NCAA Division III

Main logo used by the NCAA in Division I, II, and III.

Division III (or DIII) is a division of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) 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.

As explained in more detail in the article about NCAA Division II, the NCAA's first split was into two divisions. The former College Division formed because many NCAA member schools wanted an alternative to the expensive nature of what is now Division I. Division III formed in 1973, in a split of the College Division. The former College Division members that chose to offer athletic scholarships or to remain in a division with those who did became Division II, while members that did not became Division III.


Division III is the NCAA’s largest division (approximately 40% of total membership) with 438 active member institutions (450 both full and provisional).[1] Of the member institutions, 81% are private, while only 19% are public. Division III schools range in size from a minimum undergraduate enrollment of 348 to a maximum of 21,247, but the average enrollment is 2,717.


Division III institutions have to sponsor at least five sports for men and five for women, with two team sports for each gender, and each playing season represented by each gender. There are minimum contest and participant minimums for each sport. Division III athletic programs are non-revenue-generating, extracurricular programs that are staffed and funded like any other university department. Hence, they feature student-athletes who receive no financial aid related to their athletic ability (i.e., no athletic scholarships).[2] Student athletes also cannot redshirt as freshmen,[3][4][5] and schools may not use endowments or funds whose primary purpose is to benefit athletic programs.[6]

Division III schools "shall not award financial aid to any student on the basis of athletics leadership, ability, participation or performance".[7] 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."[8] The ban on scholarships is strictly enforced. As an example of how seriously the NCAA takes this rule, in 2005 MacMurray College became only the fifth school slapped with a "death penalty" after its men's tennis program gave grants to foreign-born players.[9] The two service academies that are D-III members, Merchant Marine and Coast Guard, are technically subject to the scholarship ban, but are effectively exempt because all students at these institutions, whether or not they are varsity athletes, receive full scholarships paid for by the U.S. government.

Conferences competing in Division III

All-sports conferences

An "all-sports" conference is defined here as one that sponsors both men's and women's basketball. A conference name followed by "*" denotes a conference which also sponsors football.

Football-only conferences

Other single-sport conferences

Ice hockey
Men's volleyball


Division III schools with Division I programs

Eleven D-III schools currently field Division I programs in one or two sports (one maximum for each sex).

Six of them are grandfathered schools that have traditionally competed at the highest level of a particular men's sport prior to the institution of the Division classifications in 1971 (a decade before the NCAA governed women's sports). Presumably due to Title IX considerations, grandfathered schools are also allowed to field one women's sport in Division I, and all six schools choose to do so. These schools are allowed to offer athletic scholarships in their Division I men's and women's sports to remain competitive with their opponents.[10]

Two formerly grandfathered schools moved completely to Division III. The State University of New York at Oneonta, which had been grandfathered in men's soccer, moved totally to Division III in 2006. Rutgers–Newark, which had been grandfathered in men's volleyball, did the same in 2014.[11]

The other five schools choose to field Division I programs 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, as is the case for Division III.

In addition, Lawrence University was formerly a non-grandfathered program in fencing, but the NCAA no longer conducts a separate Division I fencing championship. Lawrence continues to field a fencing team, but that team is now considered Division III (see below).

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 make their football programs Division I; this directly led to the creation of the Pioneer Football League, a non-scholarship football-only Division I FCS conference that remains in operation today. (Although Georgetown still does not award football scholarships, it has never been a PFL member.)

In August 2007, the NCAA instituted a moratorium on all division moves, including moves of individual programs.[12] That moratorium expired in August 2011, but the NCAA has indicated they will no longer allow individual program moves to another division, as a general policy. (One exception, the RIT women's hockey program, was made in 2012, when RIT successfully argued for a one-time opportunity for colleges with a men's team playing at D-I to add a women's team.[13])

Division III schools playing in non-divisional sports

In addition to the D-III schools that play as Division I members, many other D-III schools compete alongside D-I and D-II members in sports that the NCAA does not split into divisions; teams in these sports are not counted as playing in a different division from the rest of the athletic program. D-III members cannot award scholarships in these sports.

