The Case For Softball At The NAIA Level
When beginning the recruiting process, aspiring college softball players often get stuck thinking the Division I path is the only viable one. But there are actually plenty of routes that college softball hopefuls can choose.
One of those directions is the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) level. Calling themselves "the experts in the business of small college athletics," the NAIA currently has 250 member schools, 21 conferences and 28 championships.
One of the big differences between the NAIA and the NCAA is around recruiting. While the NCAA has recruiting calendars and dead periods that limit the amount of contact players and coaches can have, the NAIA doesn’t have those restrictions and allows relationships between coaches and players to continue throughout the year.
Softball America took some time to talk with Mike Christner, the head softball coach at William Penn University. Christner completed his 21st season with William Penn's softball program in 2022. Located in Oskaloosa, Iowa, William Penn competes in the Heart of America Athletic Conference.
Read below to learn more about the NAIA level and what it has to offer softball student-athletes.
Softball America: What do you look for when recruiting at the NAIA level?
Mike Christner: I look for athletic players with good attitudes. Players that work hard at everything they do. I believe that if a player has a good attitude, we can make them a good player. I also look for team players that are coachable. They must want to win and get better every day.
SA: What do you think is special about the NAIA level?
MC: What is special about the NAIA is that it is self-governed. Each school can operate within their beliefs and still have a set of bylaws to go by. I look at the NAIA as having some good attributes and some things that could be improved. One good attribute is that each sport has a say in how their sport is run from national tournaments to recruiting guidelines.
SA: What do you wish softball student-athletes getting recruited knew about the NAIA?
MC: The NAIA is equivalent to the NCAA Division II. The difference is that more NAIA schools are private, and the NCAA has more state schools. The level of competition can compete with some lower D1 levels. We have Division I players at our institution, but a lot of times it is better for the student-athlete because of the size and education that is available. Student-athletes shouldn’t get caught up in levels, they should go where they can contribute and fit in socially and academically.
SA: How would you compare the NAIA to the NCAA?
MC: Going off the last question, the NAIA is comparable to NCAA Division II. One difference is we have 10 scholarships available and DII gets a little over seven. The thing with different levels of softball is that if you have pitching, you can compete against anybody.