NAIA colleges are smaller and have lesser sports department funding, similar to Division III schools. NAIA colleges, unlike NCAA Division III, do grant athletic scholarships. The NAIA lacks the reputation of the NCAA, but it provides an option for smaller colleges looking to participate. Many large universities will not admit students into the NAIA, but they may admit athletes who hold NAIA degrees.
The NAIA was created in 1946 by a group of Baptist colleges that wanted to offer college athletics at a reasonable cost. Before the formation of the NAIA, most college sports were expensive ($1,000 or more per student) and only the largest institutions could afford them. By focusing on small colleges that would otherwise be excluded from the NCAA system, the NAIA has developed a strong following among students and faculty at these types of schools.
Many large university athletic departments will not admit students into the NAIA, but they may admit athletes who hold NAIA degrees. These students would be classified as independent students with no influence from nor connection to the university. They would then be eligible to play football, basketball, and other sports at the university level. It is important to understand that although these students may receive a degree from a NAIA school, they are not actually enrolled at an NAIA institution; rather, they attend non-NAIA colleges and universities.
Scholarships from the NAIA Division III sports do not provide financial assistance. While the organization will have less scholarships available than the larger NCAA (due to fewer member institutions), NAIA-participating schools have less stringent standards when it comes to being on a collegiate team.
The best way to find out if you are eligible for a scholarship is to contact the coaches of the various teams to which you may be applying. They will be able to give you more information about the process and help you determine if you are eligible for these awards.
In addition to receiving scholarships, some athletes who join Division III teams also receive fees waiver requests, which allow them to charge their expenses to an institution that does not require its students to pay tuition. These requests are most likely to be granted to members who field men's ice hockey or wrestling teams.
For many athletes, participating in college sports provides an opportunity to meet other people with similar interests and participate in exciting athletic events. Divisions I through IV of the NCAA contain over 20 different sports, so there's a chance to find an interest that fits your lifestyle. Additionally, college athletes enjoy many benefits that non-athletes don't, such as the ability to study abroad, live in dorms, receive free meals, and play in big games.
With little more than 60,000 students, the NAIA is a smaller organization than the NCAA. It has two divisions (Divisions I and II), with Division I being similar to Division II in the NCAA. Over 90% of NAIA institutions provide scholarships, and NAIA players get an average of $7,000 in financial help. The remaining 10% of schools do not give cash awards but do provide other benefits such as academic support or housing.
The national office is located in New York City, and it includes a staff that works with members to develop policies and procedures, handles administrative matters, and provides research assistance.
NAIA Division I consists of approximately 70 schools that focus on competitive sports. These schools must have an enrollment of at least 300 students and are usually large universities or colleges with many club teams. Most of these schools are located in the East or South Central United States. Divison I schools can be separated into three categories: those that offer only football (NFCCW/FCS); those that offer only basketball (NCAA Div. I); and those that offer both football and basketball (NCAA Div. I-A/I-AA).
There are 12 schools in Division II. They are typically small colleges or universities with fewer than 60 students per sport. Most have no football program but instead focus on competing in non-revenue sports such as golf, tennis, and track and field. Division II schools can be found across the country.
The NAIA offers the potential to earn an athletic scholarship, an excellent education, a balance of football and academics, and a highly competitive football atmosphere. There are many advantages to playing in the NAIA. One must consider whether or not the cost is worth it. In most cases, students will be required to pay their own way except for tuition and fees. They can do this by working during school days or weekends, which allows them to play football and still get an academic education.
Generally, athletes at NAIA schools receive a full-ride scholarship that covers their tuition and fees. Some have reported receiving as much as $150,000 per year. However, many factors go into determining how much they will be paid including their grade point average and statistics from past seasons.
There are some disadvantages to playing in the NAIA. Because of the lack of financial support, many players will have to work to pay for expenses such as rent and food. Also, there is no reserve policy if a team goes winless, which means the season is over immediately. Finally, there is no NCAA tournament or national championship for basketball or football. But, these are issues that any college student should be aware of before making a decision.
Every year, the NAIA distributes about $500 million in athletic scholarships. This, combined with more active recruitment, is attracting more talent to these colleges and increasing competitiveness. Top-tier NAIA colleges are now regarded as being comparable to participating on an NCAA DII team. In fact, many high school athletes choose to transfer to a NAIA school when their college plans change or if they want to continue playing football/basketball without having to go into debt.
NAIA teams are not allowed to use rankings or polls in their recruiting process. Instead, they look at things such as past history with the student-athlete, location of the school, and cost.
Many top-level NAIA schools have national championships to their name. These include eight men's basketball titles, five women's basketball titles, and four golf championships. There are also two national football champions (Central Missouri State University from Alderman, MO and Midwestern State University from Wichita Falls, TX) and a national baseball champion (American Christian College Baseball Association).
The majority of NAIA teams are members of the Kansas City Regional Conference. There are six other regional conferences - Great Plains, Mid-America, Ohio Valley, Pioneer, Southland, and Sunbelt.
Almost all NAIA schools are independent; that is, they are not affiliated with any university or college.