For a complete list of these institutions, see List of non-NCAA Division I schools competing in NCAA Division I sports.

Comparison to Division I Athletics

Financial comparison

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. In addition (as noted previously), the NCAA prohibits Division III schools from using any athletically-related factor in determining financial aid awards, and also requires that the amount of aid awarded to athletes at a Division III school be closely proportional to the percentage of athletes in the student body. Division I sports teams are able to provide aid more directly through athletic based-scholarships.[14] Division III schools, barred from using athletics as an aid criterion, have more choice in how they allocate their funds.[14] 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.[15] From 2009–2010, $433 million made up the NCAA's Division I expenses.[15] Only about three percent of the NCAA’s spending goes towards Division III programs.[16] The differences in financial support has been a major cause in further differences between both divisions.

Athletic and academic comparison

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[17] while Division I baseball sets the limit at 56 games per season.[18] 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,[19] and about two out of every three considered themselves athletes more than students.[19] 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.[20] 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. In Division I, athletics-based financial aid can keep a student athlete competing even if the athlete's enthusiasm declines. In Division III, such financial aid is prohibited; student athletes compete entirely per their own volition. In Division I, it is common to provide special academic support for athletes to make school easier for them. This can include tutors, facilities, staff who work with faculty to facilitate the athletes' experiences, and/or athletics department advising on course selections. While some Division I coaches do encourage athletes to work hard in athletics, this is not guaranteed, and a threat of withdrawal of financial support is a possibility if coaches feel that an athlete is making "unnecessary" academic efforts that conflict with athletic development. In Division III, athletes are expected to attend to academic responsibilities under the same conditions as the general student body, and are generally expected to be responsible students whose academic performance reflects well on the athletics program. The hours spent in training and competition use time that other students spend on study. This puts the athlete at an academic disadvantage. This means athletics actually makes school more difficult for Division III athletes, rather than easier.

The publicity given to Division I and to Division III differs. Sports media focuses almost exclusively on Division I, and pay scant attention to any other portions of college athletics. Financial aid differences, academic conditions, and publicity all 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.

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 simple because all one has to do is look at the individual and team standings. In sports where only two teams play each other, it is more difficult. Massey Ratings does attempt to rank college teams across NCAA Divisions. As of November 19, 2013, NCAA Division III had 448 members,[21] and the Massey Ratings had over 100 Division III men's basketball teams ranked among Division I teams.[22] Women's basketball had 88 Division III teams ranked among Division I teams.[23] Women's tennis had over 170 Division III teams ranked among Division I teams.[24] Women's soccer had over 300 Division III teams ranked among Division I teams.[25] Women's volleyball had over 300 Division III teams ranked among Division I teams.[26] These are the fall sports where only two teams play each other at a time, and where over 300 members of each Division field teams. In all of these rankings, the top teams were Division I teams. While these rankings are in constant states of flux as the seasons progress, they are typical of the substantial overlap between the Divisions, with the top teams being Division I teams.

A variety of factors complicate comparisons between Division I and Division III in sports where only two teams play each other at a time. These include the relative rarity of such competitions, as well as the fact that often the only thing publicized is who won, not the actual competition. Further, both programs have to consent to such competitions. 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. Division I programs invest money in winning, and scheduling is done on the basis of conference obligations and likelihood of winning; exceptions might be made for financial incentive, desired publicity, and/or a challenge to catalyze improvement. 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 sports where only two teams compete at a time, the portion of Division I gets the most media coverage does have the occasional competition with more obscure Division I programs. These competitions are more common than versus Division III programs.

A microcosm from men's basketball could be considered. In November 2012, an unranked Division III team played a ranked Division I team, was down as much as 17 points in the first half, cut the lead to fluctuate between 8 and 17 points, and was only down 10 points at halftime — then cut the lead to single digits again after halftime before eventually losing.[27] The ranked Division I team had a larger halftime lead against another ranked Division I team the week before,[28] later had a halftime lead of 31 points against another Division I team,[29] and went on to beat the #1 team in Division I.[30] The next month, another Division III team played against another Division I team and lead with 12 minutes remaining before eventually losing.[31] 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.[32] Other Division I teams beat/beatable by a wide margin by either of these two Division I teams could have likely been 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 follows one of #1–3.

