18] This pattern is similar in other sports as well according to the 2011 NCAA survey.

The primary difference between Division III and the other divisions is that athletics-based financial aid is prohibited in Division III. To expect athletes to perform well both in athletics and in academics is normal, and further, athletes are expected to attend to academic responsibilities under the same conditions as the general student body. The publicity given to Division I and to Division III differs. All of these considerations affect recruiting: Division I schools tend to get the top prospects. Some prospects sought by Division I programs choose a Division III program for academic/educational or other reasons, but they are exceptions to the norm. Further, NCAA Division III teams commonly do not make cuts: the coaches give a chance to whomever is willing to do the work, and the aspiring athlete will either quit or improve. Because of these considerations, there is a slight difference in athletic prowess between the average Division I and the average Division III athlete.

It is in some ways difficult to gauge the difference in athletic performance. In racing sports, such as cross country and track & field, it is easy because all one has to do is look at the individual standings. In sports where only two teams play each other, it is difficult because of the relative rarity of such competitions, as well as the fact that often the only thing publicized is who won, not the actual competition. Naturally, schools are more prone to use limited schedule slots to play against teams in their own NCAA Division and mostly to members of their own conference. There are Division III personnel who prefer an aloofness from scholarship athletics in such sports, and compete exclusively with Division III teams in these sports. Traditionally, prejudices have also discouraged Division I teams from scheduling Division III teams in such sports during the regular season, and not all conferences allow it. In recent years, exhibition games have allowed Division I teams to schedule Division III teams before the regular season in some sports, allowing a greater understanding of the level of Division III teams. It is becoming more common to see such competitions during both the preseason and regular season, although the Division I opponent is usually a well-known program with greater notoriety than many other Division I programs.

In sports where only two teams are competing, such as basketball, what happens to the Division III team varies between being blown out from the start, to being close for much of the game but eventually losing, to occasionally winning. A microcosm from men's basketball could be considered. In November 2012, an unranked Division III team played a ranked Division I team, and was only down 10 points at halftime -- then cut the lead to single digits after halftime before eventually losing.[19] The next month, another Division III team played against another Division I team and was leading with 12 minutes remaining before eventually losing.[20] In regards to this second Division I team that season, it defeated another Division I team by a larger margin, and that team beat several other Division I teams by 20+ points, one of which had multiple victories of 20+ points over other Division I teams.[21] Other Division I teams beat/beatable by a wide margin by either of these two Division I teams could have been challenged or even possibly defeated by one or both of these two Division III teams or others roughly equal to or superior to them. Occasionally, a Division III team does come out on top at the end, but more often than not, the game is a blowout from the beginning or goes along similar to the two games just described: competitive for much of the contest but eventually a loss.

In sports where only two teams play each other, most Division I teams will not have a single Division III team on their schedule, and most Division III teams will not have a single Division I team on their schedule. In racing sports, sports teams can compete with more than one team at a time, and this causes teams from each Division to compete with more teams both in their Division and other Divisions.

It is common in racing sports, such as cross country and track & field, for Division III teams to beat Division I teams. It is even more common for the same among individual competitors. The average Division III racing sport competitor who competes with Division I teams on a regular basis will beat Division I competitors on a regular basis. In most such competitions, however, the median Division I competitor will beat the median Division III competitor.

Academically, the two divisions have different priorities. In Division I, typically, the athlete is expected to focus on prime athletic preparedness, and perform adequately in academics to meet NCAA academic eligibility minimums. In Division III, college authorities have generally chosen that affiliation because they do not want strict academic priorities to have a damaging effect on sports competitiveness. Those authorities expect coaching staffs to support those academic priorities. Simply maintaining academic eligibility is typically not adequate to satisfy expectations coaching staffs place on their athletes. Athletes are expected to have solid academic performance to support a positive image of their program/s.

Ultimately, college athletes are college athletes, and in general, excel in their sports. College athletes are also students of their respective schools. There is significant overlap between the Divisions among athletes in both prowess in their sports and in academic achievement. The norm for athletic performance, however, is slightly but noticeably higher in Division I. The academic expectations, as a norm, are higher in Division III.

