What is the Difference between Professional and College Ball?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional-Wisconsin vs Florida

As March Madness approaches, more sports fans are tuning into this fast-paced and competitive tournament. Basketball has been around since 1891 and has become a globally recognized sport. Almost as long-running is the debate between which game is better: college level or professional basketball.

Both the NBA and NCAA draw in large numbers of viewers each season. However, there are a few key differences between professional and college level basketball.

Talent & Pay

There’s no denying that college basketball players are talented. But those at the NBA level possess an incredible amount of athletic ability. Standards are a lot higher in the NBA, and it shows in the performance of the players.

College players in the NCAA aren’t paid for games. They’re working to build their reputation and catch the eyes of NBA scouts.

NBA players, on the other hand, are paid millions of dollars. It’s no wonder why all college players aspire to reach the big league.

For this very reason, some fans prefer to watch college games. Professional players might slack off once they feel that they’ve “made it”, but you’ll never catch a college player doing so. They try their hardest for the entire game in hopes of making it to the NBA.

The Shot Clock

Something that sets basketball apart from every other sport is the shot clock. It’s a timer that ensures games are played at a fast pace. If no shots are taken within the time limit, possession is given to the other team.

Players in the NCAA have 30 seconds to take a shot, but those in the NBA only have 24 seconds.


To settle any possession disputes in the NCAA, teams alternate taking hold of the ball. But in professional basketball, the matter is settled by a jump ball. This is a somewhat controversial difference—a jump ball takes skill, but an arrow indicating possession is arbitrary.


Even the specific measurements on the courts are different between these leagues. It might seem a bit technical, but these discrepancies have a tangible effect on how difficult it is to get points.

The 3-point line is 19’9” from the hoop in the NCAA and 23’9” in the NBA. Since the 3-point line is further from the hoop in the NBA, it’s more difficult to score.


The structure of the match itself is divided differently between these two leagues.

In the NBA, games are divided into quarters, each 12-minutes long. But in college basketball, there are two 20-minute halves.

One thing that remains the same is that there are 5 allotted minutes of overtime.

Number of Games

In one season of college basketball, one team usually plays between 30-35 games. But in the NBA, that’s half of what a team plays in six months. The NBA season is a lot busier. A lot of sports bettors choose to bet on college basketball because fewer games mean higher stakes.


In all sports leagues, players get heated and lose sight of the rules. Fouls are a regular occurrence on the court, but after too many, players face harsher penalties.

NBA players are disqualified from the game after 6 personal fouls (which involve illegal contact with an opponent). This total includes personal or technical fouls. In the NCAA, players are removed after 5 fouls.

Technical fouls don’t necessarily involve physical contact, but they are issued when a player exhibits unsportsmanlike conduct. Two technical fouls alone will disqualify a player in the NBA.

If one team gets a technical foul, the opponent will get a free throw in the NBA. But in the NCAA, they get two free throws and possession.


Due to the short-lived nature of college, the rosters of NCAA teams are constantly changing. Players may find other work, graduate college, or get picked up by the NBA. But in professional leagues, players develop relationships over the years they spend on the court. Teams themselves develop contentious rivalries that keep fans heavily invested.


Some of the differences mentioned above might have been familiar to you, while others may have surprised you. But here’s one that you might not have known: players in the NBA can be fined if their shorts are too low, or their jerseys aren’t tucked in. No such rule exists in the NCAA—the whistle will be blown, and the player will adjust their clothing.

Fans of both sports leagues might spend time arguing about whether professional or college basketball is better, but there’s no real answer. What matters is that you watch the game that you prefer.


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