Ask the College Coach – What is the Difference Between Division I and NAIA?

Ask the College Coach – What is the Difference Between Division I and NAIA?

Welcome to SoccerNation’s “Ask The College Coach” column. In this series we take questions from soccer parents from around the country and have real, currently employed college coaches answer. If you’re interested in having a coach answer your question, please send us an email at with the subject “Ask the College Coach”.


Dear Ask The College Coach 

We have no idea what opportunities are out there for our two soccer players in our family. It seems that there are so many of my kids teammates talking about D1 this and that all the time.  We recently attended one of the isocerpath college panels in San Diego and learned about the NAIA and JC route which we had no idea existed. Can you shed some light on what are the main differences between D1 and NAIA if junior college is not an option? 

 Thank You,

Bob Will

Hi Bob,

The NAIA is a separate organization from the NCAA (DI, DII, DIII).  The NAIA colleges and universities tend to be small private colleges (think an average of 2,000 students), whereas most DI schools tend to be larger institutions both public and private.  Both NAIA and NCAA DI offer athletic scholarships. The scholarship limit for women’s soccer is 12 for NAIA, 14 for NCAA DI, and 9.9 for NCAA DII.  The limit for men’s soccer is 12 for NAIA, 9.9 for NCAA DI, and 9 for NCAA DII. Remember this is the maximum and what schools actually give varies greatly.

Many people compare the NAIA level to NCAA DII but keep in mind that the level of play varies greatly across every division. Several DII teams and NAIA can regularly beat and tie some DI teams. At every division, it is key to look at the individual school and program as it can vary greatly even within some conferences.

I have seen plenty of student-athletes go to DI schools and then transfer to NAIA, DII, DIII, and junior colleges to have a much better experience. This is not to say that DI is not a great option for many but I encourage all players and families to look at the “right fit” not the organization or division.

One of the biggest difference between NCAA and NAIA has to do with recruiting rules. The NAIA does not restrict how or when coaches and prospective student-athletes can communicate in the recruiting process. There are no recruiting calendars or major restrictions on the form of communication in terms of phone calls, texts, emails, or in person contacts. In essence, the NAIA has more flexibility in terms of its rules.  Also of note, the NAIA is dedicated to character-driven intercollegiate athletics through its Champions of Character program.

Robin Hart

Head Coach
Menlo College Women’s Soccer
C: 415-608-3611