Return to Bylaw Blog

What Sports Would Division X Sponsor?

Yesterday I looked at the impact of a suggestion by North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham that members of a new NCAA division (Division X as I'm calling it) should have to sponsor 24 sports, well above the current Division I minimum. That lead to research into the sport offerings at all 65 schools that make up the Power 5 conferences.

Much has been made about what type of financial aid, recruiting, or amateurism rules a new super division might have. But one of the most basic questions about a new all-sports division goes unanswered: which sports are we talking about?

Looking at what sports the big boys offer shows that they group into three rough categories: sports that are definitely in, sports that might struggle in such a small division, and sports that have a shot to establish themselves and grow. The sport sponsorship numbers also give some insight into what sports institutions might add if Cunningham's suggestion became an actual Division X bylaw.

The Core Sports

Here are the sports sponsored by at least 50 Power 5 institutions:

  • Men's Basketball: 65
  • Football: 65
  • Men's Golf: 62
  • Baseball: 61
  • Men's Track and Field: 60
  • Men's Cross Country: 59
  • Men's Tennis: 52
  • Women's Basketball: 65
  • Women's Cross Country: 65
  • Women's Tennis: 64
  • Women's Track and Field: 64
  • Women's Volleyball: 63
  • Women's Soccer: 63
  • Women's Golf: 60
  • Women's Softball: 54
  • Women's Swimming and Diving: 52

Not coincidentally, that looks like your basic SEC or Big 12 athletic department, with 18 sports.

Not only would these be the first sports that would have a Division X championship, they could also become "core sports" of a new division. That means institutions would be required to sponsor them. Keeping with our 24-sport minimum, a school like Rutgers, which already has 24 sports, would still have to add men's tennis.

Core sports might be necessary in Division X simply because of how small it would be. Division II is the smallest of the three divisions, and it still has almost 300 members. To host even a 32-team tournament, Division X would need to virtually every member sponsor that sport.

On the Chopping Block

If Division X is focused on competition exclusively between its own members, some sports will struggle with sponsorship even with a much higher minimum. Even if many schools are required to add multiple sports. Here are the sports sponsored by fewer than 20 institutions:

  • Men's Skiing: 3
  • Men's Water Polo: 4
  • Men's Volleyball: 5
  • Rifle: 6
  • Men's Fencing: 6
  • Men's Ice Hockey: 8
  • Men's Gymnastics: 10
  • Men's Lacrosse: 11
  • Women's Bowling: 2
  • Women's Skiing: 3
  • Women's Ice Hockey: 6
  • Women's Water Polo: 7
  • Women's Equestrian: 8
  • Women's Sand Volleyball: 8
  • Women's Fencing: 9
  • Women's Field Hockey: 17

Two common themes emerge. First is that many of the sports above have National Collegiate Championships, not Division I championships. Even before you eliminate 80% of members from the new division, many of these sports already do not have enough sponsorship in Division I to justify a separate championship. The second is that most are concentrated in one or two regions. Field hockey, lacrosse, and ice hockey are concentrated in the east, water polo and men's volleyball in the west, and equestrian throughout the south and plains.

If the Power 5 conferences left the NCAA entirely, at least some of these sports would not make it, or revert to some hybrid varsity/club status. And this list does not include non-NCAA sports like men's rowing, sailing, and competitive cheer, all of which have similar or smaller sponsorship numbers among this group.

The exception might be sand volleyball. Like adding cross country to track, it is relatively inexpensive to add as a sport. There may be no new coaches, no more student-athletes, and no additional scholarships. The current competition format (tournaments and festivals where a team can get in multiple dates of competition) could keep travel costs down as well.

The Middle Children

Having looked at the sports that will definitely be included in Division X and the sports that will definitely not, the question marks are left. These are the sports sponsored by 20-50 schools:

  • Men's Swimming: 41
  • Men's Soccer: 29
  • Men's Wrestling: 28
  • Women's Rowing: 31
  • Women's Gymnastics: 30
  • Women's Lacrosse: 21

These are the sports that potentially stand to benefit from a 24-sport minimum. Like the sports with low sponsorship above, most of these sports are not sponsored across the board nationally. The difference is the sports in danger of being cut in Division X are concentrated in one or two regions. Our question marks tend to be missing a region or two. That's what separates field hockey and women's lacrosse. Field hockey is concentrated in the ACC and Big Ten, while women's lacrosse adds the Pac-12, bringing in an entire new region.

The other advantage these sports have in finding a place in Division X is that, especially for the men's sports above, there are fewer facility issues. 63 institutions already need to find a place for their women's soccer team to practice and play, so adding men's soccer should not require many brand new facilities. Gymnastics and wrestling also can repurpose an existing gym or court space, and lacrosse can use the football stadium in the spring.


The most glaring observation from these numbers is that a full breakaway from the NCAA in all sports of just these 65 schools is untenable. The Pac-12 is very proud of its many and varied NCAA championship teams. Wrestling has a long and storied tradition in the Big 12. And the ACC and Big Ten have made significant investments in growing new revenue sports like men's lacrosse and ice hockey. It is hard to imagine them throwing all that away.

Going back to Bubba Cunningham's 24-sport minimum, we can also start to see which sports schools would add. Men's soccer, wrestling, women's lacrosse, and women's gymnastics would be priorities because the facilities likely already exist on every campus. If women's swimming was made a required core sport, add men's swimming to that list.

The loss of regional flavor and some of the sports facing extinction at the highest level are not givens though. Certainly a new, small division will have to have more nationwide sport offerings (or simply have smaller athletic departments). But if two of three conferences feel strongly about a sport, like say the Big 12 and SEC throwing their weight behind equestrian, it could be given a chance to then grow from there, like equestrian establishing a foothold in California or with ag schools in the Big Ten.

But the easier solution might be to add more schools. A larger Division X could allow for larger tournaments, prevent some sports from being dropped, and even fuel a breakaway from the NCAA entirely. Tomorrow I'll look at who those schools might be.

Gain Exposure. Get Recruited.

Find opportunities for athletic scholarships and get connected to college coaches.