How do I get eligible to compete for a NAIA school?
In addition to finding information that have to do with requirements, timelines or definitions, the “National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics” (NAIA) provides a registration platform, called the NAIA Eligibility Center. In order to get the process going all things NAIA Eligibility you are able to register and set up an account right away.
Unlike the NCAA Eligibility Center, you have to pay the registration fee (150 USD) right away in order to complete your registration.
What is the NAIA Eligibility Center for?
The NAIA Eligibility Center is a service center for all member schools, existing for one reason:
Certifying any prospective student athlete, looking to play college sports and making sure academic and athletic requirements are fulfilled in order to allow for a level playing field.
In other words, only student athletes who have completed high school (thus entitled to pursue a degree at university level) and who are amateurs by definition, will be determined eligible by the NAIA Eligibility Center.
Ultimately, the NAIA decides whether you comply with all the set (minimum) requirements, allowing you to receive a scholarship at a NAIA member school and represent an athletic team.
Are there potential roadblocks I can run into?
There are a number of things you need to be aware of to make sure you sail through the NAIA certification process without any problems. The internal processes of the NAIA Eligibility Center make it somewhat trickier than the NCAA Eligibility Center, as everything happens quite a bit later. In terms of NCAA, you are often able to gain “Early Qualifier” status in April of your starting year. The NAIA will tell you little to nothing, making this a somewhat more “thrilling” process.
Here are some of the most typical problems, which could arise:
- You are considered a Professional, based on your athletic involvement
- Your high school degree is not recognized
- You didn't graduate from high school
- You don't meet the academic criteria (GPA and/or ACT/SAT and/or class rank)
- In case of delayed enrollment, you have used too many “Terms of attendance” or “Seasons of competition”
Coaches may ask you to start up the registration process with the NAIA Eligibility Center.
Be prepared to either have done so already or get started doing so soon!
When and how can I start the process of getting eligible?
Considering coaches need your unique NAIA ID (“ECID#”) in order to put them on their “Recruiting Shortlist” and to make sure all things work out just fine, it's really important to
- start the process early enough
- understand which of the 3 academic requirements you will be able to meet (at least 2):
- SAT/ACT result of 970 (SAT) or 18 (ACT)
- Class letter rank (top 50%)
- GPA (minimum of 2.0)
Start the registration with the NAIA Eligibility Center in your Junior Year in high school. You may register earlier or you may register later, but Junior Year is a good time for various reasons. For example, you will need to work with your high school administrators in order to have the school submit your grade transcripts. It will also allow you to make use of the free score report (ACT or SAT) to be sent to the NAIA Eligibility Center directly once scores are available.
"Starting a conversation with a coach and signaling you have already set up your NAIA Eligibility Center Account is a great way to show that you are on top of things and serious about competing in the NAIA/the respective school."
You can go about understanding the rules in various ways:
- If you are the type of student, graduating from high school following the usual timeline with pretty solid grades, you most likely won't run into issues on the academic side of things.
- If you are also the kind of athlete who is nowhere close to being a Professional, the same goes for the athletic certification process.
- If your answer to any of the above two questions would be a No and/or if you are an International recruit, you will need to be on top of things to master the NAIA Eligibility process.
- If you are a student having taken a rather long break after high school graduation, this is where things really start getting complicated. On the bright side, different from the NCAA, the NAIA allows room for older students to compete in college, if the circumstances are right (no athletic elite participation, limited time pursuing a university degree, etc.). But considering the complexity, it is definitely one of those moments, when you should talk to somebody who has experience with the NAIA Eligibility process(es).
How is the NAIA Eligibility (process) different from NCAA?
There are some essential differences ... First off, you don't necessarily need to take SAT or ACT, as long as you are able to fulfill the other requirements, leading to the fact that you are able to provide a class letter rank, which is definitely not an option with the NCAA.
While both NAIA and NCAA allow you to compete in 4 seasons of college, the NAIA grants you 10 semesters, whereas the NCAA grants you 5 academic years. This makes it possible for NAIA athletes to be somewhat older compared to athletes competing in NCAA schools.
Finally, for Internationals registering with the NAIA comes at a higher price tag, due to the fact that the NAIA asks you to submit your foreign academic credentials to “Incred Evaluations”, which is the NAIA's in-house department, responsible for certifying/converting grades. Unfortunately, the NAIA's grade evaluation service doesn't come for free (starting at 85 USD), but is rather useful as it will also be accepted by most NAIA member schools; perhaps helping you save costs by not having to use another academic evaluation service for your application(s) (e.g. “World Education Services”).
How long will it take until I am eligible to compete?
Unless you start up your registration with the NAIA a few weeks before start your classes, it will take several months.
The reason for this is the following:
- The NAIA needs to receive your grades/results from high school (Grade 9 through 12)
- The NAIA needs your SAT/ACT result or class letter rank
- The NAIA needs to receive your class letter rank
- The NAIA needs to get notice from the school, recruiting you This means you need to be put on a school's “Shortlist”
- The NAIA may assign you new tasks, such as a questionnaire based on your input
- International recruits: from January 2021 onwards, you have to go through “Incred Evaluations”.
There is an additional cost on top of the NAIA Eligibility Center registration fee (150 USD), which you need to be prepared to pay.
Enter the NAIA Eligibility Center as one of the free SAT/ACT score recipients. (Code 9876)
That would require you set up your NAIA profile before SAT/ACT results are released.
Which sports are sponsored by the NAIA?
The NAIA sponsors a total of 18 sports in 2 divisions.
On the women's side, the NAIA sponsors 16 sports: Basketball, Beach Volleyball, Bowling, Competitive Cheer, Competitive Dance, Cross Country, Flag Football*, Golf, Lacrosse, Track & Field**, Soccer, Softball, Swimming & Diving, Tennis, Volleyball, and Wrestling.
On the men's side, the NAIA sponsors 15 sports: Baseball, Basketball, Bowling, Competitive Cheer, Competitive Dance, Cross Country, Football, Golf, Lacrosse, Track & Field**, Soccer, Swimming & Diving, Tennis, Volleyball, and Wrestling.
Note that some sports are offered by schools (e.g. men's rowing, women's wrestling), but are not listed above because they do not have official status as NCAA sport; including no athletic scholarship budgets.
* Flag Football (women only) is classified as NAIA Emerging Sports.
** Track and Field is offered both as indoor and outdoor championship.
Research the various college divisions, how many & which schools there are in your sport specifically: College Athletics Divisions.
Read up on NJCAA Eligibility and how the process with the NAIA Eligibility Center is slightly different.