Sports and Seasons of the National Collegiate Athletic Association

A college football game.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, more commonly known as the NCAA, governs 24 different collegiate sports programs at nearly 1,300 Division I, Division II, and Division III schools throughout the United States. There are almost 350 Division I schools, representing all 50 states. There are more than 300 schools in Division II, including some in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, and Canadian institutions. Division III schools do not offer scholarships to athletes.

The National College Athletic Association divides its sports programs up into three separate seasons: fall, winter, and spring. Some sports have more than one season. Men's water polo is a fall sport, while women's is in the spring. Women volleyball athletes have two seasons, fall and spring, though spring is beach volleyball for women. Runners compete year-round with cross-country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field sports, one in each season.

There is no summer sports season in collegiate athletics, as students are not typically in school during that time. However, athletes often train and practice during the summer to prepare for the season. College baseball players may participate in summer ball in various leagues around the country, such as the Northwoods League or Prospect League.

Fall Sports

The NCAA offers six sports for the fall season. Arguably, the most popular overall collegiate sport is football, which takes place during the fall season. Overall, though, the fall season offers the fewest number of sports out of the three seasons, as more sports take place during both the winter and spring seasons.

The six sports offered by the NCAA for the fall season are:

  • Men's and women's cross-country
  • Women's field hockey
  • Men's football
  • Men's and women's soccer teams
  • Women's volleyball
  • Men's water polo

Winter Sports

Winter is the busiest season in college sports. The NCAA offers 10 sports during the winter, with more options for women athletes. Out of the 10 sports offered by the NCAA during the winter season, eight are offered to both men and women. The only sport that takes place during the winter season that is not available to women is wrestling.

The 10 sports are:

  • Men's and women's basketball teams
  • Women's bowling
  • Men's and women's fencing
  • Men's and women's gymnastics
  • Men's and women's ice hockey teams
  • Men's, women's, and mixed rifle
  • Men's, women's, and mixed skiing
  • Men's and women's swimming and diving
  • Men's and women's indoor track and field
  • Men's wrestling

Spring Sports

Nine sports are offered during the spring season. Of those, five are available to both men and women. The nine sports are:

  • Men's baseball
  • Women's softball
  • Men's and women's golf
  • Men's and women's lacrosse teams
  • Women's rowing
  • Men's and women's tennis
  • Men's and women's outdoor track and field
  • Men's volleyball and women's beach volleyball
  • Women's water polo¬†

Sports and the College Experience

Many students look at the success of a school's sports teams when considering whether to attend a particular college. Many young adults are looking for a way to pay for their college tuition through scholarships to play sports after high school, and they may choose a school based on the opportunities the schools have in those sports. For example, a decent high school football player will have a better chance of getting a scholarship at a Division II school vs. a highly competitive Division I institution.

On the other hand, students who are good athletes but do not need an athletic scholarship can take the chance of being a walk-on player at any school they attend. A strong athletic performance in high school can bring offers from Division III schools, where no scholarships are available, but where students can boost their odds of gaining admission.

Many college students remain loyal and devoted fans long after they have graduated, giving their alma mater's teams enthusiastic support in both cheering and donations. Sports are an integral part of their college experience.