Sports Officially Sanctioned by the NCAAThese sports have official NCAA championship events. The organization divides the academic year into three distinct "seasons"; these sports are organized by the seasons in which championship events are held.*
Unless otherwise indicated, all sports have separate championships for men and women, with separate championships for each of the NCAA's divisions (I, II, III—see "Structure" below for the difference).
- Cross Country
- Field Hockey (women's)
- Football (men's)
- Note that the top level of college football, Division I FBS, does not have an NCAA-sanctioned championship. The second-level Division I FCS, on the other hand, does have one, as do Divisions II and III (see "Structure" below).
- Currently (2023), there's a strong move within the men's soccer community to adopt a "split season" model in which the number of matches would not change, but the season would be split between the fall and spring, with the championship in the spring. Women's soccer is so far not affected by this.
- Volleyball – i.e., indoor volleyball (women's)
- Indoor volleyball is one of only two NCAA sports in which men and women compete in different seasons. Presumably, this is done to minimize schedule conflicts with basketball. A large majority of NCAA schools hold their volleyball matches in the same venues they use for basketball.
- Water Polo (men's) – single championship for all three divisions
- This is the other NCAA sport in which men and women compete in different seasons, for much the same reasons as indoor volleyball (in this case, to minimize conflict with swimming & diving).
- Bowling (women's) – single championship for all three divisions
- Fencing (coeducational – teams have separate men's and women's squadsnote , but all bouts are between members of the same sex) – single team championship for all three divisions
- Gymnastics – single men's and women's championships for all three divisionsnote
- Ice Hockey – two championships for each sex, with one combined D-I/D-II and the other D-III
- Rifle (coeducational) – single championship for all three divisions. Though a niche sport, it has several aspects of particular note:
- It's the only NCAA sport in which men and women compete alongside and against one another as equals.
- As a result, it's also the only NCAA sport in which an all-female team can win a national title while competing against men's (or coed) teams. While fencing and skiing have a single coed team championship, the entry rules of those championships make it impossible for a single-sex team to win a team title.
- It's also the only NCAA sport in which two teams from the same school can directly compete against one another; schools may field any combination of men-only, women-only, and mixed-sex teams (only one of each type; no NCAA rifle school currently fields more than two teams).
- Most notably, it's the first NCAA sport to be open to women. While the NCAA didn't sponsor women's sports championships until the 1981–82 school year, the rifle championship has been open to women since its first edition in March 1980.
- It's the only NCAA sport in which men and women compete alongside and against one another as equals.
- Skiing (coeducational – teams have separate men's and women's squads, with all races involving only a single sex) – single team championship for all three divisions
- The NCAA championships include both Alpine and Nordic skiing, but only a subset of the Olympic events. Specifically, only slalom and giant slalom in Alpine, and individual cross-country races in Nordic.
- Swimming & Diving – The NCAA combines these two Pool Sports into one.
- Indoor Track & Field
- Wrestling (men's)
- Baseball (men's)
- Beach Volleyball (women) – single championship for all three divisions
- Rowing (women's)
- Softball (women's)
- Outdoor Track & Field
- Volleyball (men's) – two championships, one combined D-I/D-II and the other D-III
- Water Polo (women's) – single championship for all three divisions
An aside on scholarships in cross country and track: While the NCAA considers cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track to be separate sports, it combines all three for purposes of scholarship limits in Divisions I and II. In other words, schools are limited to a certain number of scholarships for track and cross country combined.note
But Wait, There's More! In addition to these, the NCAA also recognizes certain sports as "emerging sports" for women. Unlike the sports listed above, these do not have NCAA-organized championship events. (They do have championship events run by other bodies.)
- Acrobatics & tumbling – A combination of the internationally recognized gymnastic disciplines of acrobatic gymnastics and tumbling.
- Equestrianismnote – An "emerging sport" only in Divisions I and II. The Division III membership has voted down two separate attempts to bring its equestrian programs under the NCAA umbrella.
- Stunt – An all-female cheerleading discipline that heavily emphasizes acrobatics. The newest emerging sport, added for Divisions I and II in 2023–24; Division III is considering adding it as well but has not yet done so.
