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Some people imagine the roar of a crowd at a packed football stadium when they think of college sports, but that’s only part of the story. College sports come in a wide variety, including bowling, golf, wrestling, tennis, swimming and even Frisbee. And colleges offer the opportunity for every student to take part in sports — not just the elite student-athletes you see on TV.

Key College Sports Facts

Here are the main things you need to know about college sports:

  • Through various sports associations, many colleges offer students the chance to play competitive sports at the varsity level.
  • Some varsity athletes are eligible for sports scholarships through their colleges.
  • Varsity athletes must meet academic requirements to win and keep sports scholarships.
  • Every student has an opportunity to play sports — thanks to clubs and intramural leagues.
  • All college athletes need strong time-management skills to balance classes and homework with practices and games.

Varsity Sports

What does “varsity” mean? Generally, college varsity sports teams:

  • Represent their college.
  • Play against teams from other colleges.
  • Receive at least some funding from their college’s athletic department.

Sports Associations

Several associations oversee varsity-level competition in various sports for men and women at different colleges. These include the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), among others.

The NCAA is the largest and most well known of the college sports associations. When you watch college sports on TV, you’re usually watching NCAA athletes. The NCAA oversees three levels of play:

  • Division I is the biggest and most competitive NCAA division. Colleges that compete in Division I must offer scholarships — many of them full — to their student-athletes.
  • Division II athletic programs are smaller and less competitive than those in Division I. Most student-athletes don’t get full-ride scholarships, but many do get some financial aid for playing.
  • Division III programs are the least competitive. Division III colleges do not offer sports-related financial aid. Still, these schools recruit athletes, and being one can help you get into a college that wants you in its program.
  • Visit the to learn more about the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
  • Visit the NCAA Student Athlete Site to learn more about eligibility.
  • Go to the NCAA Eligibility Center to register.
  • Search for the school you are interested in by going to NCAA Search for a School.
The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA)  promotes and supervises a national program of sports and activities for accredited junior colleges and two-year institutions.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) is a governing body of small athletics programs that are dedicated to character-driven intercollegiate athletics. Since 1937, the NAIA has administered programs and championships in proper balance with the overall college educational experience.  The student-athlete is the center of all NAIA experiences. Each year more than 60,000 student-athletes have the opportunity to play college sports at NAIA member institutions.

The National Christian College Athletic Association, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit association, was incorporated to provide a Christian-based organization that functions uniquely as a national and international agency for the promotion of outreach and ministry, and for the maintenance, enhancement, and promotion of intercollegiate athletic competition with a Christian perspective.

Club and Intramural Sports

Students who can’t make the varsity team or who don’t want the intensity of varsity-level sports can join clubs and intramural leagues. Millions of college students take part in these teams each year as a way to compete, have fun and stay fit.

Club Sports

Club teams compete against clubs from other colleges, and they are run by students. Students take charge of everything from getting uniforms to hiring officials to making travel arrangements. Competition and time commitments can be intense for club sports — teams may be involved in a regional conference and play for a national championship.

Intramural Sports

Intramural leagues are set up by the college to give all students a chance to participate. Teams from the same college play against each other. Students can often participate in traditional sports, such as basketball, soccer and softball, and can sometimes compete in other activities, such as dodgeball, inner-tube water polo or video games. Some colleges offer these types of sports at different levels, so students can match their skills and interest level by choosing a more- or less-competitive team.