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Number of NCAA college athletes reaches all-time high

In the 2017-18 academic year, nearly half a million students competed on more than 19,000 teams

Opportunities for student-athletes to compete at NCAA colleges and universities continue to increase, NCAA data released today shows. A record-setting 494,992 students competed in NCAA championship sports in the 2017-18 academic year, an increase of more than 3,000 since 2016-17.

The number of men’s teams nationwide increased by 62 last year, while women’s teams increased by 64. Women’s teams have outnumbered men’s teams since 1996-97, when women inched ahead for the first time with 7,618 teams to the men’s 7,608. Today, 10,586 women’s teams compete in NCAA championship sports, compared with 9,159 men’s teams.

“This robust collection, including team and participant data, has allowed us to observe incredible increases in intercollegiate participation for both men’s and women’s sports,” said Nicole Hollomon, NCAA associate director of research, who manages the NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report.

This year, for the first time, the NCAA is releasing the data in an interactive dashboard that allows users to dissect data by sport, gender, year and other characteristics. The NCAA has tracked the data since the 1981-82 academic year, the first year in which the NCAA offered championships in women’s sports. The number of student-athletes now competing in college sports has more than doubled since that year.

Male NCAA student-athletes now number 278,614 nationwide, or 56 percent of the student-athlete population, while women total 216,378, or 44 percent. Meanwhile, women’s NCAA teams now make up 54 percent of NCAA teams, compared with 46 percent for the men.

Notably, of the 3,062 additional student-athletes in 2017-18, nearly two-thirds (2,001) were men.

Among the NCAA’s three divisions, Division I comes closest to reaching a gender balance in its number of male and female student-athletes, according to the new data. Male student-athletes make up 53 percent of the 181,512 student-athletes in Division I, compared with the women’s 47 percent.

In Division II, men make up 58 percent of the 121,445 Division II college athletes, compared with the women’s 42 percent. In Division III, 58 percent of the division’s 192,035 student-athletes are men, compared with 42 percent women.

“The ways in which people use these data are so varied,” Hollomon said. “People use it to assess gender equity, to determine what sports are most likely to allow them access, and to define where sports are declining in both access and opportunity.”