StructureThe NCAA membership is organized into three "Divisions" which denote level of play. Most NCAA sports have separate championships for each division, although as noted above some sports have only one championship open to all members, and others have a combined championship for the top two levels and a separate one for the lowest. See the page on the NCAA on The Other Wiki for more details. The basic divisions are:
- Division I — The highest level, with the greatest numbers of scholarships.note Football is subdivided into FBS (top level) and FCS; see our pages on college football conferences (Power Five; Group of Five, FBS independents, and FCS) or The Other Wiki for more details.
- Division II — Mostly smaller schools that still wish to award athletic scholarships, but in considerably smaller numbers than in Division I.
- Division III — Does not allow athletic scholarships, periodnote ... with an exception noted farther down the page. Generally, these schools strongly emphasize academics over athletics, and treat athletics as just another student activity.
Aside from the divisional structure, NCAA teams are, in the vast majority of cases, members of athletic conferences. These conferences often act as member leagues of the NCAA, and usually organize their own meetings and tournaments, as well as their own rules for member schools. While there are a few schools that remain independent, the vast majority of schools join due to the added benefits (scheduling, scholarships, postseason and tournament play) that conferences bring. Additionally, for these reasons it is not uncommon for a school to be a member of a conference for one sport, but a member of a different one for another. This most often happens for one of two reasons, which sometimes overlap:
- A sport has a limited number of schools sponsoring it. For example, ice hockey is highly regionalized, with sponsoring schools almost all being in areas with cold winters. Because of this, the only Division I all-sports conferencenote that sponsors the sport for either sex is the Big Ten, which only runs a men's league.note As a result, hockey has its own set of conferences separate from the all-sports structure.
- A school sponsors a sport that its main conference does not. This is not just the case in ice hockey, but in many more widely sponsored NCAA sports. For example, as of the current 2023 NCAA soccer season, five of the 10 FBS conferences—the Big 12, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and SEC—sponsor soccer for women but not for men. The schools in these conferences that have men's soccer teams house them in other all-sports conferences that do operate men's soccer leagues.note
Another structural note involves scholarships. As noted above, the key distinction between Division III and the other divisions is the prohibition of athletic scholarships. Not only that, D-III schools are not allowed to maintain endowments to support athletics, cannot use athletic ability as a criterion to award any form of financial aid, and are routinely monitored by the NCAA to ensure that the proportion of financial aid awarded to varsity athletes is closely proportional to their share of the student body.note
In the two higher divisions, each school is limited as to the number of scholarships it can award in each of its sports. Division I sports are divided into "head-count" and "equivalency" sports:
- In head-count sports, schools are restricted to a set number of students receiving aid for that sport, but each player may receive up to a full scholarship. Currently, two men's and four women's sports are head-count—basketball and FBS football for men, and basketball, gymnastics, tennis, and (indoor) volleyball for women.
- In equivalency sports, including FCS football, schools are restricted to providing athletic aid in each sport that's equivalent to a set number of full scholarships, with that number set well below the standard squad size for that sport. These "equivalents" may be (and are) split into partial scholarships as each program sees fit. It should be noted that all Division II sports are classified as equivalency sports.
In sports that do not have separate national championships for D-II or D-III, lower-division schools are allowed to compete alongside D-I members. D-II members may operate under D-I rules and scholarship limits in those sports. The sport most notably affected by this rule is ice hockey; the NCAA has never had a D-II women's championship in that sport, and abolished its D-II men's championship in the late '90s. While the NCAA previously allowed D-II schools to compete in D-I in sports other than football and basketball, even if D-II championships were available, it shut off that ability in 2011, though a grandfather clause allows a few D-II schools to "play up" despite the existence of D-II championships to this day.note
Another grandfather clause, dating from 2004, has allowed an even smaller number of D-III schools to compete as D-I members with scholarships in one men's sport and one women's sport. The most notable examples of programs covered by this clause are Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse and Colorado College men's ice hockey.note This rule changed in 2021, shortly after the NCAA gave each division the right to set its own rules without needing to go through approval by the entire membership. Not only can schools covered by the 2004 grandfather clause still offer scholarships in their D-I sports, but any D-III school that sponsors a sport that does not have a D-III championship can offer scholarships in that sport.