The prior paragraph referenced a game from December 2012, and those two teams played again on November 23, 2013. This time, the Division III team won.[33] The same month, a Division II played both a Division I team and a Division III team, which is an unusual situation. They beat the Division III team by four points and the Division I team by two points.[34][35] A few years prior, a Division III team beat another Division I school[36] and that team ended the season with a 16–16 record, beating a Division II opponent and being 15–15 among Division I opponents.[37]

An indirect way to compare NCAA Division I and NCAA Division III in sports where only two teams compete with each other at a time is to consider the NAIA, a separate intercollegiate athletics association that allows athletics-based financial aid. Competitions with NCAA Division I programs versus NAIA programs are more common in such sports than versus NCAA Division III programs. NCAA Division III programs compete more frequently with NAIA programs than with NCAA Division I programs. NCAA Division III victories against NAIA programs are a fairly common occurrence. NAIA victories against NCAA Division I programs do happen in these sports but they are not common.

In sports where only two teams play each other, most Division I teams do not have a single Division III team on their schedules, and most Division III teams do not have a single Division I team on their schedules.

In racing sports, sports teams usually compete against more than one team at a time. Further, programs have less control over whom they compete against. They can control who comes to competitions they host, and they can control which competitions they travel to, but they have little to no influence on what other teams come to competitions that others host. These factors cause teams from each Division to compete with more teams both in their Division and in other Divisions.

It is common in racing sports, such as cross country and track and field, to see Division III teams compete with Division I teams, especially at large meets. Because of the common competition across Divisions in such sports, it is common to see Division III teams beat Division I teams in these sports. It is even more common for the same among individual competitors. The overlap that can be inferred in other sports is clear in these sports.

Academically, Division I and Division III 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. Special support sponsored by the school or athletic department exclusively for athletes is a common practice. This can include such things as tutoring provided exclusively for athletes, facilities, staff to work with faculty to facilitate the athlete's experience, and/or recommended courses. In Division III, athletes are expected to pursue their educations under the same general conditions as other students. Division III athletes are known to put much more emphasis on their academic experience.[16] Alumni of Division III colleges often attach a certain amount of prestige to their degrees, and expect current administrations to protect that prestige by rejecting special treatment for athletes, and holding athletes to the same academic conditions as the general student body. College authorities in Division III have chosen that affiliation in general because they do not want conflicts between strict academic priorities and sports competitiveness. Those authorities expect coaching staffs to support those academic priorities. Simply maintaining NCAA academic eligibility minimums is typically not adequate to satisfy expectations Division III coaching staffs place on their athletes. In general, Division III athletes are expected to have solid academic performance to support a positive image of their program/s.

Effects on student athletes

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.[38] 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.[16] Not only is there more involvement, but Division III Athletes have proven more successful in time management compared to non-athletes at the same institution.[16] 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.[20]

Division III athletes in general must live a disciplined lifestyle to be successful, because they must undergo rigorous training to compete at the level expected of NCAA/NAIA athletes, and they must attend to their academic responsibilities on the same terms as other students. The NCAA requires a C grade point average to remain eligible, but it is common for Division III programs to consider this unsatisfactory for their athletes. Coaches commonly conduct study tables and other team events to ensure athletes see their athletic ventures as tied to their academic responsibilities. There are not supposed to be course sections specifically for athletes, nor are there supposed to be athletic tutors nor similar special academic support provided by the institution. Athletes are expected to pursue their degrees under the same conditions as other students.

Division III alumni are often proud of their college experiences, and of what is commonly referred to as "the Division III culture" and/or "the Division III philosophy."

Recent changes

In 2003, concerned about the direction of the Division, the Division III Presidents' Council, led by Middlebury College President John McCardell, limited the length of the traditional and non-traditional seasons, eliminated redshirting, and redefined a season of participation. The membership approved all these changes by a majority vote.

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.

