What exactly is the NAIA?

I've seen a few mentions of this whenever NCAA sports are being discussed but can't quite grasp what level It's at in comparison to the NCAA divisions.

Are these schools with very small student bodies/financial clout who want to compete in very localised conferences?

Are these schools who don't want the NCAA hassle of sponsoring "x" amount of sports, so their entire athletics department amounts to (for example) men's and women's basketball and that's it?

Schools who geographically are stuck in between a bunch of powerful schools so joining the NCAA structure makes no sense as they'd never be competitive from a recruiting or finances standpoint?

Something else entirely?

I tried reading the Wiki page but it appears more like a puff piece for the organisation rather than detailing how exactly it functions.

They tend to be small schools and/or religious institutions. They have various reasons for participating in NAIA so it’s not necessarily aligned with size or religious affiliation.
Granted, this link is from the NAIA and biased but it could give you insight as to why some schools are NAIA. NAIA vs NCAA - NAIA


NAIA = NCAA div 3 level. top NAIA athletes compare to mid level div 2 players.

way less NAIA athletes and schools. for mid level div 2 and higher level div 3 players, NAIA can be attractive because competition level is similar but playing time and other factors like scholarships may be more favourable.


NAIA allows scholarships where Division III does not allow for scholarships. Division II institutions have to sponsor at least five sports for men and five for women (or four for men and six for women), with two team sports for each sex, and each playing season represented by each sex. Division III is big in the Northeast and upper Midwest. NAIA has a ton of schools in the Midwest, deep south and pretty much the middle of the USA is the core for the NAIA.


oh yea that’s right i forgot Div 3 doesn’t have scholarships. yea i knew there was also a geographic aspect but wasn’t exactly sure if the general area.i wasn’t aware of the NCAA sponsorship part. thanks for the clarity.

Yeah that is one of the big ones between the two. Yeah the small state schools out west like to hand out the scholarships and keep the stream of students flowing. About 30 years ago one of the Small Montana schools cut football thinking that the enrollment would drop by 60 students - instead it dropped by like 200 - That lasted 2 years before they brought it back and the enrollment rebounded.

Yeah the Northeast is jam packed with division III schools. The Division III schools in Wisconsin all have about 10k students which would make good Division II schools - but for whatever reasons they are all Division III. There are like 450 division III Schools out there.


I remember watching the D3 Championship Game several years ago that featured Wisconsin-Whitewater and remember the commentators mentioning that It's only a 45-minute drive from there to the main Uni. of Wisconsin campus, the point being that W-W had nothing to gain from moving up from D3 because it would be impossible and/or financially stupid to try and rival a D1 program that's so close by.

I assume this has to be a reason why many schools in the "jam-packed" areas don't jump to a higher level, whereas a school that's somewhere more isolated or with D1 teams that are poor performers might see more sense in doing so.

The flipside is why schools at the terrible end of D1 bother staying there? Suffer blowout losses out of conference, poor quality play in conference with nobody outside hardcore alumni/supporters bothering to watch you?

(N.B. this last paragraph may or may not have anything to do with SWAC basketball...)

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