A guide to college soccer divisions

Let’s start with the NCAA…

NCAA college soccer is organized into three divisions: Division I, Division II, and Division III. 

Each division has its own set of rules and regulations, and the level of competition varies between the divisions.

Here are some of the main differences between the divisions and key facts for players, parents and fans.

  • Division I: Division I is the highest level of college soccer and includes the most competitive and well-funded programs. Division I schools are typically larger and have more resources to support their soccer programs. The season for Division I soccer is longer than the other divisions and culminates with the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Soccer Championships.
  • Division II: Division II soccer is slightly less competitive than Division I, but still offers a high level of play. Division II programs are usually smaller than Division I schools and may not have as much funding for their soccer programs. The season for Division II soccer is shorter than Division I and culminates with the NCAA Division II Men’s and Women’s Soccer Championships.
  • Division III: Division III soccer is the least competitive division and is intended for student-athletes who want to focus on their academics while still playing soccer at a high level. Division III programs do not offer athletic scholarships, and the season is shorter than the other divisions. The season for Division III soccer culminates with the NCAA Division III Men’s and Women’s Soccer Championships.

Next up, The NAIA…

There are 188 NAIA men’s soccer programs and 188 NAIA women’s soccer programs. Men’s and women’s soccer programs in NAIA are permitted 12 athletic scholarships.

NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) soccer is a separate organization from the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), which governs college sports in the United States. There are 188 NAIA men’s soccer programs and 188 NAIA women’s soccer programs. Men’s and women’s soccer programs in NAIA are permitted 12 athletic scholarships. The NAIA is made up of smaller colleges and universities that offer intercollegiate athletics programs.

NAIA soccer is divided into two divisions, and the level of competition varies between the divisions. Division I is the more competitive division and includes larger schools with more resources to support their soccer programs. 

Overall, the level of competition in NAIA soccer can vary significantly. For example, the top NAIA teams could compete in games with most NCAA Division 1 programs. 

Towards the middle and lower end though, the standard may not be as high. Because of the less restrictive eligibility requirements, it’s common to see older players with high-level overseas experience in the NAIA. 

Division II is slightly less competitive and includes smaller schools with fewer resources.

The NAIA soccer season is shorter than the NCAA season and culminates with the NAIA Men’s and Women’s Soccer National Championships. The NAIA also has a separate set of rules and regulations, including rules on scholarships and academic eligibility. If you are considering playing soccer at an NAIA school, it’s important to research the specific program and its level of competition to get a better idea of what to expect.

Two-year colleges, the NJCAA…

NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) soccer refers to soccer programs at community colleges or two-year colleges. These schools typically offer associate’s degrees and are sometimes called “junior colleges.”

The level of competition in junior college soccer can vary widely. Some NJCAA programs are highly competitive and attract talented players who are looking to play at the top collegiate level. Other programs may be less competitive and may be more focused on off-the-field endeavours.

The junior college soccer season is typically shorter than the NCAA or NAIA seasons and may only last for a few months. There are also fewer junior college soccer programs compared to four-year colleges, so the opportunities for athletes may be more limited.

Players that don’t immediately meet eligibility requirements for 4-year schools may often use Junior College as a stepping stone and transfer after 2 seasons. Junior Colleges may give players the option to stay closer to home. Don’t overlook a junior college program even if it’s not in your original plans. 

Another option, The NCCAA: 

Some schools fall under the NCCAA umbrella, these may, or may not, be affiliated with other divisions.

The NCCAA (National Christian College Athletic Association) is a national organization that oversees intercollegiate athletics programs at Christian colleges and universities in the United States. The NCCAA was founded in 1968 with the goal of providing a Christ-centered athletics program for Christian colleges and universities.

“A Christian-based organization that functions uniquely as a national and international agency for the promotion of outreach and ministry, and for the maintenance, enhancement, and promotion of intercollegiate athletic competition with a Christian perspective.”

The NCCAA has member schools in a variety of sports, including soccer. The NCCAA soccer season is typically shorter than the NCAA or NAIA seasons and culminates with the NCCAA Men’s and Women’s Soccer National Championships. The level of competition in NCCAA soccer can vary widely depending on the specific program and its resources. Players choosing these colleges understand that soccer won’t be their top priority even at the varsity level. 

And don’t forget College Club Soccer: 

College club soccer refers to soccer programs that are not affiliated with the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) or other national governing bodies, such as the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) or the NCCAA (National Christian College Athletic Association).

These programs are often run by student organizations and are not considered official varsity sports by the college or university. Some club soccer programs may be governed by the National Intramural Recreation Sports Association (NIRSA)

Club soccer programs are lower in terms of the level of competition but you’ll always find talented players that decided the traditional student-athlete commitment wasn’t for them. Most programs are focused on providing an enjoyable soccer experience for their members.

The club soccer season is typically shorter than the varsity soccer season but they will often play a spring schedule too. Club soccer teams also have less funding and resources compared to varsity programs, so the facilities and equipment may not be as high quality.

In conclusion, college soccer in the United States is organized into several different divisions, each with its own set of rules and regulations and varying levels of competition. The NCAA, NAIA, and NJCAA are the main governing bodies for college soccer, and they offer different levels of competition and opportunities for student-athletes. In addition to these options, there are also junior college and club soccer programs that can provide opportunities for players to enjoy the beautiful game while attending college.

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