College Football in the American Collegiate System
American football still stands as the most popular sport in the United States, with a rich history and an enduring legacy that has captivated fans for generations. From the powerhouse programs of the NCAA to the thrilling action of the NFL, football has been and always will be an integral part of American culture, uniting fans from all walks of life. That’s why there is no better place to get a degree as a football athlete than in the United States. In this article, we’ll explore the world of college football, taking a closer look at how the sport works within the American collegiate system, its evolution, and what makes it such a beloved sport for millions of fans worldwide.
Seasons and Divisions
In NCAA Division 1, the football season typically runs from late August through early December, with a break in the middle of the season for teams to rest and recover. Division 1 football is divided into two subdivisions, the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). The FBS consists of 130 teams and plays a bowl game at the end of the season, while the FCS has 127 teams and a playoff system with 24 teams competing in a single-elimination tournament leading up to the national championship game. The national championship game takes place between the two top-ranked teams in the College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings, which are determined by a selection committee based on various factors, including win-loss records, the strength of schedule, and conference championships.
Division 2 has a total of 165 member schools, which are organised into 23 conferences. The football season runs from early September through mid-November, with playoff games in late November and early December leading up to the national championship game. Division 2 also has two different subdivisions; Super Region 1 and Super Region 2. Super Region 1 primarily includes teams from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States, while Super Region 2 includes schools from the Southeastern United States. Similarly to Division 1, their subdivisions and conferences help organise the competition and determine playoff eligibility for all Division 2 football teams.
Division 3’s football season runs from early September through mid-November, with playoff games leading up to the national championship game in December. Division 3 currently holds 249 different colleges across 43 conferences. Aside from there not being any subdivisions, division 3 maintains similarities with Divisions 1 and 2 regarding how teams make it to the playoffs and the national championship.
NJCAA and NAIA:
The NJCAA and NAIA’s football seasons run from late August through November, with playoff games in December leading up to the national championship game. The NJCAA is comprised of 85 college football programs, and the number of conferences varies year-to-year as schools may change their affiliations or conference memberships, but in 2021 14 different conferences were being governed by the NJCAA across three divisions. The NAIA had 21 football conferences in the 2021 season across 68 college programs which were only divided across two divisions rather than three.
The rival games that take place between teams throughout various points of the year are an aspect of the college football culture that works to keep the sport’s place in the country alive and provide fans with immense excitement and highlights throughout each season. Rivalry games always hold significant implications for postseason play and conference championships, with thousands of screaming fans depending on their local teams to beat their biggest adversaries. Even to coaches, rivalries can be just as crucial as championships because winning a rivalry game is a testament to a team’s ability and character. Some of the most critical rivalries in NCAA football are “The Red River Showdown”, which is between the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Oklahoma. This game always takes place at the Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas, Texas and has been played annually since 1900, making it one of the oldest and most storied rivalries in college football history. Another iconic rivalry in NCAA football is the Iron Bowl between the University of Alabama and Auburn University. This intense and passionate matchup has been held annually on the final Saturday of November since 1893, with only a few exceptions during World War II. The game is typically held at either Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa or Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, both located in Alabama.
College football scholarships are a vital resource for many student-athletes looking to pursue their dreams of playing at the next level. These scholarships cover the cost of tuition, room and board, and other expenses related to attending college. However, the number of scholarships available to each college football program varies by division and level. NCAA Division 1 programs have the most scholarships available, followed by Division 2 and Division 3 programs. NAIA and NJCAA programs also offer scholarships, but they have different rules and regulations for the number of scholarships they can offer and how they can be distributed. Please see the table below for further information on American football scholarships:
The Influence of College Football
College football is the sport that likely has the most significant role in American university culture and can generate serious revenue for colleges across the United States. NCAA, NJCAA, and NAIA football can also significantly impact a college program’s reputation and visibility, attracting students and increasing the university’s national profile. College football can also provide tremendous financial impacts for colleges through television contracts, ticket sales, merchandise sales, etc. In addition, revenue generated from college football often helps fund other athletic programs, academic scholarships, and other initiatives at the university. Occasionally, successful football programs can create tens of millions of dollars in revenue annually for their respective colleges. For example, in 2019, the University of Alabama reportedly generated over $110 million in revenue, making it one of the highest revenue-generating college programs in the country. In addition, Alabama’s success led to a slight increase in applications and enrollment into the university, facilitating an increase in tuition and fee revenue.
College football has produced numerous success stories of players who overcame obstacles and achieved greatness on and off the field! For example, Ali Marpet competed for a Division 3 liberal arts school named Hobart College and excelled on the field during his time there from 2011 to 2014. Despite only a handful of Division 3 players ever being drafted into the NFL, Marpet’s performance at the Senior Bowl managed to catch the attention of scouts, and he was eventually selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Once Marpet entered the NFL, he quickly established himself as one of the league’s top offensive linemen and played a critical part in helping the Buccaneers win the Super Bowl in 2021.
Another example is the current wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers, Adam Thielen. Thielen attended Minnesota State University, Mankato, a Division 2 college where he spent four years from 2009 until 2012. During Thielen’s senior year at Minnesota State playing as their wide receiver, he recorded 74 receptions for 1,176 yards and eight touchdowns. This earned him first-team-All-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) Honors. Despite Thielen’s success in college, he went undrafted in the 2013 NFL Draft, likely due to his lack of exposure and playing for a Division 2 college. However, shortly after the draft in 2013, he managed to sign with the Minnesota Vikings, where he has played for nine seasons before just recently signing with the Carolina Panthers for the 2023 season.
As you can see from the examples above, student-athletes don’t need to play for Division 1 schools to become professionals. College football is a sport that provides opportunities for players of all levels to succeed and potentially make it to the professional level. While Division 1 schools may have more visibility and resources, the success stories of players like Adam Thielen, who went undrafted and worked his way up to become a Pro Bowl wide receiver, demonstrate that talent and hard work can lead to success at any level of college football. Aspiring football players should not limit themselves to only Division 1 programs. They should instead focus on finding a program that fits their goals and abilities, as success can be achieved at any level. Suppose you’re an American football athlete and would like to better understand what level you could fit into the American college system. In that case, we have free consultations where we can provide you with that information based on your current school grades and your sports CV. Take the first step towards achieving your goals, and sign up for a free consultation today! All you have to do is fill out the form, and one of our experts will get in touch with you promptly!