With over 1,000 colleges and universities offering athletic programs it can be very confusing to understand how the NCAA separates different divisions. The NCAA breaks colleges into 5 different divisions which include DivisionI/II/III, NAIA, and Junior Colleges. These divisions are selected by determining the number of sports a college or university has. Inside each of these divisions colleges can be broken down into subdivisions. A brief definition of each division is listed below:

NCAA DIVISION I (Volleyball)

Division One programs are compromised of the largest college and universities in the country. This is the premier division in College Volleyball and hosts nearly 118 programs. The season lasts from August to December with the NCAA tournament. Division One programs generally have 12 scholarships with the exception of schools with small athletic departments.

NCAA Division I schools are talked about in three categories:

Major Division One 

Comprised of schools located in BCS Football Conferences. These conferences usually receive four or more invitations to the NCAA DI National Tournament each season. The athletic budgets and revenue streams for these colleges are often larger than any other level of play.

Conference Examples: ACC, Big East, SEC, Big Ten, Big Twelve, Pac 12
Team Examples: UCLA, USC, Univ. of Washington, Nebraska, Florida, Penn State, Texas
Recruiting Description: Most of these teams typically recruit and sign young ladies from all over the country who rank in at least the Top 300 nationally, Top 50 regionally, or Top 15 statewide in their respective high school graduating class. These are some of the most athletic kids in the country and are usually involved with the USAV Pipeline. The players are already very skilled or show a lot of potential with their athletic ability. The majority of these players will give a verbal commitment in their Junior season and sign with a program during their senior season.

  • Middle Blocker (6’2”– 6’5): Is very athletic and can move well. Approach Jump is 10’ or above and has good lateral movement. Can hit from different locations on the net and has the ability to block from pin to pin.
  • Outside Hitter (5’10 – 6’4): Will vary in style but has all around skills and can play front row and backrow. Player is touching on average 9’9” or above and has the tools to be able to score points.
  • Opposite (6’0 – 6’4): Has good physical presence and or blocking skills which makes them a good fit for the right side. Player should be able to contribute offensively but may not always play backrow. The position is becoming bigger to combat against opposing teams outside hitters.
  • Setter (5’9 – 6’2): Has great hands and has the mobility to sets balls from all over the court. Understands how to run and lead an offense. As the game is getting bigger and faster the position is starting to require taller athlete. Players should be able to hold their own in the front row.
  • Libero/DS (5’0 – 5’8): Incredible passing and diggings skills. Above average floor skills. Must be able to read hitters and having a tough serve helps. Must pass at above a 2.3 rating.

Mid-Major Division One 

Comprised of conferences that receive an average of two to four in the NCAA DI National Tournament each year. The top teams in these conferences could compete in major conferences and advance past the first weekend in the tournament. Their budgets are usually similar if not better than the mid to lower tier teams in the major conferences.

Mid Major DI Conferences: Atlantic 10, Colonial, Conference USA, Mid-American, Sun Belt, Southern Conference
Team Examples: Charlotte, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, Temple
Recruiting Description: Most of these teams typically recruit and sign young ladies that are ranked between spots 150-600 nationally, 25-100 regionally, or Top 30 statewide in their respective high school graduating class. These schools also tend to sign kids from all over the country.

  • Middle Hitter (6’1 – 6’4): Strong, Good mobility and polished footwork, can terminate in front and behind setter, change opponents hitting abilities.
  • Outside Hitter (5’9 – 6’2): Versatile, can play all around. Must be able to terminate on both pins and from back row. Pass well defensively and in serve receive.
  • Opposite Hitter (5’10 – 6’3): Block well and serve tough. Must be able to put balls away outside as well.
  • Setter (5’7 –6’1): Floor general, someone who can run and control a team, finds the open hitter and creates scoring opportunities.
  • Libero/DS (5’3 – 5’9): Primary defender who reads well and can direct the defense. Must pass well in serve receive and control half the court.

