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NCAA Division I: A Brief Overview

By David Brackman

Many high school athletes have dreamed of playing in the pros since they were kids. But the path to the pros – for those fortunate enough to make it that far – almost always goes through college athletics at the highest level – NCAA Division I sports.

With the exception of the Olympics, NCAA Division I represents the epitome of amateur sports in America, but unlike the Olympics, NCAA Division I student-athletes are able to pursue a quality education while competing in the sport they love.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the governing body of the majority of organized intercollegiate sports in the U.S. The NCAA oversees three divisions (I, II and III) with more than 1,100 total schools, but we will focus on Division I, or D1, in this article.

By the numbers

With 357 member schools (and a few in transition from lower divisions) during the 2020-2021 academic year participating in 28 sports and up to 32 conferences depending on the sport, NCAA sports have captured the public imagination for more than a century. (A predecessor of the NCAA was organized in 1910; it adopted its current name in 1915.)

Television and emerging technologies have only enhanced consumer demand for more and more sports, and most people have access to news and videos of their favorite college team or player right in their pocket.  D1 sports – specifically football and men’s basketball – have become economic juggernauts and interest in just these two sports and especially their championships produces enormous revenues that help fund the other 26 sports the NCAA oversees.

An estimated 176,000 student-athletes were listed on D1 rosters in the most recently reported academic year. Approximately 30,000 (17 percent) of them were football players.

The NCAA operated on a budget of more than $18.8 billion in 2019 across all divisions and about $17.4 billion of that amount was allocated to D1 sports.

The NCAA awards about $3 billion in Division I athletic scholarships, but only around two percent of high school athletes will earn an athletic scholarship. Less than one percent of high school athletes in any particular year will earn a “full-ride” scholarship, which includes tuition, room & board and books and fees.

Division I conferences

Most of the major colleges and universities with the largest student bodies and the biggest athletic budgets are represented among the 357 Division I schools. Division I boasts large state-run public schools such as the University of Florida and Penn State, as well as renowned private academic institutions such as Duke and Stanford.

Competition for coveted spots at D1 schools is intense, and there are rules and restrictions on recruiting imposed by the NCAA for both the recruiters and the players they recruit. There are also deadlines and eligibility requirements that must be met.

A total of 257 football teams are members of NCAA Division I. The other 100 NCAA Division I programs do not field a football team, but offer a variety of other sports.

Division I football is the only sport that is currently split into two subdivisions:

  • FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision), the top tier formerly known as Division I-A, whose 130 teams are eligible for postseason bowl games and the College Football Playoff title
  • FCS (Football Championship Subdivision), formerly known as Division I-AA, which consists of 127 teams and conducts its own 24-team post-season championship tournament. (Note: The 2020 FCS season was postponed from the fall of 2020 to the spring of 2021.)

The FBS is comprised of 10 conferences, including the Power Five and the Team of Five (although the NCAA does not officially recognize these monikers), as well as (currently) seven independent schools with no conference football affiliation.

The Power Five conferences are the best known and include:

  • Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)
  • Big 12
  • Big Ten
  • Pac-12
  • Southeastern Conference (SEC)

The Team of Five consists of:

  • American Athletic Conference (AAC)
  • Conference-USA (C-USA)
  • Mid-American Conference (MAC)
  • Mountain West Conference
  • Sun Belt Conference

Alumni and student loyalty, along with television broadcasting revenue, have propelled FBS football and NCAA basketball into the two most popular and lucrative college sports.

There are nearly two dozen other conferences, not including one-sport leagues, which are listed below:

  • America East Conference
  • Atlantic 10 Conference
  • Atlantic Sun Conference
  • Big East Conference
  • Big Sky Conference
  • Big South Conference
  • Big West Conference
  • Colonial Athletic Association
  • Horizon League
  • Ivy League
  • Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference
  • Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
  • Missouri Valley Conference
  • Northeast Conference
  • Ohio Valley Conference
  • Patriot League
  • Southern Conference
  • Southland Conference
  • Southwestern Athletic Conference
  • Summit League
  • West Coast Conference
  • Western Athletic Conference

FBS football teams may award up to 85 scholarships while FCS football teams are limited to 63 scholarships.

As you can see, there are literally thousands of opportunities for qualified athletes to play sports at the NCAA Division I level.

As an emerging leader in collegiate athletic recruiting, mygotgame provides student-athletes with unique opportunities that fulfill their dream of playing college athletics while simultaneously developing life skills and relationships that last long after those playing days have ended.  mygotgame specializes in partnering with parents, coaches, scouts, recruiters and event organizers to open doors for student-athletes to enjoy success in competition, in the classroom and in their communities.  By combining emerging technologies with a personal touch, mygotgame’s unique approach provides a comprehensive playbook for life that helps chart a course for the next chapter of your athlete’s journey. 

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