What's the Difference Between College Basketball at the NCAA Division 1, 2 & 3 Levels

What’s the Difference Between College Basketball at the NCAA Division 1, 2 & 3 Levels?

Each NCAA division has it’s advantages and can provide student athletes with a college basketball career that will provided you with opportunities to learn, compete and succeed on varying levels. Let’s take a more detailed look into each division 1, 2 and 3 and see what the real differences are. Having this knowledge will better assist you when it comes tome to choosing the right level to play for.


Here you can access the most up-to-date college basketball openings from college coaches looking for players to fill roster spots

The NCAA Colleges are all college and universities that belong to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) These schools are categorized according to the following:

  1. Number of teams
  2. Team size
  3. Game calendar
  4. Financial support

It is important to understand that a school’s decision to choose to compete in particular division is usually a strategic/financial one. A school will decide if they want to be D1, D2 or D3 and then will apply for that particular membership. Schools can move up or down between divisions 1, 2, and 3. Of course, being a NCAA Division 1 program is the most expensive operation. The demands and requirements by the NCAA are high and costly as they are required to host the largest number of sports and offer the most scholarship money, higher recruiting budgets, expensive travel costs etc.

From a comparison perspective you will see some very big differences as well as quiet a few similarities. The sections below will give you the main details of each division and the reasons they are categorized into division 1, division 2 and division 3.

What are the differences of playing NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball:

Scholarship opportunities with cut-throat competition are the main differences when compared to division 2 and 3.

There are currently 358 schools currently playing Division 1 men’s basketball. Most are big institutions with extensive state of the art facilities.

Division I schools provide unmatched academic, athletic opportunities and support which includes: full scholarships, cost-of-attendance stipends (a stipend refers to a predetermined amount of money prepaid to certain individual/individuals), degree completion programs and academic revenue distribution from the NCAA for schools that meet their particular criteria.

Division 1 schools typically have the most students and the biggest budgets. Division 1 schools can offer 13 scholarships. All scholarships offered MUST be full rides. Division 1 schools can usually guarantee an audience of a specific size at the games. NCAA division 1 basketball programs provide enough games in accordance with the NCAA’s requirements for men’s basketball.

NCAA division 1 schools must meet minimum financial aid awards for their athletics program and a maximum financial aid award must be in place. They need to meet minimum scholarship awards for their athletic programs and, the maximum number of scholarships for men’s basketball is set by NCAA regulation.

Student athlete who attend a NCAA division 1 school MUST maintain a certain GPA (which will be set by the school). Student athletes must also take >16 core course (over 4 years), they must achieve a >1010 on SAT and they need to have registered with the NCAA Eligibility Center. To play at the NCAA division 1 men’s basketball level requires both elite standard of excellence in both athletic and academic ability.

What are the differences playing NCAA division 2 men’s basketball:

Good scholarship opportunities with tough competition are the main differences when compared with NCAA division 1 and 3.

There are currently 299 NCAA division 2 men’s basketball programs. The NCAA division 2 has the fewest member schools compared to the divisions 1 and 3. There are division 2 schools located in 47 states (which include Alaska, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia). NCAA division 2 also features the NCAA’s only international member university (which is Simon Fraser in British Columbia, Canada) and also have three schools in Puerto Rico. These schools tend to be smaller colleges and universities in comparision to the NCAA division 1 schools.

The NCAA Division 2 membership schools are almost evenly divided up among private and public schools. Also, division 2 has the biggest percentage of historically black colleges and universities (about 10% of the division 2 membership). Enrollment for division 2 schools range from 25,000+ to less than 2,500, although about 90% of the division’s member colleges and universities have fewer than 8,000 students.

An NCAA division 2 school can offer 10 scholarships. These scholarships can be divided up among the entire roster. A division 2 men’s basketball program can offer both full and partial rides to potential student athletes.  NCAA division 2 men’s basketball teams must play at least 50% of their games against division 2 or 2-A or 2-AA opponents. There are no arena game requirements for division 2 schools.

NCAA division 2 men’s basketball teams usually have a higher number of local or in-state student athletes. Student athletes who attend a division 2 men’s basketball program typically pay for school through a combination of scholarship money, grants, student loans and/or employment money.

All division 2 athletic programs are financed within the schools’s budget like all other academic departments on campus. As with D1 schools, all student athletes need to register with NCAA Eligibility Center. Attending a division 2 men’s basketball program is a very popular choice for international players as division 2 schools have lesser academic regulations than division 1 and some division 3.

What are the differences playing NCAA division 3 men’s basketball:

No athletic scholarships only academic if you qualify is the main difference when compared to NCAA division 1 and 2.

There are currently 424 men’s basketball programs at the NCAA division 3 level. The NCAA division 3 is the largest of all the NCAA divisions. The majority of division 3 schools are mostly private schools. Although division 3 men’s basketball programs don’t offer athletic scholarships, around 80% of their student athletes receive some kind of academic grants or need-based scholarship (but the student athlete must meet all the requirements to qualify for these).

All NCAA division 3 schools have to meet contest and participant minimums for their basketball programs according to the NCAA requirements. Their athletic department is funded and staffed like any other department within the school.

They are limited in terms of recruitment as they do not have the same access to funding as the division 1 or 2  basketball programs do. At the division 3 level, emphasis is on regional in-season and conference competition. All division 3 basketball training schedules are similar to those you find at the division 1 or 2 level however, the level of play can vary.

Schools at the division 3 level provide a well rounded collegiate experience for the student athletes who attend. Student athletes are also eligible to transfer if they perform well enough to gain attention from division 1 or division 2 college coaches. Students who attend a NCAA division 3 schools are more likely to graduate as the statistic show that they have a high percentage of students who graduate (the highest out of all 3 NCAA divisions).


There are many student athletes who could compete at the NCAA division 1 level but choose to play at an NCAA division 2 or 3 school instead.  It is a very personal decision and the decision is based upon a plethora of factors. Here are some of the possible reasons players may choose to play at another level, do any apply to you? Players don’t want their college experienced to be defined by the demanding lifestyle of a division 1 athlete, players want to attend a smaller school, players want to do a particular academic program that is offered and a certain school, players want to stay close to home, players want the maximum playing time, players just want an opportunity to study abroad regardless of level. There are fantastic basketball programs at all levels; to play collegiate level basketball, whether it is a big time D1 program or a small, high academic D3 it is a great achievement and privilege that not all basketball players get to experience as only approximately 7% of high school athletes get the opportunity. Remember to always be grateful and respectful for all the opportunities that get presented to you. May you choose wisely and have the best experience. You only get to do this once.


Here you can access the most up-to-date college basketball openings from college coaches looking for players to fill roster spots