Low Major Division One

The schools in these conferences traditionally receive one invitation to the NCAA DI National Tournament each season. Depending on resources, these institutions might not be able to utilize all the scholarships allowed.
Low DI Conferences: Big South, Ohio Valley, Atlantic Sun, SWAC, Southland
Team Examples: Austin Peay, Florida A&M, Mercer,
Recruiting Description: Most of these teams typically recruit and sign young ladies that are ranked between spots 500-1,000 nationally, 75-175 regionally, or Top 50 statewide in their respective high school graduating class. These schools tend to sign most of their kids regionally (within a 300-500 mile radius) unless there is a specific connection (previous job, good high school coaching relationship, junior college transfer, DI transfer, or referral from a previous player) to an area outside of their region.

  • Middle Blocker (6’0 – 6’3): Above average mobility from pin to pin. Can terminate when needed and can alter the hitting of opponents attackers.
  • Outside Hitter (5’9 – 6’1): Terminates well outside and a great overall athlete. Must be able to pass and play defense at an above average level.
  • Opposite (5’10– 6’2): Blocks well and or great athlete. Must have an above average serve.
  • Setter (5’7 – 5’11): Smart, vocal, and can run the offense. Must give hitters one on one opportunity.
  • Libero (5’3 – 5’8): Above average defender and serve receive.

NCAA Division Two and NAIA

Division Two

Recruiting Description: Division Two programs are allowed to use a maximum allotment of 8 scholarships per athletic year. Division II schools, like Low Majors, use academic scholarship money that players qualify for to help offset their budget expense for each recruit. The Top 25 programs in Division II are on par with Low Major DI teams. Division II hosts a 64 team National Tournament each year.


The top ranked NAIA schools are comparable to NCAA Division II. Every few years NAIA schools grow in size or strength and move up to NCAA II level. They are allowed to give athletic scholarships but vary depending on the athletic programs budget. NAIA schools have relaxed recruiting guidelines but follow the Division II calendar.
DII or NAIA Conferences: GACC, Gulf South, Peach Belt, South Atlantic
Team Examples: West Georgia, Valdosta State, North Alabama, Armstrong Atlantic, Brewton Parker, Lee College
Recruiting Description: Most of these teams typically recruit young ladies that are ranked in spots 150-300 regionally or Top 125 statewide in their respective high school graduating class. These schools tend to recruit most of their kids within a 200-300 mile radius unless there is a specific connection to an area outside of their region. Players at this level usually lack a major asset such as size, mobility, or grades to play immediately at a Major/Mid-Major Division I school.

• Middle Blocker: 5’10” – 6’2
• Outside Hitter: 5’8” – 5’11
• Opposite: 5’9” – 6’1
• Setter: 5’6” – 5’9
• Libero/DS: 5’2” – 5’8

There are no athletic scholarships given in Division III. Scholarships may be provided by member institutions but have to be base on grades, test scores, and made available to the student body as a whole.

Conference Examples: Great South, UAA
Team Examples: Emory, LaGrange, Oglethorpe, Piedmont, Sewanee
Recruiting Description: Most of these teams typically recruit young ladies that are ranked in spots 250-600 regionally or Top 200 statewide in their respective high school graduating class. Because of their specific academic requirements and the cost of attending these schools, DIII schools can attract players from other regions on a regular basis. On occasion DI prospects may attend a DIII school due to academics.

  •  Middle Blocker: 5’10” – 6’2
  • Outside Hitter: 5’7” – 6’0
  • Opposite: 5’9” – 6’0
  • Setter: 5’5” – 5’10
  • Libero/DS: 5’0” – 5’7

NJCAA (Junior Colleges)

These are two-year junior colleges that allow players to grow academically and/or physically before making the transition to a four-year school. Athletic scholarships are awarded outside of California. Recruiting is non-stop for NJCAA members.

Article reposted from Volley One Volleyball. Photo by Pascal Swier on Unsplash