Outside Competitive Experience Update – As of 2021-2022

Elite-Level Criteria & Chargeable Outside Competitive Experience

Effective May 1, 2022 as applied to eligibility decisions for NAIA competition in August 2022 or beyond. Applied to eligibility decisions for NAIA competition in August 2022 and beyond. This means that this criteria is not retroactive. If a student was charged for a league prior to May 1, 2022, that would not be chargeable under the new criteria they cannot have that competition reviewed again.

This amendment was proposed by the Competitive Experience Committee with the intention of making the application easier to understand. The previous bylaws intend to charge students for any competition that is roughly equivalent to the NAIA-level of competition or above. Through its work, the committee believes that students may often be charged for competition that technically meets the criteria but that common sense would determine should not be chargeable. Attempts to adjust the specific criteria have made minor improvements, but some underlying challenges make this approach difficult. Much of the criteria relies on evaluating specific participants within leagues/teams and relying on statements from league/team officials, who may have an inherent conflict of interest in marketing their teams to sound highly competitive but also don’t want the students’ eligibility to be impacted.

The committee has focused on finding a new approach that is (1) more transparent for current and prospective students/parents, coaches and administrators, (2) allow individuals to more easily and more consistently be able to predict when a student may be charged, and (3) raise the standard for charging students season of competition to help ensure students are not losing seasons except when it is clearly necessary.

Article V, Section B, Item 19:

Participation in any professional-level competition on or after the first day of the thirteenth month following high school graduation. A student will be charged a season of competition for participating in at least one professional-level event within a 12-month period. A team, league or event will be defined as professional-level competition and result in charging a student a season of competition if any one of the following is met:

i. Competition on a team or within a league (all sports) shall result in a season of competition if the team or league self-declares as professional.

ii. Competition on a team or within a league (all sports) shall result in a season of competition if both of the following are met:

   1) The team or league self-declares as semi-professional; and

   2) Team(s) within the league pay or reimburse participants beyond actual expenses of travel, meals and lodging.

iii. For individual sports, a student’s participation will be evaluated based on the student’s specific division, series or group/heat within the event. If that division, series or group/heat within the event is self-declared as professional or semi-professional, the student’s competition shall result in a season of competition charged.

Any athlete, individual or team sports, will be charged a season of competition for competing in one professional level event. Prior to this change, individual sport athletes had to compete in 3 or more events in a 12-month period before they would be charged. Now competition in one professional level event will start their season of competition.

The eligibility center will continue to review the competitive history of all new NAIA athletes but for those athletes who do not need an eligibility center decision it will be the responsibility of the school to do a thorough competitive experience review with the student. The competitive experience form must be completed for any student that hasn’t been certified in every term since identification, transfer students from non-NAIA institutions that weren’t charged a season every year before coming to the NAIA, and students who’ve had a break in enrollment.


Q: What happens to the previous “elite-level criteria” that was used to evaluate outside competitive experience and determine if it was chargeable?

A: Beginning May 1, 2022, a student-athlete will not be subject to the previous elite-level criteria to determine if they will be charged for outside competition. That criteria will no longer be in effect. Instead, the new criteria shown in this bylaw amendment aimed at identifying professional-level competition will replace it.

Q: Assume this summer a student-athlete competes in elite-level competition (per the existing rules), but it is not considered professional as described in the proposed bylaw. How would that be treated?

A: The elite-level criteria that is currently used will still be in effect for all eligibility determinations made up until April 30, 2022. If a student-athlete’s outside competition meets the current criteria of “elite-level” and the student seeks an Eligibility Center decision or is certified on campus prior to April 30, 2022, then the student-athlete may be charged a season of competition.

However, if the student-athlete plays in this league this summer but does not seek an Eligibility Center decision or is certified on campus prior to April 30, 2022, that means the competition will not be evaluated until after the new rule regarding professional-level competition is in effect. As a result, the student’s competition in this league would not meet the standard of the competitive experience rule at the time it is evaluated and would not be charged.

The reasoning for the delayed implementation is to allow for the Eligibility Center to make the needed tech changes to the Eligibility Center website, update the Directory of Competition, conduct additional research to current chargeable events, and update all corresponding educational materials.

Q: Can this bylaw be used retroactively to change previous seasons that have already been charged under the current “elite-level” criteria?

A: No. As with all bylaw amendments, the new iteration of the bylaw amendments cannot be applied retroactively from the effective date unless specifically stated within the bylaw amendment.

