As a college athlete, in general, you are either part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) or National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Each come with their own set of rules, schools, budgets, and more. With media the way it is these days, the NCAA tends to grab the most attention while the NAIA is somewhat of an afterthought.
Quick NCAA vs. NAIA breakdown
The NAIA "has 50,000 student-athletes participating at nearly 300 member colleges and universities throughout the United States and Canada . . . it offers 23 championships in 13 sports" according to NAIA.org .
The NCAA "oversees 89 championships in 23 sports...there are more than 400,000 student-athletes competing in three divisions at over 1,000 colleges and universities within the NCAA" according to NCAA.org .
Why choose the NAIA?
As it is with all things in life, it's important to check out all of your options. It's possible all along you might have been planning to head to a NCAA school, but what about NAIA?
The NAIA can offer just as good as an education and athletic experience than the NCAA and one of my favorite parts about it is, way less restrictions during the recruitment process. Sign me up!
Why NAIA might be the way to go
Competition: If you don't think you can cut it at a NCAA Division I school, NAIA athletics are compared to Division II-level playing. You would have a good shot of starting on an NAIA team instead of being benched on a NCAA Division I team.
Flexibility. The NAIA is not as strict as the NCAA. The NAIA allows its schools/conferences to handle their own rules and budgets. This is a great point because schools and conferences can work with what they've got instead of conforming to a set of rules for the entire NAIA organization.
Academic success. The NAIA is completely centered around the total meaning of being a student-athlete. You have to be academically responsible, moving towards completing your degree with reasonable grades in order to even think about playing.
Size. In general, NAIA schools are smaller, which in itself can be a plus for your academics, social life, and athletics. It's easier to not get lost in the mix in these schools.
Recruitment. NCAA has rules for rules. There are rules for each division and each sport for each high school year that you are being recruited. It can be exhausting. The NAIA of course has rules, but they are not as intricate and also allow for a more personalized process. The member services PDF provided by the NAIA says it best: “recruitment process provides many opportunities to get to know potential students and meaningfully evaluate the institutional fit.” Visit NAIA.org to learn the nitty-gritty about their recruitment.
At the end of the day, the NAIA is probably never going to be as "glamorous" as the NCAA, but it is no less of a choice when choosing which school to attend. Neither association has an effect on the education you will receive or how much of an amazing time you'll have playing your sport. If anything, they are both in existence to make sure that you have the best possible experience, athletically and academically.