The NCAA has three divisions; Divisions 1, 2, and 3. Colleges participate in one of these divisions athletically, based on a number of factors such as school size, funding, and facilities. A decision high school players will have to make is which division is a good fit for them. Now this decision will be partially dictated by their skill level, but there are also many other factors to consider.
The main differences between D1, D2, and D3 baseball is the competition level, facilities, and scholarships. However, there are no easy lines to draw that separate the talent between these levels and there is often significant overlap in the quality of players.
There are also academic and eligibility differences between divisions, but in this article, we will focus more on the on-the-field comparisons across the different divisions among NCAA schools. We’ll cover the difference in competition, facilities, and scholarship, and wrap up with some other considerations when choosing a school.
As mentioned earlier, there is no clear distinction between a D1 player and a D2 player, or a D2 player and a D3 player. The best way to illustrate this is with the simple graphic below. There are even D3 players more talented than D1 players. The major difference is the talent of rosters from top to bottom. While every player on a D1 roster may be very talented and capable of competing at the D1 level, a D3 roster might only have one or two players of this caliber.
At a D1 school, athletics are going to be the focus. Players prioritize training, and the coaching, funding, and time that goes into these programs are significant. Elite D1 programs are going to consist of several future professional baseball players, and recruiting is competitive and focused on the best high school players in the country.
The range in competition and talent across D2 baseball is arguably the widest. Top D2 programs can be better than some D1 programs, and there are certainly players at the D2 level that could succeed in D1 and go on to play professionally. In many cases, pitching depth is the biggest difference between D1 and D2. The top starting pitchers and closers for good D2 teams could easily compete at D1, but the talent tends to fall off quickly after that. Some D2 programs also get a lot of D1 transfers, who were looking for a change in school and opted for a D2 school for either athletic or academic reasons.
There are some D3 programs that play a very high-quality level of baseball, but athletics are not as much of a focus for D3 schools. Academics often take precedence, and fewer resources are poured into the athletic programs. Players that choose D3 schools are sometimes looking for a more balanced college experience, and choose to dedicate more time to interests outside of athletics. However, every year players from D3 schools are selected in the MLB draft, so D3 baseball is still legit, and can be a great option for players.
Much like the talent level, the facilities across the different divisions can overlap in terms of size and quality. In general, divisions have a positive correlation with school attendance. D1 schools often have tens of thousands of students, while D3 schools may only have one thousand, with D2 schools falling somewhere in the middle of that. This is not always the case though, some of the best D1 baseball programs in the country such as Rice University and Wake Forest University only have 4,000 – 5,000 students.
Top D1 college baseball programs are going to have state-of-the-art, facilities and stadiums that draw in thousands of fans. They will also have a more robust staff and personnel that work with the team. Not all D1 schools have these types of resources, and it can vary, but schools competing in the top conference will have professional-grade facilities, dedicated specifically to the baseball program.
D2 facilities vary pretty drastically. This usually has to do with the size of the school and the school’s desire to allocate resources to athletics. In D2 baseball it is not uncommon for a school with a size of 25,000 students to be in the same conference as schools with less than 1,000 students. On average, the majority of D2 schools fall in the range of 5,000 to 10,000 students. Some D2 schools play at immaculate stadiums while others use a community recreation field, which really depends on the specific school and conference they play in.
With the focus of D3 not as heavily weighted on athletics, facilities are often reflective of that. However, there are some beautiful stadiums and indoor facilities at D3 schools that outshine some D1 schools. Being that most D3 schools are private institutions, there can be an extensive range of athletic facilities as it can be a more discretionary cost to the school.
D1 baseball programs are allowed to offer a maximum of 11.7 scholarships. These scholarships can be divided among players as long as a player receiving a scholarship is awarded a minimum of a 25% scholarship. There is, however, some talk of potential changes to this structure, which could drastically change the landscape of recruiting, scholarships, and college athletics.
D2 schools are allowed to offer 9 scholarships to players, and unlike D1 schools, there are no limitations on how these scholarships can be broken up. It is up to the coaching staff to award scholarships to players as they see fit. Even though D2 schools are allowed 9 full scholarships, due to funding or Title IX limitations, it is not always possible for the program to award all 9.
D3 schools are not allowed to offer athletic scholarships for any sports. To combat this, many schools offer significant financial aid through academic scholarships that can help with the high cost of private schools.
Choosing a School
Many high school players have a dream to play D1 baseball. While D1 is the obvious benchmark, there are many other considerations players should make beyond the division. Just because a school is D1, it does not automatically mean they have a better team, facility, or program than a D2 or even D3 school. Some players get caught up in checking the box of becoming a D1 player, just to sit on the bench for 4 years. That same player could have had a great career as a starter at a high-level D2 or D3 school with top-notch facilities. The point is, that there are a lot of great opportunities for players at every level, and the search for a college program should go beyond the division.