Percentage of NCAA Teams Playing for the National Title in Each Sport

Back in 2014, the NCAA said that the BCS would be no more, and the College Football Playoff was born. College Football moved from two participants to four participants, a 50% jump!

However, with 128 teams in the FBS, that means the percentage of teams making the playoffs is a whopping 3.125%.

Meanwhile, the Men’s Basketball playoff is upon us, which lets in a field of 68 teams across 351 teams, for a percentage of 19%.

What about every other NCAA sport? If you were to play a different sport, what percentage of teams have a shot at the end of the season of playing for the National Title?

Information was gathered about all of the NCAA sports where championships are offered. The focus was on Division I, but some sports have a “combined” championship which spans divisions, like Skiing and Women’s Bowling. Source data was originally collected in January 2013 and updated in March 2015 where new information was available.


For Men’s sports, on average 28% of teams make it in. For Women’s sports, 21% of teams. Men’s, despite the low representation percentage in Football, get a boost from Wrestling, Fencing, and Gymnastics.

Men’s and Women’s basketball have a similar number of competing teams.  In fact, there are only two schools which offer Men’s but not Women’s, The Citadel and VMI.

  • Men’s – 351 Teams, 68 Playoff Spots, 19%
  • Women’s – 349 Teams, 64 Playoff Spots, 18%

Also, take a look at the difference between the Football Bowl Subdivision (1-A) and the Football Championship Division (1-AA).

  • FBS – 128 teams, 4 Playoff Spots, 3%
  • FCS – 126 teams, 24 Playoff Spots, 19%

One could argue that every week during the regular season in the FBS is an “elimination game” on the road to the playoffs, and there are certainly the non-playoff bowl games to consider, but I will leave that debate to the masses.

The other way to “split” this data is to look at it by the type of sport that it is. Some sports are truly team sports, like Football, Basketball, and Soccer.

There are also a few sports which are at its core individual sports, but the structure of the event brings a team element into play and the team as a whole qualifies for the event. Examples include Cross Country, Golf, and Women’s Bowling.

Other sports are based on individual qualification and the “team” component only comes into play if you as an individual have qualified for the Championships. Examples of this include Fencing, Wrestling, Swimming, and Track.  Hence, sports like these might have a higher number of teams representing them, but may only have a single athlete or two from that school that have qualified.


The bar charts give you a percentage, but the following scatter plots should help illustrate the volume of teams participating and making the playoffs.


And here’s that same chart colored by sport type:


So if you want to be playing for a national championship, Men’s FBS Football may not be the best sport to do it in. Have you considered Men’s Gymnastics?

Source information here: NCAATeamsAndPlayoffs_2015.csv

I am also happy to hear comments and corrections on information that I might have missed.

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