Everyone is familiar with the NCAA and its 3 subsequent divisions as where the top collegiate athletes in the United States athletes play. But not all college athletes play in the NCAA. In fact, thousands of student athletes play in the NAIA every year. NAIA stands for National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and offers athletes a way to pursue their interests without needing a Division I or II offer.
Over 300 schools participate in the 13 different NAIA regulated sports each school year. The NAIA is split into 2 divisions. Division I in the NAIA is comparable to Division II in the NCAA and same goes for Divisions I and II respectively.
Just like in the NCAA, NAIA can receive athletic scholarships to help pay for school. More than 90
Normally, the Division and organization a school competes in is determined by the strength of their Football program. So a school with a weak Basketball, Soccer, or Golf team may still be competing at the Division I level in the NCAA despite not being as talented as the other programs in their division, all because of the prominence of their Football program.
Because of this, plenty of teams competing in the NAIA offer top-level competition in various non-football sports. Many of the top Golf and Soccer programs in the country play in the NAIA.
NAIA athletes have historically gone on to have successful professional careers as well.
NBA legend Terry Porter spent 4 seasons playing Basketball for the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point where, like in the pros, he was known for his 3 point shooting ability.
NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman was a star at Southeast Oklahoma State, leading him to become a 3-time NAIA All-American, before going on to win multiple NBA championships.
Porter and Rodman are NBA greats in their own right, but 6-time champion and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen is one of the greatest professional Basketball players of all time. He is also a former NAIA athlete who played his college hoops at Central Arkansas University.
Pippen’s standout play at Central Arkansas earned him the 5th overall draft slot and where he would be traded to the Bulls on draft night. Pippen would go on to win 6 championships alongside Michael Jordan.
NAIA athletes have certainly made their mark on the NBA, but there have also been many NAIA alumni to go on to have MLB careers. Ben Zobrist, Ray King, Don Sutton and many more began their careers as NAIA athletes.
The success of these players is a testament to the exposure that a successful NAIA career can provide. Playing in the NAIA is an amazing option for many athletes and should not be considered an inferior path compared to playing in the NCAA. Especially for players who do not play Football, it would be very smart to do research on the NAIA recruitment process, which differs from the NCAA, and look into several different schools.