Spring Signing Week '14: Why NAIA?
by Peter Green, 18 April 2014
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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.
Valor: Each year the NAIA ITA National Champion gets to compete against other small college national champions (Division II, III, & Junior College) in the College Tennis Super Bowl in maybe the most unique tournament format in college sports. The winner of the Super Bowl receives a spot in the Division I National Indoors Tournament. Both Super Bowl finalists in 2013 were from NAIA programs.
How is recruiting different for NAIA schools?
McManigal: There are less restrictions on recruiting trips. We are able to watch you hit or have you join us at a practice. It's a great way to get to know prospective student athletes and to see if they are a good fit with our team. When my last recruit visited a couple weeks ago, we talked and walked on the beach. She practiced with us, watched our matches, and was able to bond with the current players on our team. It promotes personal relationships and a comfortable setting from the beginning of the recruiting process. As a coach, we host dinners, take them to appointments, hit outside of practice of hours, hold study halls, possibly a bible study... the list goes on... but this is the beauty of the NAIA. We are able to interact and build relationships with our players in a deeper way. As a head coach at NAIA program, I love the ability to interact and build relationships with my top recruits and players. As coaches, we are able to also mentor and help our players grow as people.
More on the NAIA
Erickson: NAIA teams can play a variety of different schools. The typical competitive NAIA team is mostly composed of 2- and 3-star players, with the better teams having 4- and 5-star players. There are also quite a few international players in the NAIA, which is certainly also the case in Division II and Division I.
McMangal: Most NAIA tennis schedules include NCAA colleges from all 3 Divisions. My team has has played two NCAA Division I teams, two NCAA Division II teams and one NCAA Division III team already this season in addition to our NAIA schedule.
Erickson: NAIA schools are able to offer financial aid. Our school offers a combination of academic aid, athletic aid, and need-based aid - as well as loan packages.
Summing It Up
I think Coach Erickson summed it up well:
Erickson: You should choose the school that you feel is the best fit for you, regardless of which division or organization it is in. Many of our schools - mine included - place a priority on investing in their students. Small class sizes, faculty mentors, coaches who genuinely care about you, and competitive tennis matches are very typical of the NAIA experience. If this sounds like what you are interested in, then you should consider an NAIA school! I attended and played at an NAIA school, and now I coach at one, and I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. Our matches are intense and exciting, and the investment we make into our players on and off the court is very real.
Last But Not Least...
We wrap up our coverage of Spring Signing Week 2014 tomorrow at 3pm Eastern / noon Pacific with a look at Marlys Bridgham who has committed to the Dayton Flyers. Make sure to check out that article - as well as all the other great content we have brought you in our Signing Week series!
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About Peter Green
Peter has taught tennis in the Albany, New York area for more than 15
years and is currently employed at
Sportime - Schenectady
He is also an Assistant Coach at Sage College. He has coached for the
at National Zone Team Championships for most of those years. His work
with junior players includes anything from 5-year-old beginners to
nationally-ranked juniors as well as working with adult players. Peter
is a regular contributor to the
Times Union (Albany) Tennis Blog