Division III Football

Division III Football started in 1973.[39] Division III football programs cannot give any athletic scholarships. Thus athletes are theoretically less driven by money, media attention, and/or other outside influences. Like the rest of the NCAA and NAIA, it represents a high level of football.[40] There is a playoff system for a National Championship, the Stagg Bowl, which has been held in Salem, Virginia since 1993. For a complete list of Division III football programs and conferences see List of NCAA Division III football programs.

In 2013, a Division III team played against a Division I team that was #2 in its conference,[41] and had beaten other Division I teams by as many as 60 points. The Division III team was winning at halftime but lost by three points at the end.[42] However, games between Division III teams and Division I teams are even less common than in other sports where two teams play against each other. Division I teams can entice very sizable men to play on the defensive and offensive lines via lucrative financial aid packages, and as football is a contact sport, huge gaps in size could pose safety hazards. A very substantial portion of Division I does not field football at all, as is the case for Division III, meaning fewer teams to play each other than in other sports. Competitions between Division I and Division III in football are rare. The more well-financed and well-publicized portion of Division I, Division I FBS, is heavily deterred from playing non-Division I teams because games outside of Division I do not count for bowl eligibility.[43] Because roughly one half of Division I is in the FBS subdivision, about half of Division I is deterred from playing against Division II and Division III. Division I FBS and FCS do compete with each other, and the first week of the 2013 season presented a record eight victories of FCS teams over FBS teams.[44] Division I teams are more likely to schedule teams in the NAIA than with Division III. Competitions with NAIA schools are fairly common in both NCAA Division III and Division II. In 2013, two NAIA teams beat two NCAA Division I FCS on the same day,[45] and two weeks later the #10 team in NCAA Division III beat the #2 team in the NAIA.[46] Like in all other sports, NCAA Division III's continuum overlaps with the continua of Division II, Division I, and the NAIA.

The last Division III program to beat a Division I team was Maryville College (TN) over East Tennessee State University, a school that had just revived its FCS football program after a 12-year absence, on September 10, 2015 by a score of 28-21.

Offensive linesman Ali Marpet of Hobart College, drafted in the 2nd round, 61st overall, of the 2015 NFL draft, is the highest-drafted pick in the history of Division III football.[47]

Division III Players Drafted in the NFL Draft from 1988–Present


Year Drafted Name Position College Attended Team Drafted By Round and Number Drafted
2015 Ali Marpet OL Hobart Buccaneers 2–61
2012 Chris Greenwood CB Albion Lions 5-148
2011 Cecil Shorts WR Mount Union Jaguars 4–114
2008 Andy Studebaker DE/LB Wheaton (Ill.) Eagles 6-203
2008 Pierre Garcon WR Mount Union Colts 6-205
2007 Michael Allan TE Whitworth Chiefs 7-231
2007 Derek Stanley WR/RET UW-Whitewater Rams 7-249
2003 Ryan Hoag WR Gustavus Adolphus Raiders 7-262
2002 Tony Beckham CB UW-Stout Titans 4–115
2002 Michael Coleman WR Widener Falcons 7-217
2000 Tim Watson DE Rowan Seahawks 6-185
1999 Clint Kriewaldt LB UW-Stevens Point Lions 6-177
1996 Ethan Brooks OL Williams Falcons 7-229
1994 Bill Schroeder WR UW-La Crosse Packers 6-181
1992 Nate Kirtman DB Pomona-Pitzer Cowboys 9-248
1992 Barry Rose WR UW-Stevens Point Bills 10-279
1991 Pete Lucas OL UW-Stevens Point Falcons 10-258
1991 Larry Wanke QB John Carroll Giants 12-334
1990 Chris Warren RB Ferrum Seahawks 4-89
1988 Erwin Grabisna LB Case Western Reserve Raiders 6-143

Recently Added Division III Football Programs

1997 – Greensboro

1998 – Texas Lutheran, Mary Hardin-Baylor

1999 – Mount Ida

2000 – Averett, East Texas Baptist, Louisiana College, Rockford, Shenandoah, Wisconsin Lutheran

2001 – Christopher Newport, Utica

2002 – No new programs

2003 – Endicott, Huntingdon, Husson

2004 – North Carolina Wesleyan

2005 – Becker

2006 – LaGrange, SUNY-Maritime

2007 – St. Vincent, Birmingham-Southern

2008 – St. Scholastica

2009 – Anna Maria, Castleton State

2010 – Pacific (OR)

2011 – Presentation, Stevenson

2012 – Misericordia

2013 – Hendrix, Berry, Southwestern

2014 – George Fox

2015 – Finlandia

Texas-Tyler is on the watch list but it is unknown when they will field a football team.

