Before transferring to Taylor University, I didn’t know the NAIA existed. In a world full of ESPN highlights from big NCAA Division I schools, NAIA schools are almost nonexistent in the media and therefore unknown to most of the public. If you’re a high school senior shopping for colleges, a disgruntled college student looking for a new opportunity, or someone shocked at the existence of alternate to the NCAA, then this article is for you. Here’s a simple explanation of the NAIA:
NAIA = National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics
The NAIA is an athletic association created in 1937 and headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. Each year, over 60,000 student athletes compete in NAIA collegiate athletics. Over 250 colleges and 21 conferences are associated with the NAIA. Of these programs, over $500 million is administered in athletic scholarships. The NAIA prides itself on its mission for character building through athletics. These aspects include: integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship, and servant leadership (NAIA.org).
The NCAA is an organization filled with a lot of red tape for the collegiate athlete. The NAIA is a more lenient collegiate association. Without going into great detail, the NAIA allows more practice time, more interaction between athletes and coaches outside of practice, foreign professionals, and no drug tests. NAIA schools also have fewer restrictions for recruiting compared to the NCAA (NAIA v. NCAA). Also, unlike NCAA DIII, NAIA schools are allowed to give athletic scholarships.
Private and religious affiliation
A majority of NAIA schools are affiliated with a religion or religious institution. About 81% of schools are private in the NAIA, and many of these are associated with the Christian religion (NAIA Stats). This provides some benefits for student athletes. For example, NAIA schools are not required to play on Sundays. During my athlete days at Taylor University -- a Christian school -- I never played a game on a Sunday.
Small school, small town
Many NAIA schools hold anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand students. The average enrollment per school in the entire NAIA is 1,700 students (NAIA stats). Their campuses are in small towns you’ve never heard of and in places you’ve never visited. Smaller enrollment means smaller classrooms and more opportunities to develop personal relationships with professors and faculty. Many NAIA schools are liberal arts institutions and provide a variety of major opportunities and on-campus activities.
Is the NAIA right for you?
The NAIA is the right organization for you if you can say "yes" to most or all of these categories:
- I want to live on a small campus and don’t mind a small town atmosphere.
- I want my professor to know my name, and I want to know a lot of people on campus.
- I want to have more time to practice my sport and have more opportunities for instruction from my coaches.
- I’m looking for a school with a religious affiliation so I can grow in my faith.
- I want to compete at a high level of competition and while growing as a person intellectually, physically and spiritually.