NAIA vs NCAA - What are the Differences? What Does This Mean to You?

NAIA vs NCAA – What are the Differences? What Does This Mean to You?

There are two different athletic governing associations for Men’s Basketball – the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Play college basketball aims to provide you with the factual information so that you can be better informed to make the right decision for you. If you are wondering which basketball association is right for you, this article offers you a comparison of the two. Read on to find out more and compare the NAIA vs NCAA for men’s basketball programs.


Here you can access the most up-to-date college basketball openings from college coaches looking for players to fill roster spots

What is the NCAA All About?

The NCAA is the larger association of the two. It has three divisions (NCAA I, NCAA II, NCAA III). There are 1,102 schools playing men’s basketball: 358 in Division I (D1), 300 in Division II (D2) and 418 in Division III (D3).

The NCAA has basketball programs which covers both USA & Canada. The NCAA covers 23 sports and hosts 87 national championships a year (40 in men’s sports). Both of the Divisions 1 and 2 offer athletic scholarships for their student athletes, with over 126,000 student athletes receiving partial or full athletic scholarships every year. The NCAA offers approximately $1 billion in athletic scholarships which are awarded yearly.

The NCAA Eligibility requirements and scholarship rules are very strict for student athletes. All student athletes who plan on attending either a Division 1 or Division 2 men’s basketball program need to be certified by the NCAA Eligibility Center to compete at a NCAA Division 1 or 2 school. Student athletes need to create a Certification Account to get their recruitment process started.

 NOTE: It is important players create a Certification Account as it is necessary to have one to make official visits to Divisions 1 and 2 schools or to sign a National Letter of Intent.

NCAA Division 1 and 2 men’s basketball programs are typically large public universities. NCAA Division 3 men’s basketball programs are usually small private colleges.

NCAA Division 1 schools can offer 13 full-ride varsity scholarships in men’s basketball. NCAA Division 2 schools can offer 10 full athletic scholarships in men’s basketball. NCAA Division 3 do not offer any athletic scholarships for student athletes only academic scholarships are attainable with these schools. With a school that is governed by the NCAA, student athletes may have a better chance of securing financial support because they are working with big budgets.

There are over 20,000 international student athletes who are enrolled and competing at NCAA colleges and universities across the USA.  International student athletes can play at any NCAA division level. However, if you are looking purely from a financial stand point you would be best to focus on division 1 or 2 schools. International students must complete the same NCAA Eligibility Center registration and must meet specific academic and amateurism requirements.

Most NCAA basketball programs participate in the signing of a National Letter of Intent. Once a player signs and commits to a school that is final and the end of their recruitment.

What is the NAIA All About?

The NAIA is the smaller governing association of the two and it is also the oldest athletic governing body (founded in 1937). NAIA used to have two division but back in 2018 the NAIA decided to merge the two and have just one single division. NAIA member schools are on a more level playing field financially, competitively, and in terms of their enrollment. A large number (77,000 to be exact) of NAIA student athletes have the opportunity to play college sports and earn over $800 million in scholarships, as well as compete for a chance to participate in 27 national championships.  NAIA programs typically have smaller recruiting budgets than NCAA schools.

Student athletes who want to attend a NAIA school must register with the NAIA Eligibility Center. By doing this student athletes make sure their  eligibility is in order which is super important.  Players also increase their opportunity for scholarship and, it shows coaches that you are ready to play. It also lets the NAIA coaches find your profile and video much more easily and, additionally, you can sign up for NAIA Showcases.

The schools that participate in the NAIA are typically smaller private 4-year colleges. 231 of the schools offer men’s basketball program. The NAIA have much more flexible rules that encourage coach to student mentoring with less regulations than the NCAA. The NAIA also have a Character-driven athletics through a program called the Champions of Character® program.

Also, some interesting fact are: 20% of NAIA student athletes go on to play national-level postseason and,
51% of NAIA members qualify for five or more national championships

In terms of education costs, only 90% of NAIA schools offer scholarships with student athletes receiving $7,000 (on average) of financial aid. The NAIA does not have a central database like the NCAA. The schools who are part of the NAIA do not have as complex rules and tend to favor international players. They give student athletes the opportunity each year to work towards an increase in funding based upon grades and their level of play.

As an association, the NAIA does not have a letter of intent program where a player signs a binding agreement to participate like the NCAA. However, student athletes may sign letters of intent with an individual NAIA school, but this is something that they are obligated to do to attend. It’s up to the player and the school.


The top 10-20 NAIA teams, the top 30-40 NCAA Division 2 teams and the bottom 50-75 NCAA Division 1 teams are all comparable. As you can see, both the NCAA and the NAIA offer their student athletes scholarships, but there are many factors to consider when choosing the right school for you. You must think about what your priorities are … do you want to play for the biggest school? is the cost of attendance the most important thing? This is going to be different for everyone. One of the first decisions should be whether you want to play NAIA vs NCAA or at least be informed and be open to offers from schools that participate in either association. At the end of the day you must remember that you will experience high quality basketball played in both associations. Have a check list, do your research and listen to your gut!


Here you can access the most up-to-date college basketball openings from college coaches looking for players to fill roster spots