The rules and dynasties of NCAA soccer

July 19, 2023
Soccer’s not just the world’s most watched sport — it’s one of the NCAA’s most popular.
The rules and dynasties of NCAA soccer

⚽ The rules of the NCAA's beautiful game

The GIST: Soccer’s not just the world’s most watched sport — it’s one of the NCAA’s most popular. There are 1039 women’s and 830 men’s teams across its three divisions, far outnumbering the NCAA’s 667 football programs. Who are the boys (and girls) of fall now, huh?

How it works: The NCAA largely follows the same rules as pro and international soccer (here’s an explainer for true footy first-timers). Each team plays two 45-minute regulation halves with 11 players, including the goalie. And contrary to popular belief, both men and women use a standard size 5 ball.

The collegiate differences: As of last season, college soccer only allows overtimes (OTs) and, if needed, penalty shootouts in the postseason. And while the pros’ OTs are two 15-minute periods, the NCAA uses a pair of 10-minute sessions.

  • Another difference from pro leagues? Player substitution regulations — the pros have limited subs allowed, and subbed-out athletes cannot reenter, but NCAA coaches are free to swap players in and out as they like.

👑 The dynasties

The GIST: Unlike some other college sports, many schools have won national soccer titles, aka College Cups, since the first men’s championship in 1959 and the first women’s in 1982. But that’s not to say there aren’t perennial powerhouses on the pitch.

The women: The unquestioned behemoth of the women’s game? The North Carolina Tar Heels, who own the most Division I (DI) ’ships by a mile at 21 — Florida State, Stanford, and Notre Dame are tied in second with a mere threeeach. And UNC boasts a slew of superstar alumni, like the game’s GOAT, Mia Hamm, and current USWNT left-back Crystal Dunn.

The men: Historically, St. Louis is the NCAA’s top DI team, with a record 10 titles to their name. But they haven’t won it all since 1973, and current juggernauts Indiana and Virginia are hot on their tail with eight and seven nattys, respectively.

  • The current kings? Clemson and Washington topped the 2022 polls nearly the whole season, but Syracuse surged to their first ’ship in December’s dramatic double-overtime-plus-penalties final. Wild.