How Does a Student-Athlete's Time Commitment Differ Between Division I and Division III Programs?

A breakdown of the time student-athletes spend on their chosen sport at Divisions I and III.

By now you've probably heard the statistics about the small fraction of high school players who go on to compete at the college level. But recruiting statistics aside, once you are actually there, how does life differ for student-athletes who compete at Division I versus Division III?

This article will examine the differences based on a student-athlete's commitment of time needed to participate in his or her chosen sport.

Divisions I and III are the two larger divisions in the NCAA with 176,000 and 187,800 student-athletes respectively. These are significantly larger than the 118,800 student-athletes in Division II.

Competing in Division I vs. Division III will largely determine the nature of your student-athlete experience even if it is solely compared by the difference in time commitment according to the NCAA rulebook.

Take basketball for example: My personal experience playing at the Division III level compared to the schedules of players at Division I highlight a significant difference in time spent on basketball-related activities.

College Student Athlete

The Rule Book

Division I Basketball

  • Summer
    • Enrolled in summer school
    • 8 weeks of summer training on campus
    • 8 hours of mandatory training with coaches per week
      • 2 hours of on court skill instruction per week
      • 6 hours of strength and conditioning per week
    • "Voluntary" basketball-related activities or strength and conditioning throughout the week
    • Foreign tour with coaches (only allowed once every 4 years) that would include multiple practices and games against professional/semi-professional teams.
  • Offseason during academic year
    • 8 hours of mandatory training with coaches per week
      • 2 hours of on-court skill instruction per week
      • 6 hours of strength and conditioning per week
    • "Voluntary" basketball-related activities or strength and conditioning throughout the week
  • In-season
    • 20 hours of "countable athletically related activities" per week (>4 hours per day)
      • Practices
      • Required meetings with a coach
      • Required strength and conditioning
      • Review and discussion of game film
      • Athletic competition
    • 1 required day off from all countable athletically related activities
    • Any voluntary basketball-related activities or strength and conditioning

Division III Basketball

  • Summer
    • No mandatory training with coaches is allowed
      • Your summer training schedule is completely self-determined
    • Foreign tour with coaches (only allowed once every 4 years) that would include multiple practices and games against professional/semi-professional teams.
  • Offseason during academic year
    • No mandatory training with coaches is allowed
      • Offseason training is determined by "voluntary" practices and strength and conditioning workouts
      • Usually 5-6 days per week of these activities without coaches lead by captains (1-3 hours per day)
  • In-season
    • 20 hours of "countable athletically related activities" per week (>4 hours per day)
      • Practices
      • Required meetings with a coach
      • Required strength and conditioning
      • Review and discussion of game film
      • Athletic competition
    • 1 required day off from all countable athletically related activities
    • Any voluntary basketball-related activities or strength and conditioning

Comparison

College Basketball Practice

The main difference between the time commitments based on division (for basketball in this case) appears to be the additional mandatory hours during the offseason and summer. But when compared to the technically "voluntary," and therefore does not count toward the weekly hour limit, but essentially mandatory offseason workouts at Division III, these hours are probably not much different. It is the additional use of the "voluntary" sessions without coaches like practice, individual skill workouts, meetings, pick-up games, or extra strength, conditioning and treatment at the Division-I level, however, that can drastically increase the student's time commitment.

A 2011 survey of Division I athletes conducted by the NCAA illustrated that the 20-hour rule did not hold up, and athletes reported spending over 30 and sometimes  over 40 hours per week on their sport.

Via UNC Lawsuit

The survey shows overall that the 20-hour rule itself can be rife with loopholes, and this can be true regardless of sport. But this can be true of both Division I and Division III because it's as easy as deeming something "voluntary" although it is understood to be mandatory.

Seeing these numbers may be surprising but this is by no means a bashing of Division I athletics. I had a strong desire to play Division I basketball, had I been more highly recruited and had great opportunities to do so I'm sure I would have taken those opportunities and enjoyed my experience.

But I can speak from personal experience that I have never and most likely will never have to spend up to 30-40 hours per week doing sport-related activity. But that's not to say that Division III schools don't require significant commitment and that the "voluntary" loophole cannot be used to exceed the 20-hour rule.

I enjoy the summer freedom that comes along with being able to form my own training schedule and intern or get a summer job instead of having to spend most of my summer on campus training and taking classes. But the required, intense summer training at the Division-I level could have potentially made me a better player and athlete.

Also during the academic year, on average I spend 15-18 hours a week on required practice, lifts, film, and meetings, but there are times when this just isn't enough basketball for me and i exceed these hours on my own. So maybe there are times when the packed Division-I schedule would be fulfilling.

This difference can either be viewed as getting the opportunity to spend more time playing the sport you love or having more freedom to explore other activities and aspects of college life or put more time into the sport on your own.

Division I athletics are often referred to as "a job" but that does not necessarily mean athletes cannot do other things in college or have ample time for studies and social life. However, when compared to Division III that time will be objectively less due to the rules written by the NCAA and the loopholes they create.

READ MORE:

sturti/iStockPhoto, FatCamera/iStockPhoto


Topics: COLLEGE ATHLETES | RECRUITING PROCESS | COLLEGE BASKETBALL