With its fast play, heated rivalries and nail-biting tournament games, college basketball has become a major part of American culture. There’s nothing quite like the up-close action and rabid school spirit that you can only experience in a packed college gymnasium on game day. The sport brings excitement to fans, recognition to players and valuable marketing to universities.
Considering all the attention levied on players hoping to go professional, it’s easy to forget that basketball colleges give out more than 28,000 scholarships every year. The sport is popular with institutions of all sizes because it’s relatively easy to maintain a program. An average team has 15 players and eight paid coaches on staff.
There are over 1,330 basketball colleges in the United States. These range from big-name powerhouses with storied traditions to small schools with meager athletic budgets. Most of these colleges have programs for men’s and women’s basketball. If you’re hoping to get a basketball scholarship, it’s important to know the various levels of play and understand their differences in terms of recruiting, competition and academics. Here’s how the divisional membership for NCAA and NAIA basketball breaks down:
|NCAA Basketball||Men’s Programs||Women’s Programs|
|NAIA Basketball||Men’s Programs||Women’s Programs|
The National Collegiate Athletic Association is the largest and most well-known governing body for college basketball. As a nonprofit organization consisting of 1,268 schools, the NCAA aims to protect student-athletes from exploitive practices and situations. This is done by instituting specific rules over the recruiting process. Schools that break the rules could face punishment by way of post-season bans, vacated wins, fines and more.
The NCAA also oversees competition for several men’s and women’s sports. NCAA basketball, which culminates in the March Madness tournament, is among the most popular sports in the U.S. In fact, the NCAA makes over 80% of its revenue through the men’s basketball tournament. NCAA basketball competition is separated into three divisions, each of which has different rules regarding scholarships, recruiting and post-season play.
Division I offers the highest level of competition for men’s and women’s NCAA basketball. The 353 basketball colleges that participate at D-I generally have higher enrollment and larger athletic departments. These schools are broken down into 35 different conferences, which include “power conferences” like the Big Ten and ACC as well as “mid-majors” like the West Coast Conference and Conference USA. If you’re good enough to play at this level, your college life will revolve around basketball.
The NCAA is very strict on its recruiting policies for Division I basketball. Since the competition level is so high and most professional players come from D-I, media scrutiny over basketball recruiting is very high. Men’s teams are allocated 13 scholarships per season while women’s programs get 15 scholarships. That adds up to a total of 14,259 scholarships for men and 14,560 scholarships for women per season of D-I college basketball.
NCAA’s Division II level marks the middle ground between D-I and D-III. While D-II basketball colleges don’t have the resources and enrollment of their D-I counterparts, the level of competition is still high. There are 321 Division II basketball programs spread out over 23 conferences. Students who compete at this level can expect a more balanced college life between athletics and studies. At the D-II level, basketball colleges can give out 10 scholarships each for men’s and women’s programs per year.
With over 13,000 players between its men’s and women’s member institutions, Division III basketball is the largest level participation-wise in the NCAA. The 426 basketball colleges competing in D-III are generally small and focus more on academics. Players are not expected to put forth an extreme time commitment toward basketball. Since the competition may be lower, talented student-athletes can expect to get more playing time. D-III is the only NCAA level that does not permit athletic scholarships.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics is a collegiate sports association for small colleges in North America. Much like the NCAA, the NAIA has rules to regulate college basketball recruiting. However, its eligibility requirements are less complicated and allow for a more personalized recruiting process. While the door for an NCAA college basketball recruit often closes before summer, NAIA schools may still have scholarships available just before classes start.
There are 251 NAIA member institutions, most of which are comparable in size to NCAA D-II and D-III schools. This means that players who might sit the bench at an NCAA D-I basketball university could start right away in the NAIA. There are two divisions for men’s and women’s college basketball. At NAIA Division I, basketball colleges are granted 11 scholarships per year. Division II men’s and women’s programs are allowed six scholarships per year.
For many players, attending a junior college (JUCO) right out of high school makes the most sense. JUCO is often best for those who can’t afford a four-year basketball university or need extra time to improve as students or athletes. Since junior colleges are two-year institutions, they often serve as stepping stones for players who will eventually transfer. In fact, many JUCOs act as feeders for NCAA D-I basketball colleges.
The National Junior College Athletic Association acts as the governing organization for community and junior colleges across the U.S. There are 397 member institutions that offer women’s basketball and 434 with men’s programs. While the number of basketball scholarships available at a junior college varies, it could be as many as 15 per year.
The best basketball colleges play in the so-called NCAA D-I power conferences. Also known as the “high majors,” they include the following:
Since the competition in these conferences is so high, the programs often fight to recruit the best basketball college players. This results in better post-season play, bigger fan bases and more money for facilities and coaching salaries. Some of the all-time best men’s power conference basketball college teams include Kentucky, Duke, UCLA, North Carolina and Kansas.