See also


  1. Archived April 4, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. "Divisional Differences and the History of Multidivision Classification". – The Official Site of the NCAA.
  3. NCAA. "Bylaw Minimum Amount of Participation" (PDF). 2012–13 NCAA Division III Manual. p. 93. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. "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.
  7. "Bylaw 15.01.3 Institutional Financial Aid" (PDF). 2012–13 NCAA Division III Manual. NCAA. p. 107. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  8. "Bylaw 15.4.1 Consistent Financial Aid Package." (PDF). 2012–13 NCAA Division III Manual. NCAA. p. 110. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  9. "LSDBi".
  10. "Scholarships Will Continue For D-III 'Play Up' Schools".
  11. "Transitioning Scarlet Raiders Join CVC" (Press release). Rutgers–Newark Athletics. March 13, 2014. Retrieved September 11, 2014.
  12. "NCAA Freezes Division I Membership".
  13. "RIT's push for NCAA legislative change opens the door for women to move to Division I".
  14. 1 2 Draper, Alan. "Innocence Lost: Division III Sports Programs." Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 28.6 (1996): 46–49. Print.
  15. 1 2 "Where Does the Money Go?".
  16. 1 2 3 4 "Differences Among the Three Divisions: Division III." National Collegiate Athletic Association, December 13, 2011. Web.
  17. "NCAA Division III Manual 2011–2012" (PDF).
  18. "NCAA Division I Manual 2011–2012" (PDF).
  19. 1 2 Whiteside, Kelly (February 9, 2009). "NCAA's time rules 'complicated'". USA Today.
  20. 1 2 "NCAA Goals Study 2011".
  21. November 19, 2013
  22. November 19, 2013
  23. November 19, 2013
  24. November 19, 2013
  25. November 19, 2013
  26. November 19, 2013
  27. WNDY TV Channel 23 Indianapolis broadcast of Butler University men's basketball November 27, 2012.
  28. ESPN television broadcast of Maui Invitational November 20, 2012.
  29. May 28, 2013
  30. May 28, 2013.
  31. G101.3 Radio channel 101.3 FM Richmond, IN broadcast of Miami University men's basketball December 30, 2012.
  32. Schedules and results research done February 9, 2013 using
  33. "Wilmington OH Quakers vs. Miami (OH) RedHawks – Play by Play – November 23, 2013 – ESPN".
  34. "D3 vs. D1/D2/NAIA/NCCAA".
  35. "McMurry University War Hawks Athletics".
  36. "Tigers Rally Late to Fly By Air Force".
  37. "Air Force Falcons Basketball 2010–11 Schedule – Falcons Home and Away – ESPN".
  38. Archived from the original on October 20, 2013. Retrieved February 3, 2013. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  39. "Football: Division III". Turner Sports Interactive, Inc. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  40. Brown, Kerry. "Top 10 DIII and NAIA Athletes Who Went Pro". Retrieved October 22, 2013.
  41. "Pioneer Football League".
  42. "Butler Bulldogs vs Franklin Grizzlies – Recap".
  43. NCAA Division II
  44. Pete Volk. "The rise of FCS football: Like so many other things, it's about recruiting". Vox Media.
  45. "NAIA Stands Ground Against NCAA Division I".
  46. "Marian University – Indianapolis Athletics News".
  47. Kevin McGuire (May 2, 2015). "Ali Marpet puts D3 Hobart on the NFL Draft scoreboard – College Football Talk". NBC Sports.
  48. Coleman, Pat. "Division III Football Players in the NFL". Presto Sports. Retrieved October 22, 2013.
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