The NAIA is the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Their mission statement states they are “a governing body of small athletic programs that are dedicated to character-driven intercollegiate athletics.” The NAIA is made up of 260 colleges and universities and 60,000 student-athletes.
The athletic experience in the NAIA is essentially the same as the NCAA. They have scholarships, conferences, playoffs, and national championships just as the NCAA does. It is not unusual for NAIA and NCAA Division 2 and 3 teams play each other. Usually these games are early in the season before conference play begins.
Don’t overlook the NAIA because it is not part of the NCAA brand name product. It is legitimate and it is no small entity. The NAIA is probably the most diverse of all the different categories. The NAIA is made up of schools that have chosen an affiliation outside the NCAA. Remember, in their mission statement they say that they are “a governing body of small athletic programs that are dedicated to character-driven intercollegiate athletics.” Character driven athletics is not just a platitude. Schools within the NAIA take very seriously their role in being dedicated to character-driven athletics. Each school, and the NAIA as a whole, provide clear steps to assist their teams to take character seriously.
The number of rules, regulations, and codes is probably one percent of the behemoth NCAA manual. The result is that there are some amazing teams, but some that are dreadful. Schools have wide latitude in setting their standards.
The benefit of going to an NAIA school is likely in the school itself. Most NAIA schools are small, private institutions. Many are religious. There are a large number of both Protestant (of many denominations) and Catholic institutions. Each institution has much more freedom to be themselves. For example, NAIA schools are not forced to play Sunday games. They are allowed to play on Sunday and many do, but the Christian colleges are free to stand by their convictions and play on other days of the week. This is in contrast to the NCAA, where schools play conference games when they are told to. Many NCAA conferences compete primarily on Fridays and Sundays.
You need to ask a lot of questions to find out about the school, scholarships offered, what the traditional season, non-traditional season, and off season look like. The range is diverse and could end up fitting you very nicely. Really, the only drawback to the NAIA for an athlete is you don’t have the brand name recognition of the NCAA. Otherwise, you will not notice a difference on the whole in the NAIA. When looking at NAIA schools be intentional about asking detailed questions. Often the NAIA will be overlooked or given a bad rap by the NCAA schools, but it can be a wonderful environment in which to compete and attend college.
3 Questions before we go:
What about scholarships? The NAIA member schools are free to offer scholarships. Many schools do, but not all.
Are there tryouts? NAIA schools have no restrictions on holding tryouts. Each coach may determine if they want to hold tryouts or have you tryout when you visit campus.
Is there an eligibility center? The NAIA has an eligibility center. If you are interested in any NAIA institution you will need to register at their eligibility center. This is also a valuable site to find their member schools and get your name out to these coaches.
For the NAIA you must meet two of the following to be eligible: 18 ACT or 860 SAT, 2.0 GPA out of 4.0, or be ranked in the top half of your graduating class.