Best Colleges for Sports Ranking Methodology

College Factual's sports rankings identify the colleges that excel both in sports and academics. These rankings are meant for anyone interested in going to a school where athletes perform both on the field and in the classroom. 

Less than 1% of college athletes go on to play professional sports, so obtaining a quality education is critical to the lifetime success of a student.

Factors We Include

Our rankings are a combination of the metrics outlined below.  After each factor is a “High”, “Medium” or “Low” to indicate the weighting (importance) we give to that factor in the ranking. The quality of individual sports teams at the same school may differ greatly, so where we can, the metrics we use are unique to that specific sport rather than simply being school-wide metrics.  You can assume a metric is unique to the team in question unless we indicate otherwise.

Athletic Competitiveness (High)

What sports ranking would be complete unless it factored in how well the team performs?  To measure this, we take the Win/Loss Percentage for the most recently completed season. We obtain our data for this from the NCAA.

In many cases we were able to access records for most of the teams in a given sport/division, however, in some cases the NCAA only publishes the top 20-50 team’s records.  In those cases we were limited to just ranking those top schools.  Also, for some sports the win/loss record is not relevant, and so the NCAA does not publish the results.  In those cases, we used the final point tallies for the most recently completed season from the NCAA rankings.  These rankings are focused on the athletic performance of the teams and are often a function of some sort of combination of polling various coaches and journalists in the sport to identify the best teams.

Overall College Quality (High)

Let’s face it, even if a particular sports team at some school is great, it doesn’t mean much if the overall quality of the college is poor.  To factor this in, we use our Overall Best Colleges Ranking as a highly weighted aspect.  This serves as a great indicator of the quality of the school as a whole and makes sure that important factors like the caliber of the student body, overall educational resources, degree completion metrics and post-graduation earnings are all considered.

Academic Progress Rate (Medium) – Division I Only:

To measure how successful athletes on a particular team are in the classroom, we use the NCAA “Academic Progress Rate”.  The NCAA defines this metric as the following: “The Academic Progress Rate (APR) is a term-by-term measure of eligibility and retention for Division I student-athletes that was developed as an early indicator of eventual graduation rates”.

This metric is similar to what you might think of as a “graduation rate”, but a little different, and we think it's a little more telling. Rather than simply reporting graduation rates, this metric measures whether or not athletes successfully pass their courses each semester and remain academically eligible to play.  We think this provides a much more complete view of how students on a team perform, and is a likely indicator of how much the college and coaching staff make academic success a priority.

Unfortunately, this data is only published by the NCAA for Division I schools.  For any of our Division II or III colleges, this metric is not included.  However, graduation rates of the college as a whole (not just a particular sports team) are included as an important factor in our Overall Best Colleges Ranking (see above).

Athletic Aid Per Student (Medium) – Division I & II Only:

The amount of scholarship aid available to students is an important metric. After all, most student athletes (and their parents) view their athletic talents as a way to help pay for their education. To represent this, we were able to obtain the average athletic aid given to student athletes at each college from the Office of Postsecondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). This was obtained from their Equity in Athletics Data Analysis Cutting Tool. The DOE publishes the average athletic aid for men, women, and coed teams separately, so depending on the sport, the appropriate measure was used.

Why is this weighted as only medium importance? While getting a scholarship is of critical importance to families, the Department of Education only publishes the average athletic aid given for the college as a whole, not for each sport individually. Players of high revenue sports like football and basketball get much larger scholarships than some smaller sports like rowing or fencing, but the overall average hides this, making sports like rowing or fencing appear to get more in scholarships than is likely. Players on some sports are also more likely to receive full scholarships, while other sports only offer partial scholarships.

While not a perfect indicator of athletic aid for a specific sport, we do believe it is still quite relevant because money from the high revenue sports will often help to subsidize scholarships for the lower revenue sports (a rising tide lifts all boats). Note that since Division III programs cannot grant athletic aid/scholarships, this factor is not relevant for those rankings.

Financial Resources (Medium)

We use a combination of the revenue and expenses of a team from the DOE Equity in Athletics data noted above as a measure of the financial resources available to the team.


A team that makes money is a useful indicator of the success of that team. Not only does it serve as an indicator of the popularity of the team, but also, the more money they make, the more money they can spend on coaches, scholarships, equipment and facilities, recruiting, etc.


Expenses includes all the money the college spends on coaches, scholarships, recruiting, equipment and facilities. Some teams make a lot more money than they spend on that particular sport. The excess profit often goes into subsidizing smaller sports at the school.  For the same reason, sports that do not make a lot of money may still have big budgets.

Factors Not Currently Included

These are some factors that are not currently included in our default rankings.

Coaching Resources

The DOE Equity in Athletics data does include some information about the coaching staff at a college. Unfortunately, they only publish average head/assistant coaches’ salaries for the school as a whole. These averages can be misleading when you have coaches like Nick Saban or Mike Krzyzewski getting paid 5+ million dollars a year.

The DOE does publish the count of head/assistant coaches for each team. However, since that is not likely to vary significantly by team, we were hesitant to include that as a meaningful factor without further research.Coaching resources is something we are researching further and do plan on including in future rankings. In the meantime, you can at least view the coach counts for each sport and average coaching salaries on the Sports page in the Student Life area of a college profile (click to see an example).

Learfield Sports Directors Cup Standing

Billed as the “crowning achievement in college athletics”, the Learfield Sports Directors Cup honors “institutions maintaining a broad-based program, achieving success in many sports, both men’s and women’s”.  These rankings do a good job of indicating how a college does in athletic performance as a whole (across many sports).

An option to include the Learfield Score is available in our premium custom rankings, however, we ultimately decided not to include the score in our default rankings.  The standings do not include all of the colleges that we cover, so incorporating it into our rankings would mean excluding 10-30% of our listed colleges. Furthermore, the rankings only represent the performance of 14 to 20 sports, depending on the division, while we cover up to 34 sports. If you would like to include the Learfield Score, we invite you to try our premium custom rankings tool.