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A Brief History of the NCAA

by May 21, 20210 comments

If you are looking to try and win a sports scholarship to a university in the USA, chances are good that you have come across the NCAA. We have already covered all you need to know about how it works, right here. But a question that remains is one of the NCAA’s origins. How did the NCAA come about? Why was the NCAA formed? How was it formed? In this week’s post, we give a brief history of the NCAA, from its founding to the present day.

The Beginnings

So, let us start off with the obvious question: what does the NCAA abbreviation stand for? The answer to that is the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Intercollegiate sports began in the United States in 1852, when rowing teams from Harvard and Yale began meeting in “challenge races.” However, it is only 54 years later that the history of the NCAA begins in earnest. The IAAUS – the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States – was founded in 1906. This was the earliest incarnation of the NCAA, formed mainly in response to a need to make college football safer to play. There were 62 higher-education institutions that became founding charter members of the IAAUS. However, this set up lasted for only four years. In 1910, the organization’s name changed to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or the NCAA – the one we know today.

The history of the NCAA logo is displayed, from 1957 to 1988.
The evolution of the NCAA logo

The NCAA held its first national championship in 1921, fifteen years after its formation. After this “National College Track and Field Championship” occurred, more championships were added gradually over the years, including one for basketball in 1939. Interestingly, this would lead to both the phenomenon of March Madness (more on that later), and the formation of the NAIA. By the 1920s, intercollegiate athletics were quickly becoming an integral part of higher education in the United States. Public interest in intercollegiate sports continued to increase, and there was in influx of support from federal government during the 1930s. Radio and television helped promote the sport, as it gave fans the chance to follow a game in real time. 

Adding Divisions

In the 1960s and 70s, the size of a university or college determined which teams competed against one another. However, disparities in investment into sporting programs were growing, and this method was no longer useful in keeping games competitive. Accordingly, in 1973, the NCAA created three separate divisions to balance out competition, and these divisions still stand today.

A picture from the first basketball national championship, in which the University of Oregon defeated Ohio State. The dress of the players shows the length of time that has elapsed since the beginnings of the tournament.
The University of Oregon won the first men’s basketball national championship, with the Ducks defeating Ohio State 46-33

Division 1 universities place the highest emphasis on athletic competition, and invest the most into their sports programs. They are thus the only universities that offer full athletic scholarships to students. Schools in Division 2 have more of a balance between academics and sport, and so only give out partial scholarships. Division 3 has the largest membership, with 450 member institutions, but schools in this division do not offer scholarships to their athletes. This division places the highest emphasis on academic achievement. This moment has become a critical part of the history of the NCAA, as the Division system underpins much of the NCAA’s attractiveness in terms of competition and competitiveness.

Including Women

The 1980s saw the NCAA begin to govern women’s college sports. Until 1981, the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women – the AIAW – oversaw all women’s national championships and college sport. However, the NCAA, along with its new full-time staff, began to administrate women’s sport in the early 80s. While there was some confusion in its initial efforts – both the NCAA and AIAW hosted national championships for women in 1982 – the situation had been cleared up by 1983. The NCAA began a broadening of sports offering for women and has continued to grow women’s college sports ever since – most notable women’s soccer, which has resulted in the USA becoming a powerhouse in the sport at international level.

Notre Dame celebrate Ogunbowale's buzzer beater in the March Madness championship game
March Madness continues to be the NCAA’s biggest moneymaker, and produces classic moments year after year.

Becoming a Force

From the NCAA’s humble beginnings, it has grown into the super force we know today. The NCAA now has over 1,098 member universities, 24 sponsored sports, and more than half a million student-athletes. It is a multi-billion-dollar organization, and is in fact the largest collegiate organization in the world. It hosts several national tournaments and annual championships in every sponsored sport. One example of this is their annual D1 men’s basketball national tournament, dubbed “March Madness.” In this famous tournament, 68 programs from across the nation compete for the NCAA Basketball National Championship. That three-week tournament alone made the NCAA $933 million in 2019. For more than 115 years, from 1906 to today, theThe history of the NCAA continues on, growing with each passing year.

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