The NCAA University Division was a historic subdivision of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) consisting of member schools competing at the highest level of college sports. The University Division was first established as a basis for determining eligibility to participate in the 1957 NCAA University Division Basketball Tournament. It was replaced in 1973 with the creation of the NCAA Division I.
The University Division began for purposes of college basketball. In August 1956, NCAA executive director Walter Byers announced that, starting in 1957, the NCAA would hold separate basketball tournaments for major schools and smaller colleges. Approximately 156 major schools competing in the "University Division" would compete for 24 spots in the University Division tournament, while 285 smaller schools in the "College Division" would compete for 32 spots in a separate tournament.
From its inception, the University Division included all member schools in NCAA-allied conferences, and champions of those conferences automatically qualified to participate in the NCAA University Division basketball tournament. The original allied conferences were the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big Seven Conference, the Big Ten Conference, the Border Conference, the Ivy League, the Metropolitan New York Conference, the Mid-American Conference, the Missouri Valley Conference, the Mountain States Conference, the Ohio Valley Conference, the Pacific Coast Conference, the Southeastern Conference, the Southern Conference, the Southwest Conference, and the West Coast Athletic Conference.
The first separate "University Division" basketball tournament was held in March 1957.
By December 1957, the ranks of the University Division expanded to 179 universities and colleges.
While the University Division was initially created as a basis for determining eligibility for the basketball tournament, the concept was eventually extended to college football as well. In 1962, 140 major college football teams were recognized as being part of the "University Division" for purposes of football. Another 370 schools were placed in the "College Division".
In 1963, the NCAA began holding regional football championships within the College Division. At that time, 120 of the 419 NCAA football programs were classified as being part of the University Division.
Classification into the University Division for purposes of basketball was broader and included more schools than for purposes of football. For purposes of football, and unlike basketball, classification into the University Division was not automatic based on conference membership.
For purposes of football, the ranks of the University Division evolved from year to year. Promotion of football programs to the University Division Annual was determined in earlier years by members of the American Football Writers Association, and in later years by an NCAA sanctioning committee. Annual changes in the University Division football membership include the following: