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September 20, 2021

NAIA Scholarships by Sport

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The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, or the NAIA, offers over $600M in scholarships every year. Founded in 1937, the NAIA consists of about 300 member institutions with approximately 65,000 student-athletes. In comparison to the NCAA, the NAIA remains a smaller association but offers bountiful opportunities to athletes across the nation. With NAIA schools being smaller and sometimes private colleges, they are roughly on par with NCAA Division II schools. 

Unlike NCAA schools, however, over 90% of NAIA schools offer athletic scholarships. On average, individual athletes receive $7,000, or 10-20% of their cost attendance, in financial aid.

Related: What You Need to Know when Considering the NAIA

The Foundations

The NAIA leads the nation in innovative athletics; in 1955, it became the first collegiate athletics association to invite historically African-American institutions into its membership. It was also the first to sponsor both men’s and women’s national championships in 1980. The NAIA continuously broke down barriers by fighting for equality and opportunity for all. 

In 2000, the Champions of Character reaffirmed its mission to build character through sports. The five core values created an inclusive environment for every student-athlete, coach, official, and spectator committed to the true spirit of competition. 

In 2010, the association opened the NAIA Eligibility Center to ensure equality by holding prospective student-athletes to academic and athletic standards. The deliverance of integrity guides the students’ success and promises a level playing field.

Most recently, in 2020, the NAIA legalized NIL rights, almost a year before the NCAA.

NAIA Philosophies 

The NAIA holds itself responsible for administering basic standards, set forth by its members, driven by safety, fair play, and character development. The NAIA’s member institutions possess the abilities and rights to make major operational decisions that guide and customize their athletics programs to meet their individual needs. Programs focus on high-level collegiate experiences for all students to develop skills on and off the courts.

Jim Abbott, Assistant V.P. for intercollegiate athletics and Director of Athletics at Oklahoma City University, stated, “I really feel that the NAIA provides needed opportunities for smaller universities that want to compete in intercollegiate athletics without getting lost in the shuffle of larger organizations. I valued the opportunities that the NAIA gave me as a student-athlete and continue to value the opportunities that the NAIA provides to today’s student-athletes.” 

Athletic Scholarships

We’ve included a handy infographic listing all of the athletic scholarships offered per NAIA sports. The sports included and the number of scholarships for each individual NAIA team is:

  • 24 scholarships for football
  • 17 scholarships for basketball
  • 12 scholarships each for baseball, soccer, lacrosse, competitive cheer, and indoor track & field
  • 10 scholarships each for softball and competitive dance
  • 8 scholarships each for volleyball, and swimming
  • 5 scholarships each for cross country, tennis, and golf

For all of these sports, the NAIA schools grant equivalency scholarships meaning that the grants can be divided up between multiple athletes.

Academic Exemption

Academically gifted students can be exempt from these equivalency limits if they meet the following criteria: 

100% of aid exempt for:
Continuing students with a 3.6 cumulative GPA, or are in the top 10% of their class; or entering freshman who achieve a 1270 SAT or 27 ACT, or 3.75 – 4.0 GPA

50% of aid exempt for:

Continuing students with a 3.3 – 3.59 cumulative GPA, or are in the top 11% – 25% of their class; or entering freshman with 1130 SAT or 23 ACT, or a cumulative high school GPA of 3.50 – 3.74, or a high school class rank in the top 11% – 25% of their school. 

These schools automatically divide multi-sport athletes’ aid between the number of sports they play whether in an NAIA or NCAA sponsored sport. Aid for students who play at the junior varsity level do not count towards overall limits.