National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) membership is growing. The number of schools applying for NAIA membership in 2017-18 has increased 65 percent from 2009-10. The association is also seeing previous member institutions who left the NAIA wanting to return.
NAIA President & CEO Jim Carr believes the increase can be attributed to the NAIA’s focus on measurable institutional benefits regarding enrollment, retention, and revenue – the core principles of Return on Athletics™ (ROA).
“By emphasizing issues that affect nearly all small colleges and universities, the NAIA is better positioned to support the overall health of our institutions through intercollegiate athletics,” said Carr.
One example is Oklahoma Panhandle State University in Goodwell, Okla. The school was approved for NAIA membership in April 2017 after previously spending 22 years in NCAA Division II.
“We switched from NCAA to the NAIA because we were struggling due to the size and finances of our institution,” said Oklahoma Panhandle’s Wayne Stewart, dean of education and athletics director. “The NAIA is a great fit for us as we should see an increase in student activities and better opportunity all around. It’s one of the best moves we’ve made for our athletics program.”
Studies have shown that retention can directly be tied to the student experience. Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt. is a 2017-18 applicant that hopes to improve the student-athlete experience by joining the NAIA. Green Mountain achieved great success in the NAIA from the mid-1980s through the early-2000s before joining the NCAA Division III in 2008.
With the switch to DIII, the school was required to have 10 varsity teams while the NAIA requires only six. According to Green Mountain’s President Bob Allen, it was difficult for the school with an enrollment of 500 to fill their rosters.
“Our student-athletes are highly valued at Green Mountain and it is important to provide a positive collegiate sports experience,” said Allen. “While the decision to change conferences was a difficult one, we are confident this will positively impact our players and athletics program.”
Finances and travel can also play a part when deciding on an athletics association and conference. Some schools have significantly reduced inter-conference travel time by joining the NAIA. If approved for membership, one 2017-18 applicant will decrease travel time for student-athletes by 33 percent. That means more time in the classroom and lower travel expenses for the institution.
“The NAIA is a great fit for many smaller schools looking for high caliber athletics with manageable and cost-effective rules and regulations,” said Carr. “We’re excited to have so many institutions interested in joining the NAIA and expect the number to continue to increase.”
Approval of new members is voted upon by the NAIA’s Council of Presidents and takes place at the NAIA’s National Convention in April 2018. Membership is effective July 1.