What is the difference between the NCAA and NAIA? The most common answer you will hear is: NCAA universities have superior sporting teams to NAIA colleges.
But… this isn’t always the case and we explain why!
About 99.9% of the time, Division 1 is the top league in a sport and better than Division 2 … Of course, right? With the exemption of college sports.
To understand this better you have to know that all American universities that offer sport have to apply for a membership at a college association and a division. These are as follows:
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Differences between NCAA and NAIA
A number of criteria including finance and location are taken into account when a university decides in which association to compete in. Furthermore, to determine the association and division we have to ask ourselves how many sports the university has on offer.
• Typically, NCAA Division 1 teams have more sports and a larger American football or basketball team.
• Universities with fewer teams or without American football/basketball tend to be NCAA Division 2 or NAIA schools.
Depending on where the university decides it wants to compete (and where it is admitted), ALL other remaining sports will normally compete in the same division. Nevertheless, being an NCAA Division 1 team does not automatically mean you have a better sports program than a division 2 team.
• A soccer team which competes in the NCAA Division 1 does not automatically mean it’s better than all other teams in NCAA Division 2 & 3 or NAIA. It may have been accepted because the size of the stadium or university student population for example.
• Many of the best college golf teams are actually in the NCAA Division 2 or NAIA.
• The best NAIA tennis teams can have stronger players than a low-placed NCAA Division 1 team.
It is true that the NCAA Division 1 top teams attract some of the best American talent to their university, partly because of the football and basketball popularity. Therefore, other sports that tend to follow suit are also pretty competitive. But once again there are many programs in D2 or NAIA that are stronger than D1 universities.
Factors for choosing a college
When evaluating a college, many other factors besides the division play a crucial role in your decision and as a student athlete you should be considering. For example, is the environment and location right for you? Do you have a good understanding with the coach? Does the university offer the degree you would like to study? Will you be playing/competing week in week out? Those are just a few of the things that you should be considering when deciding what university is best for you!
To find out more about Athletes USA and whether you could achieve an American scholarship in your sport, apply for a free evaluation by clicking here.
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As a former youth Bundesliga academy player in Germany and student athlete at Hofstra University in New York as well as Cal State in Los Angeles, Herbert is dedicated to share his experience to the next generation of players. He is a German native and believes USA is a great place to study and play sports on a very high level. The experience has changed his life! Nowadays his biggest pleasure is to see his players creating their own unique stories.