Q: Where can I find the current criteria for elite-level competition?

A: In PlayNAIA, click the “Resources” tab, in the grey box on the left-hand side, click the drop down menu for “Eligibility Rules”. In the drop down menu, click on “Competitive Experience”.

Q: Who evaluates if a student’s previous competition is considered “professional-level”? When does this evaluation take place?

A: For any student who is required to have an Eligibility Center decision, the Eligibility Center will review and evaluate any non-collegiate competition to determine if it is meets the criteria and results in the student being charged with a season of competition. For a student who is not required to have an Eligibility Center decision for the current term, it is the responsibility of the campus AD, FAR, registrar and head coach to ensure that all of a student’s previous competitive experience has been divulged, researched and evaluated in the same fashion, and will make the ultimate determination regarding whether a student is charged a season of competition for non-collegiate participation or not.

Q: In the current criteria evaluating outside competitive to determine if it is “elite-level competition,” students participating in individual sports are not charged until they participate in their third chargeable even within a 12-month period. In effect this means each student participating in an individual sport is able to compete in two elite-level contests without being charged. Under this bylaw, will individual athletes get two “freebies”?

A: No. Both student-athletes who participate in team and individual sports will be subject to being charged when they compete in one professional-level competition in a 12-month period.

Q: I am a track athlete and I like to sign up for local marathons. I know in these events, there may be professional athletes who are trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon or other professional-level races. But I’m not competing at that level. Will I be charged a season of competition for running in a local marathon?

A: No, not necessarily. In the language of the bylaw, see Item b.iii regarding individual sports. It states that for an individual sport, student-athletes will be evaluated based on the student’s specific division, series or heat within the event. This was specifically worded in this manner using marathons and community races as an example, which frequently have various divisions or series open to the general public and open to elite runners. If the student-athlete signs up for a race/marathon and competes in any of the amateur divisions, they will not be charged a season of competition. However, if the student participates in the “Professional Series,” they will be charged a season of competition.

Q: How do I know if a league pays or reimburses participants beyond the actual expenses of travel, meals, and lodging?

A: It would be up to the student-athlete to inquire into what type of payment or reimbursement agreement comes with competing on a team or within a league before participating. When evaluating a student’s past competition the Eligibility Center and/or campus administration will need to evaluate any such payments or reimbursements the student received. If it is a lump sum, then it would be advisable to calculate the average cost of travel, meals, and lodging that would occur with the team/league for a season to ensure it is not in excess of this amount.

Q: What does semi-professional mean?

A: The NAIA does have a definition of semi-professional that is imposed on leagues or teams. Rather, declarations of semi-professional made by a team, league or competition will be taken at face value. For purposes of this bylaw, this means the NAIA will take the league, team of event’s declaration that the com[competition is close to the level of professional. Recognizing that some teams or leagues may use the term of “semi-professional” largely for marketing and promotional purposes rather than because it necessarily defines the level of play, there is an additional criteria for making a team or league chargeable in addition to a declaration of semi-professional.

Q: My son wants to be an NAIA student-athlete and competes in a league that declares itself to be semi-professional, but they do not offer any payment or any contracts. Would he automatically be charged?

A: No. See Item b.ii. The team or league would have to declare itself semi-professional and participating teams within the league would have to pay/reimburse athletes more than the cost of travel, meals, and lodging to result in your son being charged a season of competition. If only one of these two criteria is present (i.e. the league declares itself semi-pro but no reimbursement occurs, or vice versa), then the athlete will not be charged a season of competition.

Q: If an athlete competes in a professional-level league as defined in the bylaw, is he automatically considered a professional athlete who has lost their amateurism?

A: No. The NAIA definitions of a professional athlete (see NAIA Bylaws Article VII, Section C and D) still stand as the guidelines of whether or not a student-athlete has violated their amateurism standing.

Q: How will this bylaw change the current Directory of Competition (DOC)?

A: This new bylaw amendment would significantly reduce the number of chargeable entries in the DOC. Eligibility Center staff conducted an analysis of the existing entries (teams, leagues or events that have been researched). This analysis makes some assumptions utilizing some of the current evaluative criteria regarding if a team, league or event is professional. Specific review of individual teams, leagues or events has not yet taken place. The analysis should not be viewed as entirely definitive, but is certainly directionally correct. Based on this analysis, under the current evaluative criteria, 2,865 of the current entries are considered to be chargeable events. Under the new bylaw amendment, 803 of entries would be considered chargeable.