Unattached Criteria – As of 2021-2022

Unattached Criteria no longer applicible as of May 1, 2021

The new bylaw amendment that passed in October 2020 removed the blanket exception to the seasons of competition (SOC) ruling, commonly known as the “unattached criteria”. As of May 1, 2021, there will no longer be a way for a student-athlete to get a “free pass” to being charged an SOC for competing in outside competition (i.e., non-intercollegiate competition). All outside competitive experience will be evaluated under the Competitive Experience – Evaluative Criteria.

The Competitive Experience Committee’s rationale for eliminating the unattached exception included the following:

  • Efforts to decrease the use of the exception often created other implications that were challenging to apply. For example, requiring students to be eligible to use the exception reduced the use of the exception as a loophole for ineligible students but required that students had their eligibility properly certified, including over the summer or during breaks in enrollment.
  • The unattached criteria had become more complicated over time, and often led schools to inadvertently apply it incorrectly. This meant schools unexpectedly found themselves in violation by playing an ineligible player, and that students unexpectedly were charged seasons of competition.
  • The bylaw amendment of Article V, Section B, Item 19 – 20% Rule provides all students with a cushion to participate in some amount of competition before being charged. This 20% cushion provides a blanket approach for all students to utilize, including events that previously would have had to meet the unattached criteria in very specific ways. For example, a wrestler could participate in up to four competitions that his coach entered him into, while wearing his school singlet, or having his coach present and providing feedback, all without being charged a season of competition.
  • The bylaw amendment’s addition of an exception for national or Olympic team play is intended to ensure students can continue to take advantage of such opportunities.
  • The combination of the 20% approach paired with the national/Olympic team exception is intended to essentially replace the unattached exception in a way that is more manageable, more consistent and more in line with the original intent.


Q: Without the unattached exception present, does this mean that an ineligible student can participate on their own at will?

A: Just as it stands currently, student-athletes who do not meet NAIA eligibility requirements may still compete in non-intercollegiate competition, but will risk being charged seasons of competition. The removal of the unattached exception simply means that there will not be a specific exception that exempts such competition from being counted towards seasons of competition.   

Q: How do we ensure the athlete is not representing the NAIA school in competition?

A: The rule of thumb is to utilize the old unattached criteria as the guide to ensure an athlete is not representing an NAIA institution in competition. Examples of this include (but not limited to), not wearing institutional gear in competition, not being coached by the NAIA coach during the activity, and the NAIA coach cannot enter or pay for the student-athlete in the outside competition. If any of these examples occur, then the student would be considered to be representing the NAIA institution in competition and all eligibility requirements would apply.

However, the following actions can occur and it will not affect whether an athlete is considered “attached’ to the NAIA institution: the NAIA institution can transport an athlete competing in outside competition; an NAIA team can feed and house an athlete competing in outside competition; and there is no requirement that the athlete must be certified as eligible prior to competing in outside competition.

Q: How does this interplay with Intercollegiate Competition & the new 20% rule?
A: Per the NAIA bylaws, a student-athlete will not be charged more than one SOC (combining both intercollegiate and outside competitive experience) in a 12-month period. If the student-athlete is charged for outside competitive experience, then the student will not be charged for intercollegiate and vice versa.

There is a scenario where a student may not be charged for either outside competition or intercollegiate competition. Using the most common example of wrestling, if a student competes in a competition that is not considered to be elite-level, they will not be subject to being charged an SOC for outside competitive experience. In addition, if a student-athlete competes in four intercollegiate dates (under the 20% limit for wrestling frequency of play limits) then the student will not be charged for intercollegiate play. Therefore, the combination of the outside competitions and four intercollegiate competitions will NOT result in a season of competition charged.

Q: Are we saying that if a student is enrolled, they can no longer compete in any collegiate competition on their own unless they are representing our institution?

A: No. The NAIA bylaws dictate what happens when a student-athlete represents an institution in competition. If the student-athlete is representing the NAIA institution in competition, then they must be certified as eligible. If they are not representing the NAIA institution in any form or fashion (old unattached criteria is useful here as a framework) then they can compete in outside competitive experience, or a college open competition if available to all athletes to enter.

Q: What if an NAIA coach wishes to pay for an entry fee for a student-athlete who wishes to compete by themselves (not with an NAIA institution) in a collegiate open?

A: NAIA coaches can pay athletic related expenses for intercollegiate competition only. If the event is considered to be outside competition, even if it is called a collegiate open, the NAIA coaches cannot pay for the entry fee as it does not constitute athletic related expenses as part of the NAIA team.