Effects on student athletesEdit

The differences in division requirements and financial regulation have led to some distinct differences in student life. Participation in school activities outside of intercollegiate athletics is more common in Division III athletes, and they are more likely to see themselves as part of their college's community.[22] Division III athletes are also known to put much more emphasis on their academic experience, including participation in on-campus research and extra-curricular activities.[14] Not only is there more involvement, but Division III Athletes have proven to be more successful in time management when compared to non-athletes at the same institution.[14] There are also differences in the student-athlete social experience. Division I athletes are more likely to have friends who are exclusively part of their respective team.[18]

Division III athletes are not considered to have athletic obligations to their college or university. They do not feel their prospects of an education to be dependent upon their athletic performance. Because athletics-based financial aid is prohibited, an athlete's financial support is not going to be withdrawn for not performing as well as a teammate. This allows a less stressful approach to the sport itself. Further, because a student's financial aid is not tied to any athletics obligation, an athlete is not going to be told to not declare a particular major or refrain from any course under threat of having financial support withdrawn. This frees the athlete to make the most of the educational opportunities afforded by the college.

Division III athletes in general must live a disciplined lifestyle to be successful, because they must undergo rigorous training to be able to compete at the level expected of college athletes, and they must attend to their academic responsibilities on the same terms as other students. College administrators who place affiliation with Division III do so by choice, and because of that, expect a priority placed upon colleges as educational institutions. Coaches are expected to support the high priority placed on academics, and those expectations are reflected onto athletes. The NCAA requires a C grade average to remain eligible, but it is common for Division III programs to consider this unsatisfactory for their athletes. There are not supposed to be course sections specifically for athletes, nor are there supposed to be athletic tutors nor similar special academic support. Athletes are expected to pursue their degrees under the same conditions as other students. Keeping up with the demands of rigorous training and with expectations of solid academic performance present a dual challenge for Division III athletes which calls for a disciplined approach to college life.

Division III alumni are often quite proud of their college experiences and of what is commonly referred to as "the Division III culture" and/or "the Division III philosophy." They commonly take pride in having met the dual challenge of athletic performance at a high level and adhering to strong academic expectations as they earned their degrees.

Recent changesEdit

In 2003, concerned about the direction of the Division, the Division III Presidents' Council, led by Middlebury College President John McCardell, acted to limit the length of the traditional and non-traditional seasons, eliminate redshirting, and redefine a season of participation, all of which changes were approved by a majority vote of the membership.

An additional proposal that would have eliminated the ability of the institutions listed above to offer athletic scholarships in their Division I sports was rejected, though rules limiting the exception to only those schools currently offering D-I programs were approved. These actions took place at the January 2004 NCAA Convention.


  1. NCAA. "Bylaw Minimum Amount of Participation" (PDF). 2012-13 NCAA Division III Manual. p. 93. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  2. Under Bylaw, a Division III athlete uses a year of eligibility by either practicing with or playing on a team. This differs from the rules for Divisions I and II, in which only playing on a team counts as participation.
  3. The so-called "medical redshirt", officially known as a "hardship waiver", is covered by a different NCAA bylaw—specifically Bylaw 14.2.5 (p. 96, 2012–13 NCAA Division III Manual).
  4. "Bylaw 15.01.5 Student-Athlete Financial Aid Endowments or Funds" (PDF). 2012–13 NCAA Division III Manual. NCAA. p. 107. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  5. "Bylaw 15.01.3 Institutional Financial Aid" (PDF). 2012–13 NCAA Division III Manual. NCAA. p. 107. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  6. "Bylaw 15.4.1 Consistent Financial Aid Package." (PDF). 2012–13 NCAA Division III Manual. NCAA. p. 110. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Bylaw 20.11.3 Sports Sponsorship." (PDF). 2012–13 NCAA Division III Manual. NCAA. pp. 187–90. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  8. "Microsoft Word - Issue Four_Division II as Possible Membership Destination.doc" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-04-18.
  9. USCHO: Scholarships Will Continue For D-III 'Play Up' Schools
  10. NCAA Freezes Division I Membership
  12. 12.0 12.1 Draper, Alan. "Innocence Lost Division III Sports Programs." Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 28.6 (1996): 46-49. Print.
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Where Does the Money Go?".
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 "Differences Among the Three Divisions: Division III." National Collegiate Athletic Association, 13 Dec. 2011. Web.
  15. "NCAA Division III Manual 2011-2012".
  16. "NCAA Division I Manual 2011-2012".
  17. Whiteside, Kelly (09/02/2009). "NCAA's time rules 'complicated'".
  18. 18.0 18.1 "NCAA Goals Study 2011".
  19. WNDY TV Channel 23 Indianapolis broadcast November 27, 2012.
  20. G101.3 Radio channel 101.3 FM Richmond, IN broadcast December 30, 2012.
  21. Schedules and results research done February 9, 2013 using

External linksEdit

es:División III de la NCAA

pl:NCAA Division III

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