“Big 3”:The American College Football Landscape

Posted: July 17, 2013 in Recruiting
No Comments


College football in the US can be a bit confusing if you haven’t grown up there…and even if you had, you might not know the details of how recruiting and scholarships work. We wanted to help out by giving you a breakdown of each college athletic association, the number of schools (and scholarships) available, and also the types of scholarships they can offer.

The Big 3:

All colleges that play football in the states are members of 1 of the 3 following associations.

  1. NCAA – National Collegiate Athletic Association
  2. NAIA – National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics
  3. NJCAA – National Junior College Athletics Association.

Each association has different rules governing the amount of scholarships each school may offer, and also how the school distributes those scholarships.. For a quick breakdown of these rules and regulations, check out the video presentation below (or just keep reading).



The NCAA is the top level of American College Football. It is broken up into 4 different divisions.

FBS – Football Bowl Subdivision (Division 1-A):

This is the highest division of college football. As of this post, there were 120 schools competing in the FBS division. Schools in the FBS include most of the schools you might have heard of or seen on TV, including Michigan, Oklahoma, USC, Miami and Oregon. Schools in this division compete in various conferences such as the Pac 12, Big 10 and SEC.

Scholarships: FBS schools have 85 scholarships available to award. These scholarships are all awarded as full scholarships. About 20-30 of these are given each year per school depending on the number of scholarships the school has available.

FCS – Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-AA):

This division is the 2nd tier of Division 1, and is home to 122 schools at the time of this post. Schools in this division include Appalachian State (which famously beat Michigan a few years ago), and also schools like Delaware (home to Joe Flacco), and Eastern Illinois (Tony Romo’s Alma Mater).

Scholarships: FCS schools are allowed a maximum of 63 scholarships which may be awarded as full scholarships, or broken up into partial awards. The catch is, no more than 85 players can be on an athletic scholarship at any given time.

Division II:

Division II, commonly referred to as “D2”, is home to 156 football member schools. This divides includes colleges such as Grand Valley State, Northwest Missouri State & Chadron State – college of Danny Woodhead of the New England Patriots.

Scholarships: Division II schools are allotted 36 scholarships, which they can divide amongst any number of athletes in any manner they choose. This can include full or partial scholarships, however it is rare for a DII school to give a full scholarship.

Division III:

Division III is the lowest division of NCAA athletics, however it is still very competitive and offers exciting football. Piere Garcon of the Indianapolis Colts was a member of DIII Mount Union, perhaps the most well-known and most successful of all Division III college football programs. Of course, many Americans know Jim Thorpe, perhaps his generation’s most decorated athlete in any sport.

Scholarships: Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships. Most athletes that compete in DIII have academic scholarships, or federal grants and loans to help pay their way. Division III schools typically cost much less to attend than the Division II or Division I Universities.


NAIA stands for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. At the time of this post, there are 92 schools in the NAIA participating in American Football.

Scholarships: Each NAIA school is allotted 24 scholarships which they can award in any manner they choose. Needless to say, most scholarships awarded to NAIA athletes are partial scholarships. Students who are strong in academics can receive scholarship awards that do not count towards the 24 athletic scholarship limit.


The NJCAA or National Junior College Athletic Association is home to 68 schools that participate in American Football. Junior Colleges in the United States are typically 2 year colleges, at the end of which, the athletes usually transfer to a 4 year university to complete their degree and playing career. Junior Colleges, or “Ju-Co’s” as they are more commonly referred to in the US, are a great way to play your way to a scholarship at a major university, by proving yourself on the field. Many athletes also attend Junior College if they do not immediately meet the academic requirements for attending a 4 year university straight out of high school.

Scholarships: NJCAA schools are permitted 85 scholarships, which they can award in any manner they please. Many states have rules in place that limit the number of spots on the active roster that can be held by students from out-of-state. For example, Butler College in Kansas must have 43 of its 55 active roster spots held by graduates of Kansas high schools.

Other Associations

In addition to the “Big 3”, there are a few smaller athletic associations. Two of these are located in California, and are home to over 100 more junior colleges.

CCCAA – California Community College Athletics Association:

The CCCAA has 34 football members, all of which are 2 year institutions. Many of these schools are “feeder” schools to larger universities. The CCCAA is separated into the SCFA (Southern California Football Association) and the NCFA ( Northern California Football Association).

Scholarships: CCCAA does not offer athletic scholarships, however the cost of attending these community colleges is a fraction of the cost of attending a major university, and many students play their way to a scholarship at a 4-year university.

In Conclusion…

Hopefully you have a much better understanding of the college football landscape in America. There are tons of great schools out there that play quality football, and Bring It On Sports is dedicated to finding you a home. Check out our Recruiting Section for more information about possibly getting a scholarship to play American Football in the USA.