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.

Pie Charts Are Terrible

Let’s start this off with some honesty.  I used to love pie charts.  I thought they were great, just like the way I used to think Comic Sans was the best font ever.

But then I had some #RealTalk, and I’ve been enlightened in the error of my ways, and I want to pass on what I’ve learned to show people why pie charts aren’t the best choice for visualization.  For my day job, part of my work involves creating visualizations out of business data for our customers.  I picked up a copy of “Information Dashboard Design” a book by Stephen Few of Perceptual Edge.  If you’re at all interested in data visualization, I highly recommend his books, and on this site we attempt to use a lot of the principles in creating the visualizations we present to you.

But speaking specifically of Pie Charts, here’s why they’re a bad choice for your and your data:

It’s Hard To Do Comparisons

With a pie chart, the size of the angle determines the proportion on the data.  Everything adds up to a nice cool, crisp 100%.  But what if you want to know the exact numbers?  Well, you’re going to need data labels attached to your data, which can take up space and be cumbersome.

Look at these pie charts.  Can you tell me the exact value of each of the slices?  Can you order the colors from largest to smallest in each chart?

Continue reading “Pie Charts Are Terrible”