However, there are scores of excellent programs that play in the other D-I conferences. Gonzaga, Wichita State, VCU and San Diego State are all consistently ranked teams that play in mid-major conferences. Since the NCAA tournament accepts at least one team from every conference, the best mid-majors usually get a chance to prove their worth against power conference teams.
If you’re a fan of college hoops, you’ll always hear a lot of chatter about team rankings throughout the year. The most popular rankings are the AP Top 25 and the Coaches Poll, both of which involve members voting on the best college basketball teams. Voters consider many factors, including game results, strength of schedule and the quality of wins and losses.
College basketball top 25 rankings are released in the preseason, every week during the regular season and after the NCAA tournament. While the college basketball rankings have no bearing conference standings, teams with better records tend to poll higher. Furthermore, defeating a college basketball top 25 ranked program could help a team qualify for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.
Some of the best places to follow the rankings and college basketball scores include the websites for ESPN, CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report. The ESPN college basketball portal is particularly popular with fans and scouts throughout the year. In addition to posting the latest college basketball scores and analysis, ESPN covers recruiting and high-profile prep athletes.
The college basketball schedule is played during the NCAA’s winter sport season. This is the case for men’s and women’s basketball at all three divisions. While the exact dates of each program’s opening game will vary, seasons usually start in the beginning of November and run until the beginning of March. Each NCAA conference follows the season with its own tournament, which usually lasts about three days.
Both the NAIA and NJCAA follow a similar college basketball schedule during the winter season. Regular season games begin in November and conclude in March. Each association also has its own college basketball championship tournament.
Every division of NCAA men’s and women’s basketball crowns a national champion through a single-elimination tournament that starts in March. Dubbed March Madness, the college basketball playoffs are known for producing thrilling upsets and inspired play. All the tournaments feature 64 teams except the D-I men’s tourney, which has 68 teams.
There are two ways to qualify for the college basketball playoffs. Each conference tournament title winner automatically moves on to the playoffs. The remaining spots are filled by at-large bids. These are the best teams, as chosen by NCAA committee members, that don’t atomically qualify. From there, the tournament teams are ranked and seeded. Each tournament concludes with a title game in April.
If your dream is to play at an elite basketball university, you should be devoted to improving your game and researching programs. This means attending skills development camps, playing AAU ball and reaching out to coaches. NCAA statistics show that only 4% of female high school basketball participants go on to play in college. For boys, the chances of playing at a basketball college are 3.4%.
Standing out among other college basketball recruits requires superior athletic ability and game IQ. Furthermore, coaches want players who can be good teammates and lead others. Fitting in with the team culture and filling the roles left open by outgoing players is also important. To top it all off, stellar college basketball prospects should have a good handle on academics as well. The best basketball colleges often have strict admissions standards. Even if you get a basketball scholarship, you must get accepted into the school.
The term “recruiting” refers to any time a coach invites a student to play for his or her team. While the concept is simple, the process gets a lot more complicated when big-time scholarships are involved. Basketball college recruiting can involve a lot of coaches contacting players.
That’s why the NCAA basketball sets limits on contacts. For example, D-I coaches may only call you once a month between June 15 of your sophomore year to July 31 following your junior year. There are also regulations regarding official visits (those paid for by the basketball university). While you can always check out a campus on your own, student-athletes are allowed only five official visits.
For basketball college teams, the goal is to secure commitments from elite players. The NCAA basketball recruiting process is officially over once you sign your National Letter of Intent. It’s important to note that D-III schools and basketball colleges that compete outside of the NCAA are allowed more flexibility as to when they can recruit players.
For players looking to garner more recruiting interest, being seen by coaches is vital. The best way to get in front of college coaches is to attend basketball camps and showcases. These exposure events may be hosted by the colleges themselves or third parties. Depending on the camp, there could be work stations with coaches or just a tournament.
Many of these showcases are only available to invited upperclassmen. To get an invite, you may need to get recommended by a coach or excel on your club or prep team. If you do attend a camp, be prepared to compete and show your best assets. Scouts will always be watching you.
If you think talent alone will be enough to attract scholarship offers, think again. Most college rosters are made up of student-athletes who took initiative during the recruiting process. It’s important to reach out to coaches yourself and take advantage of all available resources. Next College Student Athlete is one such resource that can help you get noticed.
By maintaining the largest online recruiting network, NCSA helps connect coaches with student-athletes. More than 100,000 NCSA clients have committed to college athletic programs since the platform was launched in 2000. Now that over 35,000 coaches use the network, success rates are only getting better.
The goal of NCSA is to make the recruiting process easier for everyone involved. When you join the network, you’ll get access to Recruit Match Technology. This proprietary NCSA system can help match you with a basketball university based on your personal profile, roster openings and more. You’ll also get assistance from the NCSA squad, which is made up of more than 700 employees, most of whom played sports in college.
There’s a reason why NCSA has maintained a Google rating of 4.9 out 5 stars, even after more than 2,000 reviews. Get a head start on the recruiting process by filling out your free basketball recruiting profile today. To learn more about NCSA, browse the site or dial (866) 495 5172.