What is the NAIA?

By Hannah Feldman

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) is a collegiate athletic organization that governs and oversees intercollegiate sports in the United States and Canada. Established in 1940, the NAIA provides a competitive platform for student-athletes from diverse colleges and universities, offering a unique alternative to the larger and more widely recognized NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association). 

The NAIA was founded in response to the growing interest in collegiate athletics and the need for organized competition among smaller colleges and universities. Its mission is to promote character-driven student-athletes, emphasizing the development of the whole person and providing a balanced and holistic approach to education and athletics. Today, the NAIA encompasses over 250 member institutions and offers opportunities for nearly 83,000 student-athletes to compete in various sports across multiple divisions.

One of the critical distinctions of the NAIA is its focus on the character development of student-athletes. This is embodied in the association’s flagship initiative, the Champions of Character program, which promotes values such as integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship, and servant leadership. NAIA institutions are committed to fostering an environment that not only values athletic success but also strongly emphasizes ethical conduct and personal growth.

The NCAA is organized into several divisions. The most notable are NCAA Division I, Division II, and Division III, which offer different athletic scholarships and competition levels. These divisions allow colleges and universities of various sizes and resource levels to participate and compete on a level playing field. Though the NAIA is not broken down similarly, an NAIA school is comparable to a NCAA Division II school. Some NAIA institutions may have robust athletic programs, while others focus more on the academic and personal development aspects of student-athletes.

In addition to the Champions of Character program, the NAIA conducts national championships in various sports, including basketball, soccer, cross country, and more. These championships provide opportunities for student-athletes to showcase their talent and dedication on a national stage. The NAIA strongly emphasizes the value of competing in front of enthusiastic fans, and championship events often create a sense of community and pride among the participating institutions.

The NAIA’s influence extends beyond the playing field. It significantly impacts communities and provides opportunities for student-athletes to develop leadership skills and promote community service. Many NAIA athletes engage in outreach and volunteer work as part of their collegiate experience.

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) is a vital and unique component of the United States and Canada collegiate sports landscape. It strongly emphasizes character development, ethical conduct, and the holistic growth of student-athletes. The NAIA’s diverse membership, focus on smaller colleges and universities, and commitment to values-based athletics make it a significant force in intercollegiate sports. While it may not have the same level of visibility as the NCAA, the NAIA’s impact on student-athletes lives and the communities it serves is undeniably substantial.

Works Cited

Barb. “What Are the Differences between the NAIA and NCAA?” Honest Game, 8 Aug. 2023, honestgame.com/2022/01/20/naia-vs-ncaa/.

College Athlete Advantage (CAA), collegeathleteadvantage.com/blog-details/collegiate-divisions. Accessed 15 Oct. 2023.

NAIA, www.naia.org/landing/index. Accessed 15 Oct. 2023. 

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