By: Rachel Fenton
University of Michigan 2015, B.A. in English

As families explore options for their college bound teen, they need to keep in mind that there is a lot to know about playing sports at the college level, especially when it comes to deciding between a DI, DII, DIII, or NAIA college. Timothy Parros, Founder of Parros College Planning, says, “when we hold our Academic and Athletic workshops and offer our attendees the opportunity to listen to college recruiters, most kids are attracted to the DI lectures. However, after hearing what the schools are looking for, and in some cases realizing that a DI school is a reach school for them, they are at a loss for where to go next.”

Students and parents often have misconceptions about the intricacies of college athletics. The simple “to play or not to play” question is quickly complicated by specifics. Reading through all of the materials on NCAA, NAIA, and each college’s websites can be overwhelming. “The ultimate goal is to find a student’s school of best fit,” says Parros, “and that’s where we come in.” Parros College Planning offers consultations specifically designed for student athletes in order to help families understand and navigate this process.

There is a lot to know and information varies for each school and sport, so we’ve highlighted 7 common myths about playing sports in college:

Myth: The NCAA is the only way to play
Fact: The NCAA is the most well-known organization for college athletics, but it’s not the only one out there. The NCAA is found in a little over 1200 colleges and is broken down into three divisions. The lesser known NAIA, on the other hand, can be found in 248 schools. These are often smaller institutions and many are private colleges. There is also the NJCAA, which exists for two-year college athletics and covers junior college and community colleges nationwide.

Myth: If I’m Division I, I get a full ride athletic scholarship
Fact: Division I schools often have the largest budgets. However, usually only the top recruits have access to these scholarships, which means that access to this funding is very competitive and not at all guaranteed. This reinforces the importance of academics for the student athlete. When athletics provide only partial or no aid, merit scholarships can make a huge difference in an athlete’s ability to attend and play for a school.

Very few Division II athletes will receive full athletic rides, though many will receive some athletic based support, and must then supplement it with academic grants and loans just like the rest of the student body. Similarly, most NAIA schools have a decent budget to devote to partial athletic scholarships, but they do not give out ‘free rides’ based on the student’s athletic ability. NCAA rule does not allow Division III to offer any athletic scholarships. Division III athletes are treated like every other member of the student body both financially and in terms of academic expectations.

Myth: If I play for a Division II school, my sport also competes at the DII level
Fact: Few people know that a Division II or III school can have one sport (other than football or basketball) participate as a Division I team. There are some regulations and restrictions on this rule, which are outlined on the NCAA website, but it is important for prospective athletes to be aware of the existence of multidivisional schools. An example of this is Ferris State University. Ferris is a Division II school, however, their hockey team is in Division I. Be sure to check your specific sport’s division at each school you look at because each division has different academic requirements and recruiting procedures.

Myth: All I need is the magic GPA to meet the academic eligibility requirements
Fact: Each division and organization lists the GPA requirements for students to be eligible for their program. However, as of August 1, 2016 students wanting to be eligible for Division I will have to meet higher GPA requirements and more importantly they will need to have completed 10 of their 16 core courses before their senior year of high school. These core courses must include seven in English, math or natural/physical science. Once you start your seventh semester, you can’t take or repeat these core requirements for eligibility. It is also important to note that these are just the NCAA’s requirements because some colleges have higher academic expectations for their prospective athletes. It is good to be aware of the academic expectations of each individual school you are looking into early on. You can’t play for a school if you can’t get in.

Division II requirements will be changing in 2018 as well, so visit the NCAA website to get familiar with these changes before it’s too late. Additionally, the SAT/ACT requirement for the NCAA corresponds to the student’s GPA. A lower GPA requires a higher test score. Visit the eligibility center to find out what score you will need for what GPA. The NAIA has similar requirements, but it is important that you look at their website and register with their eligibility center to make sure that you’re on track.

Myth: All I need is a great athletic career to have a future in sports
Fact: With the amount of students playing at the college level, it is unlikely that they will all make it to the world of professional sports. Career athletes are a very small percentage of college graduates, which is why both the NCAA and the NAIA put such a strong emphasis on academics. College is all about balance and academics are crucial to the future success of an athlete. However, this doesn’t have to mean that the future can’t include athletics. Students can apply their passion for athletics to many different fields, for example, STEM students can pursue a future in athletic medicine or physical therapy and humanities majors can pursue careers in sports journalism or broadcast media. Professional athletics hold a wealth of opportunities for smart graduates who understand the game.

Myth: If I play sports in college, I won’t have time for friends, schoolwork, or clubs
Fact: Division I sports are often very time consuming. However, Division II, III and NAIA athletics place a stronger emphasis on the athletic-academic-campus life balance. They are typically schools that either don’t have quite the resources or don’t put such heavy emphasis on athletics as Division I schools. NAIA teams are often compared to Division II teams. These teams are less time consuming and allow more opportunity for student athletes to participate in campus culture. Many NAIA colleges are smaller private colleges, which also allows for more individualized attention in the classroom.

Division III places the primary focus on academics. Division III athletes are treated like any other member of the student body and are held to the same expectations. Division III schools are often smaller private schools and thus are able to provide students with the academic and social attention that they need.

Myth: Coaches will find me
Fact: The NCAA has very strict rules and regulations for Division I and II teams. All of these are explained in detail on their website and if you are seriously considering playing for a Division I or II team it is important to familiarize yourself with this protocol. Division III and NAIA recruiting budgets are much smaller so, these institutions often conduct recruiting online. Therefore, there are far less restrictions on Division III and NAIA recruiting and much more communication allowed between coach and potential athlete.

There is a lot to take into consideration when trying to find your right fit and this has only begun to scratch the surface, but hopefully reading this gave you an idea of where to begin and how to take the next steps.