Chances of playing college sports by Division Scholarship
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Where are the best chances of a student playing a college varsity sport?

One way to check is by looking at  ratio of total undergraduate students to total student athletes at each division.  This ratio can be viewed as the odds a random student competes in a varsity sport (including JV and freshman teams) at a sponsoring school in that particular division. A lower ratio results in  theoretically better odds that a given student will participate in a varsity sports program. 

We computed these ratios for several  athletic divisions and came up with the following results. The overall ratio of  students  to student athletes was 17:1 for all collegiate divisions which translates into about a 6% probability that a random undergraduate student plays a varsity sport.

A student is generally going to have a better chance playing college sports at smaller schools than bigger schools. The average odds a random student plays varsity sports are 28:1 at NCAA Division I schools whereas the 8:1 odds at NCAA Division III and NAIA schools are over three times better:

Ratio of undergraduates Number of Student Athletes
  # of to Student Athletes All sports 
All Sports Schools total men women totals men women
NCAA Division I 348  28:1   24:1   34:1       139,063       77,323       61,740
NCAA Division II 292  13:1   9:1   19:1        85,385       52,011       33,374
NCAA Division III 418  8:1   6:1   11:1       144,062       86,730       57,332
NAIA 260  8:1   6:1   12:1        56,354       33,822       22,532
NJCAA 464  27:1   20:1   40:1        53,248       33,452       19,796
Other Divisions 276  17:1   13:1   24:1        39,737       24,833       14,904
Totals 2,058  17:1   13:1   23:1       517,849      308,171      209,678

Football distorts the participation ratios between men and women student athletes and doesn't make Title  IX compliance easier for most schools either. When these computations are applied to all sports with the exception of football, the participation ratios between men and women is much closer:

Ratio of undergraduates Number of Student Athletes
All Sports # of to Student Athletes All sports except football
except football Schools total men women totals men women
NCAA Division I 348  35:1   37:1   34:1       112,336       50,596       61,740
   
NCAA Division II 292  16:1   14:1   19:1        68,229       34,855       33,374
   
NCAA Division III 418  9:1   8:1   11:1       120,440       63,108       57,332
   
NAIA 260  10:1   7:1   12:1        48,054       25,522       22,532
   
NJCAA 464  30:1   23:1   40:1        47,720       27,924       19,796
   
Other Divisions 276  21:1   18:1   24:1        33,814       18,910       14,904
Totals 2,058  20:1   18:1   23:1       430,593      220,915      209,678

Why is the ratio of women undergraduate students to student athletes higher than for men?

There are roughly  20% more women undergraduate students than men in the U.S. college system, and the ratio of women undergraduates to women student athletes will be correspondingly higher since the size of most varsity rosters are based on the game rules of the particular sport.

For example,  basketball allows only 5 players on the court, and only 11 soccer players can take the field at once. Consequently,  even though a school sponsoring  basketball and soccer might have 20% more women than men students, the size of its respective basketball and soccer rosters will typically be comparable.
 
 
To see the chances of making the transition from playing sports at the high school level to the college level, see our page on the odds of a high school athlete playing college sports. 

These statistics report student athlete participation at the collegiate varsity level (including JV and freshman teams) and do not reflect school club or intramural teams. Athletic scholarships are not awarded for participation in either club or intramural sports.
      
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