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Spring Signing Week '14: Why NAIA?
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Most people think of the NCAA when think about college athletics. NCAA athletics dominates the television and other media. But many schools are not affiliated with the NCAA - and there are some real advantages to other organizations.

One such organization is the NAIA. What is it? How is it different from the NCAA? I talked with several NAIA head tennis coaches:

  • Dan Erickson - Head Coach, Cornerstone Men and Women
  • Glen Hill - Head Coach, SCAD-Atlanta Men and Women
  • Kendyll McManigal - Head Coach, Westmont Women
  • Reinaldo Valor - Head Coach, SCAD-Savannah Men and Women
 

About the NAIA

First off, what is the NAIA? Expanding the acronym, NAIA stands for National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

 

Erickson: The NAIA is an organization of colleges and universities, very similar in structure to the NCAA. Most, but not all, NAIA schools are smaller liberal arts colleges. There are about 300 NAIA member institutions, of which a little over a hundred offer tennis. The rules are generally similar, but not identical in nature, to the NCAA. Once you are a student at an NAIA school, your experience would be mostly the same as if you had attended a similar NCAA school.

 

Valor: The NAIA was founded in 1937, and now has over 60,000 student-athletes competing each year at close to 300 colleges in North America. Each year over $450 million dollars in athletic scholarships are divided among 13 sports, and the student-athletes compete for 23 national championships. Our league holds all student-athletes and institutions to our "Champions of Character" Live 5 Core Values. Each university's athletic programs and students are measured each year on how active they were in exhibiting and promoting our Live 5 Core Values.

 

So what are these Live 5 Core Values that the coaches mention? These core value are specified by the Champions of Character program set up by the NAIA.

The Champions of Character program is designed to instill an understanding of character values in sport and provide practical tools for student-athletes, coaches, and athletic administrators to use in modeling exemplary character traits. The NAIA developed the Champions of Character program in response to the growing problem of deteriorating standards of integrity in sports and society. At a time when all of sport has experienced increasingly inappropriate behavior by athletes, coaches, and fans, NAIA Champions of Character raises the standards for positive student-athlete development in athletics and academics. The NAIA Champions of Character program has established five core values that stretch well beyond the playing field. The NAIA identifies those core values as integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship, and servant leadership. These character values help student-athletes - and those associated with their development - make good choices in all aspects of their life and reflect the true spirit of competition.

 

How is NAIA Different from NCAA?

Hill: Playing college tennis in the NAIA offers a different experience than that of any of the NCAA divisions. In many ways the NAIA is a microcosm for the NCAA as a whole - the teams range from exceedingly good (some on par with NCAA Division I schools) to others that are equivalent to a weak NCAA Division III college. Athletes can find their level no matter how strong or weak they might be. Whether you're looking for an intense experience involving hours of on-court time and country-wide travel or a more laid back and casual approach, the NAIA truly has something for everyone.

I spent my first two years of college back home in Australia and then spent a year in Japan. As a result, I had only one season of eligibility remaining for NCAA Division I tennis despite not playing professionally or having competed for my university back in Australia. By playing for an NAIA school, I was able to compete for three seasons and have enough time to get my undergraduate degree. Were it not for that flexibility, my life would have gone in a very different direction.

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