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In the sport of basketball, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is the professional league, receiving tons of national attention; however, the organization that reveals the future of sports is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The NCAA is tied to 1,117 colleges and universities. They connect players through competitive athletic conferences and affiliated sports organizations, focused on anything from professional development to health and wellbeing. They have 500,000 college athletes from over 19,000 teams.Of all of these college athletes, over 50,000 compete in the NCAA’s various championships. It is not hard to imagine that the NCAA is an organization of breadth, overseeing 24 different sports, but basketball is a crown jewel of the association.
Basketball—like other sports in the NCAA—is broken up into three divisions based on school. Division I schools are large schools with robust athletic departments, sizable funds, and many athletes. Most NCAA basketball teams seen reported in papers, on televisions, and through social media feeds belong to this division. Think of big state schools and universities, such as the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. Division II schools are somewhat smaller, which results in less dynamic sports departments—fewer students, fewer sports, less scholarship money. Finally, Division III schools are the smallest schools with the fewest opportunities for athletes; unlike Division II schools, they offer no athletic scholarships. Picture community colleges and exclusively local academic institutions.
There are plenty of reasons to follow NCAA basketball, even compared to the professionals. One major factor is that people love to get behind school teams. There is a nostalgia about filing into stadiums at the alma mater and seeing students go wild for their classmates, friends, and peers playing in the court. Each game—away or home—has a buzz around it, as it becomes part of the school’s collective experience of that semester. Games do not get lost in the hustle and bustle of life, like they can in the exhaustively long 82-game NBA season. Another appeal of NCAA basketball is that the sport is more focused on team playing. Rather than having a handfuls of star players that are viewed as bonafide, powerful celebrities—which has its cons—the NCAA is about the win and the loss as a group, which keeps people focused on the sport, rather than the personalities behind it. The types of rivalries within the NCAA are considered age-old school rivalries: Duke versus North Carolina, Indiana versus Purdue, Michigan Versus Michigan State, and (equally controversial) Michigan versus Ohio State. The young hopefuls in NCAA basketball are a force of nature. Find a team near you, pick up tickets to the game, and experience it for yourself.