USCSA vs. NCAA (adapted from CollegeSnowSports.com)
There are currently two organizations that are involved with collegiate ski racing. This brief comparison will assist you with understanding the differences.
United States Collegiate Ski & Snowboard Association (USCSA)
- The nation is divided into 6 Regions: Eastern, Mid-East, Mid-Atlantic, Mid-West, West, and Far West.
- The 6 Regions are split into 11 conferences: Eastern, Mid-East, Allegheny, New Jersey, Southeast, Midwest, Southern California, Northern California, Northwest, Rocky Mountain, and Grand Teton. Most conferences have subsidiary divisions.
- USCSA programs maintain about 85% of the collegiate snowsport programs in the United States.
- Many schools are Division I, II, III NCAA and NAIA institutions that are also USCSA members and choose to compete in the USCSA. These programs may compete in NCAA events and attempt to qualify individuals to the NCAA Nationals. These teams may also compete in USCSA races and attempt to qualify a team for the USCSA Nationals.
- Teams may be varsity (fully funded or partially funded), club sports (partially funded, student activity funded, or non-funded), or individual racers banding together. If a school of your choice does not offer skiing (alpine or cross country) as a varsity or club sport, you can start a program.
- Both 4 year and 2 year institutions compete in the USCSA.
- Some offer athletic scholarships; however, most do not.
- USCSA racing includes: Alpine (SL & GS), Cross-Country, Ski Jumping, Snowboard, Freestyle, Men and Women.
- Scoring is as a team.
- Qualification to Regionals and Nationals is as a TEAM.
- View a current list of USCSA programs.
National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
- The nation is divided into 3 Regions: East (EISA), Central (CCSA) and Rocky Mountain (RMISA).
- NCAA programs maintain about 15% of the collegiate snowsport programs in the United States.
- Schools are Division I, II, or III NCAA institutions.
- Varsity funded activities (to varying degrees).
- All schools are 4 year institutions.
- Division I and II schools offer athletic scholarships; Division III is need-based financial aid or academic scholarships; Ivy League programs are Division I but do not offer athletic scholarships.
- NCAA racing includes: Alpine (SL & GS) and Cross Country, Men and Women.
- Scoring is as a team.
- Qualification to NCAA Nationals is as an INDIVIDUAL.
- NCAA skiing programs: men and women (note: not all NCAA skiing schools have alpine racing)
Reality: Making a NCAA alpine racing team is difficult!
There are currently 23 NCAA schools in the country with alpine racing programs. Not all have men's and women's teams. Each of these 23 teams has about 16 racers (8 men/8 women - this will vary, depending on the school). That means that there are an average of 2 men and 2 women recruited annually by each team, for a total of 46 men and 46 women per year (this may vary from year to year). About 1/2 to 2/3 of these spots go to racers from other countries (Canada or Europe). Most of these non-U.S. racers are actively recruited by top NCAA schools, and most are on full athletic scholarships. That means that only the top 30 to 46 overall USSA racers are likely to make a NCAA ski team, and not all of these racers will be offered athletic scholarships (each NCAA program has a limit to the number of athletic scholarships they can offer). Nationwide, there are typically about 1,200 high school seniors racing in USSA competitions. This means that that only the top 2.5-4% of USSA alpine racers nationally are likely to end up racing for a full NCAA program.
So what does this mean for the athlete that wishes to compete in college?
- First of all, set realistic goals and expectations. Many NCAA programs have extremely competitive FIS point profiles, with many of the squads having maximum FIS point levels of 25 to 30 points (it is not unusual for the elite NCAA teams to be loaded with racers who go on to place in the top 15 in World Cup and FIS World Championship events). Lowering an athletes points to this level requires extreme ability, patience, and effort - no impossible, but extremely tough to execute.
- Look into the fit of the school first, then look into the ski racing program. Most elite national universities and liberal arts colleges have USCSA alpine racing teams or clubs. In the end, the fit of the school as a whole matters far more than the quality of the ski racing program at the school. After all, if an athlete plans on spending four years at one place, it's best that it meet as many personal needs as possible: academic, social, and athletic.
- Some of the elite NCAA skiing schools have USCSA programs for athletes wishing to race but who don't qualify for their NCAA varsity programs.
- Some USCSA programs compete in NCAA competitions to qualify athletes (individually) to NCAA Regional and National Championship events. Note that this only typically occurs for very strong racers who are competitive with top NCAA racers - there is no guaranteed quota of USCSA athletes at NCAA Championship events.
- Some NCAA programs recruit larger squads than others. This is especially true for EISA schools, where the teams feature a larger roster (sometimes as many as 24-28 racers) from which competition entries to their qualifying Carnival events are picked. The racers in these programs also compete in Eastern Cup FIS events to help fulfill their racing goals. The qualification rules in RMISA competitions are more stringent, so squads are kept smaller.
- Above all else: an athlete should be prepared for hard, sometimes frustrating work if there are plans to race in college. The level of commitment in many areas of life will be higher in college. Time and money budgeting will be of utmost importance. Maintaining strong academic standing during racing season is even more difficult in college than in even the most highly competitive of high schools. If the athlete is not recruited by the school's ski team, the walk-on process is even more challenging.
- Have a sense of humor about things - it helps smooth over the rough patches that can, and will, occur while chasing the dream of college racing.
More info at: http://www.collegesnowsports.com/uscsavsncaa.htm
USCSA "Skiing Pathways After High School" matrix (PDF document).
Last updated: 19 September 2016