Can you comment on the level/quality of play between the various NCAA Divisions? Our daughter has good academic standing, e.g. AP Honors scholar, 4.3 GPA and has played club at an elite/power level We are looking for a school setting with a strong academic offering, though certainly not at an Ivy League level, that also can keep her volleyball interest for four years.
We have seen some top level Division 1 games, but not any Division II or III teams and don't have a good reference point to compare them to where our daughter's ability could fit. Is it a fair assumption that D-II and D-III schools that historically rank in the, say top 50 Pablo, RKI or AVCA, have a quality of play that is better than many of the bottom tier D-I programs?
Comparing the different levels of play with NCAA Divisions can be difficult. Of course, the top tier DI teams would overwhelm the very best DII and DII teams, but once you get outside the Top 100, it starts to get a little fuzzy.
Remember that there are over 300 DI teams and too many of them trade on the name "Division I", when in fact, they are not supported like a traditional DI program. If you were to survey the available scholarships, budgets and staffing of the last 100 of the DI programs, you might be surprised at what you would find.
My belief is that the Top 20 Division II programs would be competitive against those DI programs outside the Top 100, and would be victorious more often than not against those teams below 150. Crazy? Not so much when you look at the influence of international players. To transfer from a JC to a NCAA Division II school, a player does not have to graduate, just transfer a minimum of 48 semester hours. Division I rules require graduation, and because of the English learning curve, many international volleyball players spend the first semester or two mastering English which limits the amount of graduation hours that they bank.
Many of the international Division II players are equal to or better than so many good DI players, but they just could not get up to speed on the English language fast enough. This situation, combined with American players with Division I ability that find a better geographic, academic or coaching fit with a Division II team, allows the top DII teams the ability to successfully compete against the bottom half of Division I.
I would be comfortable extending the DII number to maybe the Top 30 or so against the bottom half of DI, but that would be about it.
In terms of the competitive relationship between Division II and Division III, that is a tougher call. Division III is quite the grab bag of volleyball programs. Remember that DIII is not allowed to provide scholarship support based on athletics - all funds have to be from academic or merit sources. Of course, there is the rule and there is reality. I know of a few schools that tend to weight certain grade point averages a bit heavier when the student also happens to be a good player. On the other end of the spectrum, there are DIII schools that look at their NCAA athletic programs as nothing more than recreational sports - no class time is to be missed, students are encouraged to miss practice and competitions as to prepare for tests and papers, daily practice time is limited to 1.5 hours, etc.
I think we could make the same analogy between the Top 30 or so Division III programs and the bottom half of the DII ranks. Yet, because of the diverse nature of scholarships for DII and the philosophy of DIII this is a tough comparison.
With Division III, and to a certain degree Division II, it is important to take note of the geographic location of each school. Many Division I schools have the financial support in scholarships and recruiting budget to overcome a poor location for volleyball recruiting - think about the SEC. There a number of very good Division III schools located in the north central parts of the USA because that region enjoys an abundance of talented players, who may not want to travel far from home to play and are more comfortable going the DII or DIII route.
With the academic interests of your daughter, combined with her skill level, she is in a good position to have some quality choices for her future. There are so many top tier academic schools that sponsor very good volleyball programs. At any NCAA division, you can easily point to any number of top flight schools and teams.
The only suggestion that I would make is to get out and experience the difference in divisions first hand. It does not even need to be during the season - go watch a spring practice. Take a road trip (or two) and experience what a lower Division I volleyball school is like, do the same to take in a couple of top flight Division II and Division III programs; I think you may be surprised by what you find. I have been to many wonderful schools - beautiful campuses, nice part of the country, great facilities - that were either Division I schools that were not well known or where in the DII/DIII classification.